Product knowledge: mushrooms
Below is a list of different categories that describes the most important product information about mushrooms. If you would like to know more, click on the links or read the recommended books!
Mushrooms belong to the fungus kingdom and cannot be compared to other vegetables that we use in the kitchen. Partly due to its full earthy flavour and firm fleshy mouthfeel, a mushroom is a widely used product in the kitchen and in many cuisines. The flavour profile of a mushroom can be creamy, earthy and rich in umami, it’s a truly versatile ingredient with a myriad of applications.
The characteristics of the fungi kingdom is that they live and reproduce on the basis of plant material (plant residues). The 3,500 species of mushrooms do this in various ways: there is a collaboration with tree roots (a symbiosis) that share minerals and sugars, so they benefit from each other (wild mushrooms). Truffles are an example of this, this mushroom grows just below the surface between the roots of trees and is one of the best-known global delicacies. Mushrooms also grow on beds of rotting remains of dead plants or slightly digested animal manure (cultivated).
The mushroom product group consists of all kinds and sizes of mushrooms. Due to the unique properties of these products, they cannot be compared with other product groups.
The mushroom product group is divided into the categories wild and cultivated. In the figure below, we first indicate you the most commonly used cultivated mushrooms and their taste, and then describe the most commonly used wild mushrooms.
White Button Mushroom
Agaricus bisporus is an edible mushroom which has two colour states while immature – white and brown – both of which have various names. When mature, it is known as Portobello mushroom. The white button mushroom is the immature and white variety. It’s the most common and mildest-tasting from all the mushroom types. 90 percent of the mushrooms we eat are of this variety. Its flavour is mild, and that makes it more versatile. It can be eaten either raw or cooked and works well in soups, stews, salads, and on pizzas.
Criminis are young Portobello mushrooms, also sold as baby Portobellos, and they’re just more mature white button mushrooms. Crimini and white button mushrooms are interchangeable. They are similar in shape, but may be slightly bigger in size and darker in colour: crimini have a light shade of brown.
Agaricus bisporus is an edible mushroom which has two colour states while immature – white and brown – both of which have various names. When mature, it is known as Portobello mushroom. The chestnut mushroom is the mature and brown variety. Its flavour is more distinct, and that makes it good to be cooked and works well in soups, stews and on pizzas.
Mushrooms of this variety are as wide as the palm of your hand. Portobello mushrooms are dense in texture and have a rich taste. In Italy, they’re used in sauces and pasta and make a great meat substitute, due to its mouthfeel and high Umami flavour Also, if you want a bread bun-substitute, you can even use the mushroom’s flat cap. They’re perfect for grilling and stuffing.
White/Brown Beech mushroom
Shimeji should normally be cooked, or sometimes pickled: it is not a good mushroom to serve raw due to a somewhat bitter taste. Its bitterness disappears completely when cooked, and the mushrooms turn slightly nutty in flavor. This is one of those mushroom types that works well in stir-fried dishes, in soups, stews, and sauces.
Shiitake are mushrooms that grow mainly in Japan, China, and Korea, which is one of the reasons they are so predominant in Asian cuisine. In Japanese, shiitake means ‘oak fungus,’ but these days most shiitakes are cultivated. They have a light woodsy flavour and aroma, while their dried counterparts are more intense. They have a high Umami flavour profile, savoury and meaty and can be used to top meat dishes and to enhance soups and sauces. Shiitake can be found both fresh and dried.
Enoki mushrooms are available fresh or canned. It’s recommended consuming fresh enoki specimens with firm, white, shiny caps, rather than those with slimy or brownish stalks that are best avoided. They’re good raw and they’re common in Asian cooking. Because they’re crisp, they hold up well in soups and go well in salads, but you can also use them in other dishes.
Although these can be found growing in the wild, they’re some of the most commonly cultivated edible mushrooms in the world. The king oyster mushroom is the largest species in the oyster mushroom genus. They are simple to cook and offer a delicate and sweet flavour. They’re used especially in a stir-fry or sauté because they are consistently thin, and so will cook more evenly than other mushrooms
King Oyster mushroom
The king trumpet, eryngii or king oyster mushroom is the largest of the oyster mushroom genus and, unlike other oyster mushrooms, their stalks aren’t tough and woody to eat. Instead, they're hailed for their meaty texture and umami flavour. Native to the Mediterranean, they are perhaps most commonly used in Asian cuisines such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean; three countries where the mushroom is cultivated on a large scale. This impressive mushroom averages between 10–15cm in length, has a long shelf life in the fridge (roughly one week) and doesn’t lose its shape when cooked. The texture is sometimes likened to abalone or scallops, which makes them an interesting option for vegetarians and are often billed as ‘mushroom steaks’ or ‘vegan scallops’.
