Whether of the wild or cultivated varieties, edible mushrooms are fleshy fruiting bodies of macrofungi that live above and below ground. We’re celebrating 12 of our favorite edible mushrooms, and we’re pretty sure the expert mycophagists (mushroom hunters) among you will agree!
Most mushrooms belong to one of two species: Basidiomycota or Ascomycota. The main difference lies in how the spores develop, which is only detectable under a microscope and not easily assessed with the human eye.
Mushrooms have a vital role to play in the process of decomposition, especially of wood. They’re relatively easy to cultivate as well, depending on the environment. Many mushrooms even create a symbiotic relationship with the tree or organism they grow on. This is known in the botanical community as being mycorrhizal. In some ways, one cannot grow without the other, which is why it’s easy to spot certain fungi based on the species of plants or trees that they typically bond with.
What You Should Know About Edible Mushrooms
While there are at least 10,000 identifiable species of mushrooms in North America, about 20% of them are deemed poisonous. Some of the most deadly poisonous mushrooms belong to the Amanita genus of mushroom, such as the death cap and destroying angel. The remaining mushrooms are edible mushrooms, although some require parboiling to make them palatable and in some cases, not toxic.
It’s not recommended to forage for your own mushrooms as there are many dangerous lookalikes that can throw a novice mushroom hunter off and that could lead to severe complications and in some cases prove fatal if consumed. Many mushrooms can also create an allergic reaction, so be cautious if you have known sensitivities to fungi.
Always clean raw mushrooms before you cook or eat them. For more delicate mushrooms, such as truffles, a soft toothbrush or cloth is needed to dust off any dirt.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common (and yummy) edible mushrooms that are relatively easy to find at your local market and incorporate into many of your favorite dishes.
1. Beech Mushroom (Clamshell Mushroom)
There are two types of edible beech mushrooms: white and brown. Both are most commonly found growing on the bark of the beech tree (hence the name). If eaten raw, the mushroom takes on a very bitter taste. However, this disappears once it’s cooked, being replaced with a crunchy, firm texture and a nutty flavor profile.
The beach mushroom is found all over the world and is often a featured ingredient in Asian cuisines, soups, stews, and sauces.
2. Button Mushroom (Cremini Mushroom)
Possibly the most common and most commonly recognized edible mushroom in North America, the button mushroom is an every-mushroom kind of fungi. It goes with almost any dish, keeps well in the refrigerator, and is readily available all year long. It has a strong, specifically mushroomy flavor, making it a reliable substitute for meat in some vegan or vegetarian dishes. (Spoiler alert: these mushrooms are most often found and harvested from fresh cow manure.)
The difference between button mushrooms and cremini mushrooms is maturity from age. The cremini is left to age slightly before being harvested, giving it a deeper brown hue and a bit richer flavor.
3. Chanterelle Mushroom
Chanterelles of the Cantharellus mushroom species are a meaty, savory, and dense wild mushroom that typically has a golden or orange color. They have fleshy caps and long stems. Chanterelles grow in the wild and can often be found on the forest floor near maple, beech, or other hardwood trees. Chanterelles are one of the wild edibles that create a symbiotic relationship with the land from which they sprout, feeding the trees and plant life, and vice versa.
Chanterelle mushrooms are nutty in flavor and smell fruity, a bit like apricots or peaches. They’re delicious simply sautéed with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper, or extra virgin olive oil, although they can also be roasted or baked into bread and biscuits.
4. Enokitake/Golden Needle Mushroom
The enokitake mushroom (or enoki for short) can be found all over the world. However, it was originally cultivated in Japan where it is still one of the most popular mushrooms available. Enoki is a thin, long white mushroom with a white cap that kind of looks like a chunky pin. It’s crunchy in texture and fruity and sweet in flavor, unlike every other mushroom in this way.
While white enoki mushrooms are most common, they are also cultivated with yellow, tan, and orange caps. They’re typically eaten raw, chopped and topped on salads or in sandwiches. Enoki can also be stir-fried into any dish. However, they can become quite tough and chewy (and not in a good way) if they’re overcooked, so use caution when adding the cooked version to your meal.
5. Maitake Mushrooms
Maitake mushrooms have primarily been used in Asian cuisine and culture for their vast medicinal properties, although in the past 20 years they have become more popular in North American cuisine. You might know the maitake mushroom as Grifola frondosa or hen-of-the-woods.
Called the “dancing mushroom” in Japanese, the maitake mushroom is unusual in appearance because there are no traditional gills on the underside of the caps. Maitake is mainly found in the base of oak trees and tends to reappear in the same place year after year. These mushrooms can grow to a hefty size, and there are reports of maitake mushrooms weighing 100 pounds!
Maitake mushrooms can create stomach sensitivities in some people, so use with caution if you’re new to them. The stem is very tough, so the caps are usually the only part of the mushroom cooked. They are often served baked, sautéed, stuffed, stir-fried, or even made into a tea!
They’re yummy fried in oil or butter until crisp and can be a replacement or substitute for button mushrooms in nearly any dish to create a richer flavor profile. Maitake also freezes well.
6. Oyster Mushrooms
There are three different versions of the oyster mushroom. The main difference between the three (Pleurotus ostreatus, Pleurotus pulmonarius, and Pleurotus populinus) is the season they are harvested.
Their name is derived from their shape—a specific resemblance to freshly shucked oysters. One of the most harvested mushrooms on the planet behind button and shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms are found primarily on decaying wood, stacking upon themselves over time, creating layers upon layers of the delicate mushroom.
China grows much of the world’s oyster mushrooms (about 85% of the total production), although there are many North American farmers dedicated to the cultivation of oyster mushroom as well.
