Eating for Life

The magic of mushrooms

Photo styling by JILL WENDHOLT SILVA;photo by JIM BARCUS/The Kansas City Star

Mushroom Ragu is a tasty source of the health-promoting antioxidants ergothioneine and lycopene.


No wonder Burger King is adding mushroom burgers to the menu.

Thanks to their deep, earthy flavor, the morsels have gourmet cachet. And new research reveals mushrooms not only taste delicious but also fight disease.

Not a bad marketing strategy.

Scientists have known for years that mushrooms are high in fiber and contain riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B6 that may help fight cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and viral infections. This fall, Penn State researchers ( .html) reported that their more sensitive testing methods found mushrooms are a better source of the antioxidant ergothioneine than either of the previous record holders.

The most commonly consumed white button mushroom has 12 times more of the antioxidant than wheat germ and four times more than chicken livers. A standard 3-ounce serving of mushrooms — about the amount used to top a mushroom burger — supplies 5 milligrams of ergothioneine.

Portabellas and creminis contain even more ergothioneine than white buttons, while exotic mushrooms such as the shiitake contain the most — up to 13 milligrams, or 40 times as much of the antioxidant as wheat germ.

Ergothioneine is not destroyed by cooking, so The Star’s Mushroom Ragu deconstructs the popular mushroom burger. We sauté mushrooms and then simmer them to mimic a traditional ragu, a thick meat sauce that is a staple of Northern Italy’s Bologna. For convenience, we’ve compressed the process by using vegetable cocktail juice as a highly flavorful base loaded with lycopene, an antioxidant that is especially high in cooked tomato sauces.

Shopping tip: We used three common mushroom types available in most supermarkets. If you can’t find one type at your store, feel free to substitute another.

Storage tip: Although the cultivated varieties are usually sold in packages wrapped in cellophane, fresh mushrooms need cool air to circulate around them. When you get them home, unwrap and place them on a tray in a single layer. Covered with a damp towel, mushrooms will keep in the refrigerator up to three days. Before adding them to a recipe, wipe the caps and stems with a damp paper towel. Never soak mushrooms in water or they will become mushy.

Pump it up: No Yolks is an egg noodle substitute. Egg yolks are a concentrated source of cholesterol in the diet. These noodles contain no cholesterol yet have the same taste and texture as egg noodles; they are also low in fat and sodium. They are available in several shapes and sizes, including dumplings, broad, extra broad, medium, fine, shells and spirals. Look for them in the pasta/rice sections of most supermarkets or at

Mushroom ragu

Makes 6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound mixed mushrooms, including white button, baby bella and shiitake, coarsely diced

1 cup chopped yellow onion

1 pound 85 percent ground round, browned and drained

1 (46-ounce) bottle lower-sodium vegetable juice cocktail

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried basil

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

12 ounces no-yolk egg noodles, cooked according to package directions, or 6 thick-cut slices toasted sourdough bread

Light or no-fat sour cream, for garnish (optional)

Heat olive oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and onions and sauté until onions are tender and mushrooms have cooked away most of the liquid. Add remaining ingredients except noodles and sour cream. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Divide noodles or bread among 6 shallow rimmed bowls. Top with ragu and dollop with sour cream.

Per serving: 605 calories (27 percent from fat), 17 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 52 milligrams cholesterol, 72 grams carbohydrates, 31 grams protein, 366 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber.

Recipe developed for The Star by professional home economists Kathryn Moore and Roxanne Wyss.

Photo styling by JILL WENDHOLT SILVA;photo by JIM BARCUS/The Star

Mushroom Ragu is a tasty source of the health-promoting antioxidants ergothioneine and lycopene.