3 things you didn’t know about the ‘dancing mushroom’

As a dance hobbyist on a mission to try all the edible mushrooms in the world, it only makes sense that I introduce you first to a personal favorite: the one and only “dancing mushroom.”

Grifola frondosa, which is known as the maitake (my-ee-tah-kay) mushroom, grows in layered petals found at the base of oak and elm trees. In my opinion, it’s one of the more beautiful mushrooms, resembling other stunning specimens found in flora and fauna. Let’s just say if this mushroom had a doppelgänger, it would probably be a super soft succulent or a collection of fleshy coral from the ocean’s reefs.

1: The ‘dancing mushroom’ is a freakin’ legend

Legend has it that Buddhist nuns were foraging on a mountain when they found maitake fruiting under the trees. The discovery of this delicacy prompted the nuns to dance and celebrate, ultimately giving the fungi its name. After the mushroom made an appearance in other countries, some thought it looked like the fluffy feathers of a hen (and probably decided maitake was too hard to say), so it is also referred to as “hen-of-the-woods” in the English speaking world.

I prefer the Japanese name because for one, I know how to sound out vowels — and two, because the idea of fungi prompting you to do the running man sounds legit.

Plus maitake is native to Japan — and part of my roots y’all! — and I believe in giving credit to its proper origin (I may or may not also entertain the wild possibility that my great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother could have been one of those nuns dancing around and telling the story as she fed others delectable mushroom dinners. Legend shme-gend. A girl can dream!).

2: Tastes like pasta + without the starch = guilt-free meal

What makes this mushroom so enjoyable to eat is it’s fibrous petals, a texture that registers just as a perfectly al dente pasta would, with delicate bursts of umami flavor with each bite. I’ve seen this Japanese mushroom juxtaposed with international cooking methods, in a panade with parmesan-yogurt whey at Frances or roasted as a crisp blossom in a dish prepared at Boulevard, surrounded by sweet carrot gnocchi, sautéed greens and crispy shallots. At home, I roast it with truffle salt or sauté the petals with a dice of shallots and enjoy over avocado toast or a large arugula salad.

3: It miiiiiight be a cure for cancer

On a more serious note — aside from being the perfect low fat, high protein, high fiber ingredient, this mushroom also offers numerous health benefits.

In an article written by mycologist expert Paul Stamets, maitake have been linked to reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. In other studies, these ‘shrooms reduced liver, breast and lung cancer symptoms in more than half of the patients (you can find the study here)!

In other words, maitake easily dodges the “Everything Gives you Cancer” list and may instead possess the unique properties to cure it. Fascinating, right?

While there is still plenty of research to be done, for now you can relish in knowing you’ve learned three new things — a Japanese legend, how maitake mushrooms are probably the next superfood, and that they could be part of the cure for cancer (look at you, you productive smarty pants, you!).

Oh, and when you find maitake on a menu, call me. :)