They’re not very tasty eaten raw, so it’s recommended to cook the top of the oyster mushrooms and either discard or use the stems in vegetable or mushroom stock. Oyster mushrooms have a meaty texture and savory taste that is delicious stir-fried, braised, or paired with other mushrooms such as shiitake or chanterelles.
Oyster mushrooms do not keep for very long and must be eaten as soon as possible to maximize the flavor and quality. They can be dehydrated and stored for later use and cooked without rehydrating.
7. Porcini Mushrooms
Porcini mushrooms are hearty, earthy, nutty mushrooms that mimic a meaty, savory flavor and can also be used as a replacement for meat to make any dish vegetarian. They’re often used in Italian and French cuisines (they go by the name boletus mushroom or king bolete), although they complement almost any flavor profile and are readily available in a dried version that can be quickly brought back to “life” with a soak in filtered water.
Porcini mushrooms grow through the symbiotic relationship with the tree they are found under. They have thick long stalks (about 3-5 inches) and dark brown caps. When cooked they lend an earthy, nutty flavor to soups, stews, pastas, and pretty much anything you can think of. They’re as versatile as they are delicious.
8. Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms, primarily cultivated in East Asia, are the second most popular mushroom in the world next to button mushrooms. They’re available both as a delicious ingredient in meals and as a medicinal supplement.
Shiitake mushrooms are typically found growing on moist logs, and can even be grown at home via the use of a shiitake home grow kit.
With a creamy texture and smokey flavor, shiitakes are versatile in many dishes, ranging from Asian soups, sauces, and stir-fries to pasta and pizza. They’re believed to be 10 times more flavorful than button mushrooms and can be used as a substitute in many dishes that ask for button mushrooms (but do note the more intense flavor will be present).
Easily one of the rarest and most difficult-to-find foods in the world, the truffle usually forages with the aid of pigs and dogs who sniff out the little ball-like mushrooms that grow from the earth. Once the animal spots the truffle, an expert truffle harvester digs out the truffle with a particular spade and avoids touching it to their skin as this contact would likely lead to rot.
Truffles have an earthy, garlicky aroma and a delicate, savory flavor that is easily unlike anything else you’ve ever tasted. They have a pungent smell that is often appealing to those who enjoy strong stinky cheeses.
There are two main types of truffles (although there are believed to be over 70 known varieties). The white truffle is usually qualified as the most “desirable” and is typically found in Northern and Central Italy, although some versions can be found in other areas. The black truffle is the second most popular, and it grows exclusively under oak trees.
Most attempts to farm truffles have proved useless, and so the traditional, centuries-old method of mushroom hunting for wild grown batches keep this mushroom at the top of the price point for delicacies. Depending on the variety and the region they’re derived from, most European truffles can range in price from $1,000 to $3,000 per pound or much, much more.
To help alleviate the cost to restaurants and the public, a diluted version of the truffle can be more readily available in oil, salt, or butter. This version delivers much of the same earthy taste and can be used as a substitute.
Truffles are typically shaved very lightly over a dish such as risotto or pasta. Truffle salt can be added to any recipe that would benefit from a flavor boost, and can even be tossed with butter over fresh air-popped popcorn!
10. Morel Mushrooms
A truly wild edible, morel mushrooms can’t be farmed, which makes them both coveted and expensive. From the Morchella genus, morels can be oblong or bulbous in shape, off-white to grey, with a honeycomb texture being their most differentiating feature. We eat the fruiting bodies of the the morel’s underground mycelium, which loves ash, tulip, oak, hickory, sycamore, cottonwood, maple, beech, and conifers.
A note of caution for all you mushroom hunters out there: false morels (Gyromitra esculenta and Gyromitra infula) can be deadly poisonous if not parboiled correctly. For identification purposes, a true morel will sport a continuous cap and stalk and be hollow within, as opposed to the false morel, which is wrinkled rather than pitted, filled with cottony fibers, and topped with a cap that twists off easily.
As long as you’ve found a true morel, enjoy the toasted, nutty flavor and meaty but tender texture. And if you’re foraging for morels in the grocery store, you’re likely to find them as dried morels, easily rehydrated. Use the stock as a base for your morel mushroom risotto!
11. Giant Puffball
During the late summer to fall you might spy a giant puffball mushroom in a meadow or at the opening to a forest. Don’t mistake it for a soccer ball, you’ve actually stumbled upon a delicatessen!
However, the giant puffball may be the Amanita species in disguise. For this reason, always slice it open lengthwise, and if you see any gills inside, it’s not edible. If it’s yellow or brown inside, it’s turned and has lost its edibility.
A true giant puffball has a neutral taste that leans slightly toward earthy and nutty. So, cook up some puffball fitters!
12. Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Named for its shaggy mane, the lion’s mane mushroom, also know as the bearded tooth mushroom, bearded hedgehog mushroom, or pom pom mushroom, is often more celebrated for its medicinal properties than its edible nature. Studies show it can help alleviate depression and anxiety and bolster immune function and digestive health among other wellness benefits.
Be careful not to add too much water or oil when you’re cooking with lion’s mane, as it will soak it all up. This meaty delight is perfect pan-fried, and its seafood-like taste might trick you into thinking you’re eating a lobster cake.
Adding Mushrooms to Every Dish
Mushrooms are a healthy and delicious addition to any of your favorite dishes. They can add a mild meaty texture to a spaghetti sauce or can create a rich decadent flavor to your vegan stir fry.
Depending on the kind of mushroom you choose and how it’s prepared, there is seemingly nothing you can’t do with a mushroom. It’s easy to experiment with many of them as you figure out which mushroom varieties are your favorites.