The button mushroom is the most popular mushroom on the planet. It’s easily and readily available year long at your grocery store. It’s consumed by millions of people every day all over the world and worth taking a second look at before you dismiss it as the “cheap” or “ordinary” or even just regular old “boring” mushroom. There’s a lot to love about this little fungi.
Button mushrooms are relatively inexpensive, easy to clean, and cook and taste great in all kinds of different dishes. They often adopt the flavors that they are prepared with, while simultaneously improving a meal by adding a spike of delicious mushroom-y savory goodness.
The Button Mushroom
The button mushroom grows on dead or decaying matter, which is known as a saprotroph. They readily grow all over the world, making them so common and easy to find. You can usually spot button mushrooms popping up after a fresh rainfall. The flesh of these mushrooms are white but will turn slightly pink if they are bruised.
This pink will turn brown, but be careful to not confuse the brown tinge to that of the cremini mushroom (and honestly it would be hard to do, as they look very different).
In the United States, the button mushroom is one of the most popular, with Americans consuming about 2 pounds per person each year!
The Difference Between Button, Cremini, and Portobello Mushrooms
Spoiler alert, the button mushroom, cremini mushroom, and portobello mushroom are all the same mushroom, part of the species Agaricus Bisporus! We know. It’s pretty mind-blowing. But how can that be? Cremini mushrooms are merely a brown strain of the white button mushrooms. And the portobellos are also part of the same brown strain that is a more ripened and more mature version of baby cremini mushrooms.
The portobello mushroom is what the button mushroom longs to be—large, thick, and meaty, while slightly more complex.
The Latin “Agaricus” means “gilled mushroom,” while “bisporus” means that the spore-producing gills contain two spores rather than the typical four as seen on many other species of mushrooms. These spores can be easily observed in the underside of the heads of the portobello mushroom where their spores are far more pronounced.
Bottom line, if you love white button mushrooms, odds are good you’ll also enjoy cremini and portobello mushrooms, and vice versa.
Health Benefits of Button Mushrooms
Button mushrooms are rich in vitamins B, D, selenium, copper, potassium, and dietary fiber as well as several other minerals and vitamins. They’re also very low in calories and surprisingly high in protein, which comprises 20-30% of their dry weight.
The fiber content is valuable and has been shown to help reduce cholesterol and improve risks of heart disease in a study conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that can help to neutralize free radicals in your bloodstream, thereby helping to prevent cell damage and ultimately leading to a reduced risk of cancer and other diseases. Mushrooms contain the most selenium per weight of any other form of produce.
Potassium is essential for regulating blood pressure, and in some cases, a giant portobello mushroom may have more potassium than a banana.
Additionally, there is evidence that this wildly popular and common mushroom may boost the immune system in a way that has been linked to fighting cancer. In a study presented at Penn State’s 52nd Annual Mushroom Industry Conference in 2010, researchers found that several compounds from the button mushroom may inhibit cancer cell growth.
Get the Most out of Your Button Mushrooms
Mushrooms are a bit like a sponge in that they soak up whatever compounds are within the environment they’re growing in. Because of this, it’s essential that you buy organic or, if you have the means, grow your own button mushrooms! The most popular home-growing kits typically have the mushrooms feeding off of wood chips or other discarded food waste and compost.
Mushrooms are very high in water content. In fact, 70-90% of fungi are made of water. While the high-water content can make you feel fuller, it can also create an illusion that you are eating more than you are. This water content is more evident when mushrooms are reduced through cooking.
Much like cooking spinach, what seems like a massive pile of mushrooms turns into a small little heap once the water is cooked out of it.
Caution for Button Mushrooms
All mushrooms contain potentially dangerous toxins. While tossing raw button mushrooms on a salad is a popular and delicious way to enjoy your mushrooms and their health benefits, it does come with a certain amount of risk. Instead, consider cooking your mushrooms before adding them to your salad or other dishes.
Chitin is the fibrous and tough lining of mushroom cell walls that contain polysaccharides found in fungi. Cooking mushrooms breaks chitin down, thereby neutralizing the small levels of ever-present potential toxins. A bonus to cooking all of your mushrooms is that the heat allows the nutrients to be more readily absorbed after they’ve been eaten, making their nutritional impact more potent.
First-timers, please use caution when eating any mushrooms. Some people are quite allergic. Introduce them slowly at first and never eat wild-picked mushrooms unless you are certain they are not poisonous.
How to Cook Button Mushrooms
Choose mushrooms that have unopened caps, aren’t slimy, and don’t seem overly bruised. Before you cook, rinse quickly under water and pat dry. If too much water is allowed to be soaked up, they will become mushy. Dried mushrooms cook up crispier than those tossed into a dish just after rinsing.
Button mushrooms are delicious tossed in extra virgin olive oil or with butter over heat. They’re so versatile that they add a great pop of flavor thrown over freshly grilled steaks, baked with herbs, or combined into soups, stews, and pasta dishes.
Button mushrooms will safely last about a week in your refrigerator stored in a paper bag. In fact, storing in a paper bag will allow the mushrooms to last even longer than if left wrapped in plastic or uncovered.