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Dried Black Mushrooms vs Fresh Shiitakes

Back in my youth, black mushrooms on a Chinese menu inevitably meant reconstituted dried mushrooms. I still remember the first fresh shiitakes I ever ate – in 1983 or 84, at a Japanese Oriental restaurant whose Korean owner/chef grew them himself.

Now fresh shiitakes are common in all sorts of Asian restaurants. Recently, however, I ordered a black mushroom and baby bok choy dish at a local Chinese restaurant and the baby veggies were partly covered with a mound of old-school dried black mushrooms. It was a lovely dish, full of umami.

A few weeks later, at the same restaurant with friends, I ordered the same dish. Only this time, the mushrooms were fresh shiitakes. It was still good, but I found myself missing the intensity of the dried ‘shrooms.

So what do you think? Is one better than the other? Do you prefer one? Should restaurants distinguish between the two?


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  1. I can only compare dried shiitakes to fresh, rather than 2 different types. Both dry and fresh have their place. Reconstituting the dry ones gives you the liquid which can be used to really intensify the overall flavor - perfect for broths, fried rice, etc. But I would use fresh for salads, basically anything served raw. Pan fried/wokked with vegetables is kinda in the middle - I've used both - but I think I still prefer the dried, with even a touch of the liquid.

    There is a big difference between the pre-sliced dried shiitake and the whole dried ones. I buy the pre-sliced for quick reconstituting in the instant soups I drink (osuimono, ochazuke), but prefer the whole ones for cooking use. The whole ones take much longer to reconstitute, but produce much more flavor than the pre-sliced ones.

    1. I like both though I think I prefer the dried for the intensity of flavour. Besides the soaking liquid makes a darn good broth or base for a soup.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mrbozo

        Ditto on the dried, and I would add that cooking takes away the distinct flavor of the shiitake - it is best eaten uncooked.

      2. I do think a restaurant should identify a fresh shiitake as such. And to me, admittedly an older fogey, a black mushroom is always a reconstituted dried one (even though I'm pretty sure it's the same shroom). I think applehome is right. Each has its own place, and in the classic Chinese kitchen, it's generally going to be the black (dried) mushroom. I think they're a fabulous pantry item - keeps a long time, always available.

        1. I'm in the Pacific NW. To me dried black mushroom means someone is going to be feeding me a wood ear mushroom. I'm only keen on them in hot and sour soup, frankly. So yeah, I definitely think a restaurant should distinguish between those and shiitakes.

          Fortunately, fresh shiitakes aren't such a luxury food anymore, and so I don't care so much if a restaurant menu specifies dried or fresh. Both have their place!

          1. In most cooked dishes I prefer the dried for the flavor intensity.

            1. It sounds like the restuarant had to improvise a bit. The black mushrooms you had were likely reconstituted wood ear or cloud ear mushrooms. If you got fresh shiitakes, then you made out well because those are the more expensive of the bunch. If you prefer certain mushrooms over others, identify which ones you like, and then simply request the dish made to order. Be sure to make an accurate identification on the mushroom you prefer, otherwise you'll just be setting yourself up for disappointment. (Sometimes, in Asian eateries with a language barrier, misunderstandings can arise).

              Look at the list of substitutes --> http://www.foodsubs.com/Mushroom.html

              2 Replies
              1. re: Cheese Boy

                No not at all. I know wood ear or cloud ear mushrooms. What I am talking about is either fresh or Chinese dried shiitakes. Before around 1985, fresh shiitakes were not grown commercially in the US. Before then all "black mushroom" dishes I encountered in Chinese restaurants were made with reconstituted dried Chinese black mushrooms aka shiitakes.

                From the link in your post: "shiitake mushroom = shitake mushroom = black forest mushroom = black mushroom = black winter mushroom = brown oak mushroom = Chinese black mushroom = Oriental black mushroom = forest mushroom = golden oak mushroom = donko Equivalents: 1 pound = 3 ounces dried. Pronunciation: she-TAH-kay Plural: shiitake Notes: Though shiitake mushrooms are now cultivated, they have the earthiness and flavor of wild mushrooms. They're large and meaty, and they work well in stir-fries, soups, and side dishes, or as a meat substitute. Dried shiitakes are excellent, and often preferable to fresh due to their more intense flavor. Soak them in water for about thirty minutes to reconstitute them, then use the water they soaked in to enhance your sauce."

                My point (which is also made in the Cook's Thesaurus link) is that dried shiitakes (aka chinese black mushrooms) have a greater intensity of flavor and a slightly different taste profile than fresh shiitakes. Yet these days, one never knows whether the dish will have the fresh or the dried version.


                1. re: Ed Dibble

                  I always use dried shiitakes, and (gasp) I discard the water.
                  I like them primarily for their texture I guess. To me, they are a chewy treat, especially if left whole in soups. CANNED (cheap, $1.29) shiitakes are a recent purchase of mine that I have yet to experiment with, but I have to admit I am in agreement with you on the whole subject here. 'Dried shiitakes are excellent, and often preferable to fresh due to their more intense flavor.'

                  Agreed. ... Now how to request them in your order ... That's a challenge.

              2. Can somebody please explain the difference between the mushrooms out there? I've seen dried mushrooms labeled as "shitake" in Asian markets. The color is darker brown and the caps are thicker. But they're generally not the same as the fresh "shitakes" I see at, let's say, a Whole Foods. Those "shitakes" are lighter brown and the caps aren't as thick. And I have seen the Whole Foods shitakes dried at Asian markets and look nothing like the darker dried shitakes I was talking about previously. And I've also seen the fresh version of the darker dried shitakes, which look nothing like the fresh shitakes I see in Whole Foods. Are they all shitake? Do they look different because one is cultivated and one is wild? Or is there some mislabeling or misidentification going on?

                4 Replies
                1. re: Miss Needle

                  Perhaps our friendly Wiki can shed some light on the fungi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiitake

                  1. re: mrbozo

                    Thanks, mr. b for that link. It was very helpful. The picture looks like the thicker shitake mushrooms I've seen at Chinatown. But the ones at Whole Foods look like this:


                    Note the color is a bit lighter and the caps are a bit thinner. They also flatten out slightly and flavor is a bit milder than the thicker capped ones. Do you know that if the Whole Foods ones are a different kind of shitake or are they wild vs. cultivated?

                    1. re: Miss Needle

                      I don't think you're seeing any wild shiitake these days - either dried or fresh. You'd have to go to a real specialty store to see ones that people harvested in the woods.

                      I've ordered plugs of shiitake and maitake from these people. There's a great picture of some really well producing logs about 1/2 way down the first page.


                      1. re: applehome

                        Thanks, applehome. From your link, it seems that under "shitake" they feature pics of both the shitakes I was talkinga bout.

                2. I've done cooking with both and found that there are definitely mixed receptions. If i had to say though, I believe more people receive the black mushroom positively over the Shiitake...but it is darn close.

                  This is one of the 'up to your individual taste' type of decisions I think.

                  CW Guy