Mushrooms are a fungus that reflect the rich earthy flavors of their growing medium. They multiply in the dark through dispersal of microscopic spores. Most cultivated mushroom crops are grown without the use of pesticides or chemicals.
The most readily available mushroom types include:
- White – Sold more than any other species, either as “button” or “jumbo.” Taste best when cooked. Use the more robust Cremini for salads.
- Chanterelle (Golden Trumpet) – They grow readily in the U.S. The curling cap may be six inches in diameter.
- Cremini/Crimini – Also called brown button. Flavor is much stronger than white buttons.
- Enoki (Snow Puff/Velvet Foot) – Typically eaten raw as a side or in salads.
- Morel – These are hollow with a strong taste. Spring is peak season. Always cook morels or they may cause acute stomach distress. Can be stuffed and baked.
- Oyster – The name reflects their flavor. Not as expensive as some specialty mushrooms.
- Porcini – This is an all-around species that is rich in flavor and useful in many types of recipes.
- Portabella – A saucer-sized mushroom that is ideal for grilling or baking. Smaller versions are sometimes called portabellini, but are actually creminis. Great for vegetarian dishes as a substitute for meat.
- Shiitake (Chinese/Black Forest) – Dark in color with tough stems. Go well with meats and red sauces.
- Wood Ear (Tree Ear/Judas’ Ear) – Large with dark flesh; used mainly for texture rather than taste. Dehydrated caps are preferred over fresh for more intense flavor.
Cultivated varieties are grown in controlled environments and pasteurized compost. Wild and specialty mushrooms can harbor more debris.
Note that truffles, while a member of the fungi family, are not mushrooms.
- Mushrooms are tender and bruise easily. When selecting, handle with care.
- Inspect the undersides – the gills should be tightly closed and the edges fresh, not dry.
- Dried mushrooms are increasingly available in mass merchandise stores. Gourmet and health food shops will have a wider range.
- It is best to leave mushroom harvesting to experts. Many poisonous types resemble edible species.
- Do not store mushrooms in plastic. If purchased in a pack, remove the plastic and place in a paper bag. Keep in the vegetable crisper for up to a week.
- Fresh mushrooms should not be frozen (with the exception of button mushrooms).