Enokitake are long, thin white mushrooms used in East Asian cuisine (such as that of China, Japan and Korea). These mushrooms are cultivars of Flammulina velutipes, also called golden needle mushroom. Wild forms differing in color, texture, and sliminess are called winter mushrooms, velvet foot, or velvet stem among other names. This mushroom is available fresh or canned, with experts recommending fresh enoki specimens with firm, white, shiny caps, and avoiding those that have slimy or brownish stalks. They are traditionally used for soups but can also be used for salads and other dishes. They have a crisp texture and can be refrigerated for about one week.
The mushroom naturally grows on the stumps of the Chinese Hackberry tree, called enoki in Japanese, but also on some other trees such as mulberry and persimmon trees. There is a significant difference in appearance between the wild and the cultivated mushrooms. Cultivated mushrooms are not exposed to light which results in a white color, whereas wild mushrooms usually have a dark brown color. The cultivated mushrooms are grown in a high CO2 environment to produce long thin stems, whereas wild mushrooms produce a much shorter and thicker stem.
The variety available in the supermarket is always cultivated, which usually takes place in a plastic bottle or a vinyl bag for 30 days at 15°C and 70% humidity on a substrate of saw dust or corn cobs, and a number of additional ingredients. Afterwards, the mushroom is grown for another 30 days in a slightly cooler but more humid environment where the growth is constricted in a paper cone to force the mushroom to grow long and thin. Mushrooms available in supermarkets often still show the impression of the bottle around the base.
The mushroom is relatively easy to cultivate. It has been grown in Japan for over 300 years initially on wood, and later in bottles. Home cultivation kits are available.
In North America a second species, Flammulina populicola, may also be available in home cultivation kits.
The name, enokitake, enokidake, or enoki derives from Japanese language. In Chinese, the mushroom is called jīnzhēngū or jīngū. In Korean it is called paengi beoseot as is kim châm or trâm vàng in Vietnamese.
Health properties of Enokitake
Enokitake mushrooms possess antioxidants like ergothioneine.
Research at the National University of Singapore first published in 2005 stated that the stalk of the golden needle mushroom contains a large quantity of a protein, designated Five, which helps to regulate the immune system. Animal testing indicated possible uses for vaccines and cancer immunotherapy. It also contains flammutoxin, a cytolytic and cardiotoxic protein that may possibly be poorly absorbed orally.