The humble shiitake mushroom may not seem like much, nestled in between the white button mushrooms and the cremini mushrooms on the grocery store shelves, but there’s a reason it’s the second most widely cultivated mushroom in the world (behind the white button mushroom). This mushroom was made famous by east asian cuisine, but is now available all over the world. We’re going to take a deeper look at this little brown mushroom.
History of the shiitake mushroom
The earliest known record of shiitake cultivation dates back to 1209, during the Song Dynasty in China. This makes it the oldest known cultivated mushroom. The name shiitake comes from the Japanese shii, the name of the tree it grew on, and take, for mushroom.
About Oita Prefecture
Oita Prefecture – with only a small area of plains, most of the peninsula is mountainous, made up of deep valleys and mountain ridges that stretch radially from the range of mountain peaks centered on Mt. Futago, a 721-meter-tall mountain almost right in the middle of the peninsula. That’s why, since long ago, forest resources have sustained the people of the region, and the cultivation of shiitake mushrooms utilizing these forest resources has flourished.
Oita Prefecture boasts the largest amount (volume of tree trunks) of sawtooth oak trees in all of Japan, and this wood is perfect for the wood ‘bed logs’ that nurture the seed fungus used when cultivating shiitake mushrooms. The shiitake mushrooms cultivated here are fleshy and highly aromatic with a good flavor.
Growing Shiitake Mushrooms According to Traditional Japanese Methods
In Japan, the shiitake was cultivated by cutting down the shii tree (this is an oak relative) and leaning those logs against trees that were already growing shiitake or were known to contain shiitake spores. This was an early way to inoculate the logs with shiitake spores so that they could be grown for harvest.
Commercial production of shiitake mushrooms kicked off in the 1930s, and the mushrooms were grown on hardwood logs. Later they were grown on sterilized sawdust, which allowed for faster production. Today, shiitake is cultivated all over the world, either on artificial substrate, sawdust, or on hardwood logs, often oak logs. Shiitake mushrooms make up about a quarter of all cultivated mushrooms in the world.
These days, shiitake mushrooms are cultivated at scale by large mushroom growers, but they’re also grown by farmers seeking to make their forest land more productive.
Suitable conditions for growing Shiitake mushrooms
To acquire the bed logs essential for mushroom cultivation, people here carefully grow the sawtooth oak trees that will become log wood. Sawtooth oak sown with the fungus of shiitake mushrooms can be used as a bed log for three to four years. And once the logs have been used, the wood is returned to the mountain to become soft, mineral-rich soil, forming a moisture-retaining layer. This allows the forest to renew itself, while people here work together and never fail to maintain and protect the sawtooth oak forests.
Shiitake mushroom cultivation requires moderate shade, airflow, humidity and water, but the region is one of the least rainy regions of Japan. Consequently, many irrigation ponds have been built in the region since long ago, and today, there are more than 1,200 such ponds. Unable to create large ponds due to the mountainous terrain, multiple small-scale ponds were ingeniously connected, ensuring the necessary amount of water for shiitake mushroom cultivation and other agriculture.
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Video source: Noal Farm