Enoki are a form of edible mushroom that grows in distinctive clusters of thin, string-like stems with tiny convex caps. They are a popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine, where they are known as enokitake, as well as in Chinese and Korean cuisines.
These delicate fungi have a mild, fruity, slightly earthy flavour, and are prized for their firm, crisp texture, which has a pleasant crunch thanks to the bundles of thin stems. They can be eaten raw in salads, sautéed, stir-fried, or added to soups, stews, ramen broth and risottos. They are also a key ingredient in the Japanese condiment nametake, which is used to add umami-rich flavours to soups, stir-fries and rice dishes.
There are two types of enoki - wild enoki and cultivated enoki. The wild type grows on the sides of trees and has slightly larger caps, shorter stems and darker colouring, ranging from orange to brown. They also have a slightly earthier flavour than their cultivated cousins. Cultivated enoki are grown in a carbon dioxide-rich environment to encourage longer, more delicate stems. They are also grown in complete darkness, resulting in a snow-white colouring.
If you want to buy enoki, they are available from Asian grocery stores, health food stores, and even some regular grocery stores. Cultivated enoki are most commonly available, so look for firm clusters of mushrooms with regular white colouring, and avoid any with discolouration or a slimy texture.
Benefits and nutritional values
Enoki have been used for many years to treat various conditions in traditional Japanese and Chinese medicine. There is no scientific evidence to support many of these treatments, but nevertheless, enoki are thought to have several potential health benefits. They are a highly nutritious food, providing a good source of protein, fibre and several important B-vitamins, and may also have the following health benefits:
High in antioxidants
Enoki are a great source of antioxidants, beneficial compounds that help to protect your cells from damage caused by harmful substances called oxidants. Oxidative cell damage can lead to premature ageing and various chronic diseases, so a diet rich in cell-protecting antioxidants is a must. Enoki provide many different types of antioxidant, although the exact number can vary according to growing conditions and subspecies.
Fresh enoki are best stored in a paper bag in the main part of the refrigerator to allow them to breathe. Avoid the crisper drawer, as this has restricted airflow. You can also place a damp paper towel in the bag to help keep them moist. Stored in this way, they should keep for up to 1 week.
To prepare the mushrooms for cooking, remove any slimy or discoloured stems, and run the cluster under cold water, making sure to wash any grit from in between the stems. Pat dry with paper towels, and cut away the tough, woody stem at the end. Once cooked, any leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days.
Because of their high water content, enoki tend to become mushy or slimy if frozen in their natural state. In Japan, however, many people make them into ‘enoki ice’ to keep them for longer.
To make your own enoki ice, simply blend your enoki with a little water in a food processor, transfer to a pan and simmer on the stove for 30 minutes until slightly reduced. Allow the mixture to cool, then pour into ice cube trays for individual portions. Enoki ice should keep for around 2 months, and you can use it as a stock to flavour, soups, stews and rice dishes.
If you want to try the mild, savoury flavour and delicate crunch of enoki mushrooms for yourself, try one of these simple, Asian-inspired recipes.
Sautéed enoki mushrooms: perfect as an appetiser or a side dish, this elegantly simple dish from Food 52 enhances the delicate enoki with garlic, sesame oil and soy sauce, and lets the flavours speak for themselves.