Shiitake mushrooms are an Asian delicacy frequently added to stir-fries or used as a source of protein in vegetarian cooking. What may come as is surprise is that one can be “allergic” to undercooked shiitake mushrooms so it is suggested that people always cook them thoroughly before eating.
On February 18, 2011, the New York Times ran an article about a woman who developed a pretty severe red-lined rash all over her body. The rash was not particularly itchy nor was it painful. Her doctor was stumped so he called in other doctors to evaluate her. After examining the rash, one of the doctors paused for a moment then asked her if she had recently had shiitake mushrooms? Surprised, she said she had a few days before the outbreak as a sample sautéed in garlic and oil at a grocery store.
Apparently, the shiitake mushrooms were undercooked which left a starch-like substance in the mushrooms called lentinan that was not sufficiently broken down in the portion she ate. Heating lentinan prevents the body from having a toxic reaction to it when consumed. Unlike a true allergy, people who react to uncooked shiitake mushroom do not show a typical immune response in their blood levels nor do they develop classic symptoms of hives, itching and swelling. The response to shiitake mushrooms has been labeled as a toxic reaction rather than an actual allergy.
Interestingly, lentinan has been used as an anti-cancer agent. According to sloankettering.org, lentinan use has been studied extensively. The protein component of lentinan is called lentin, which has been found to have anti-fungal properties, reduce the growth of leukemia cells and suppress HIV viral enzyme activity. Lentinan has also been studied for use in prostate cancer suppression though the results did not show it alone could sufficiently prevent it. It is important to note that most clinical studies do not test patients using actual shiitake mushrooms but use extracts in powder form.
Shiitake mushroom do have natural health and nutritional benefits but they should never be eaten raw even if in the past one has not had any problems.