A meaty mushroom similar to the Portobello, the porcini are mushroom types often used in Italian cuisine. Its flavor has been described as nutty and slightly meaty, with a smooth, creamy texture, and a distinctive aroma reminiscent of sourdough. Dried ones are easily reconstituted by soaking in hot water for at least 15 minutes before cooking with them. They’re good sautéed with butter, ground into pasta, in soups, risottos, and in many other dishes. They are also one of the few mushroom species pickled and sold commercially.
Chanterelles are among the most popular species of wild mushrooms. They are orange, yellow or white, meaty and trumpet-shaped. Because they’re difficult to cultivate, chanterelles are usually foraged in the wild. They’re common in many European cuisines. Some species have a fruity odour, others a more woody, earthy fragrance, and still others can even be considered spicy. They are delicate in flavour and texture, work well fried or sautéed in butter, oil or cream. You can use them as a starter topping, on bruschetta or you can combine them with eggs. They also go well in soufflés, cream sauces, soups, or pasta.
Out of all the mushroom types, these distinctive fungi have a honeycomb appearance on their cap. Morels are prized by gourmet cooks, particularly in French cuisine, because they packed full of Umami, they are super savoury and delicious. One of the best and simplest ways to enjoy morels is by gently sautéeing them in butter, then season them with salt and pepper. They are a little chewy and taste great. Serve them with meat and poultry, or add them to soups, or in pasta fillings.
Pied de mouton
The French named this mushroom after the shape of the cap, like a mutton's foot, and the English name is about the gills underneath, which look like the spikes of a hedgehog.
The flavor is good and earthy - nutty, mild Firm fleshed, their texture and ability to hold up to cooking is what makes them so wonderful. Great with poultry, with cream sauce and simply tossed in butter.
Trompette de la mort
Black trumpets have a rich, smoky flavor and notes of a black truffle mushroom when dried.
Truffles are underground fungi usually found in close association with a tree. Many species are rare, edible and as they are considered to be delicacies, are among the world's most expensive foods. There are dozens of different species. To reproduce, truffles rely on being dug up and eaten by animals and then spread in their dung. Their aroma is distinctive and their flavour can range from mild, to woody and pungeant, packed full of umami.
The round, dark brown fruiting bodies have a black-brown skin with small pyramidal cusps. They have a strong, aromatic smell and normally reach a size of up to 10 cm. Black truffle exude a scent reminiscent of undergrowth, strawberries, wet earth or dried fruit with a hint of cocoa. Their taste, which fully develops after the truffles are heated, is slightly peppery and bitter.
White truffles are ivory to chestnut in colour and upon inspection should have an aroma that is overwhelmingly pungent, clean, and sweet, springy to the touch but not soft. Any sign of beading or moisture will signify that the truffle is past it's best. Because they are so aromatic and pungent, but their aroma tends to fade relatively quickly, white truffles should never be cooked.
Wood ear/jelly ear
Wood Ear mushrooms are small to medium in size, averaging 3-8 centimetres in diameter, and are curved and wavy with an ear-like or cup-like shape. The fruiting bodies are brown to dark brown with a slippery or gelatinous texture and can be made up of smooth, wavy edges or many folds and wrinkles with some veining. With age, the gill-less and stem-less fungus darkens, and the spores range in colour from yellow, cream, to white. When cooked, Wood Ear mushrooms are firm, crunchy, and toothsome with a mild, musty flavour. They are known for its chewy-crunchy texture, Often used in soups or in a stir-fry, the mushrooms will take on flavours from other ingredients when cooked and add texture to the dish.
Puffballs are a great family of mushrooms for novice foragers to pick from, for a number of reasons. All true Puffballs found in the UK are edible when young. They grow almost all year round and can often be found in large quantities. With a little care they are easy to identify. Some of them are very tasty! The safest of all UK mushrooms to identify, is also the best tasting in the Puffball family; the Giant Puffball, Calvatia gigantia. It has no look-a-likes when mature, and will provide a decent sized meal from just one mushroom.
Hen of the woods
It is typically found in late summer to early autumn. It is native to China, Europe, and North America. A tasty mushroom that can sometimes be located by its pleasant aroma, this polypore is quite short lived and starts to smell awful when very mature.
It is a type of mushroom that grows mainly on birch trees in northern Europe, Asia, Canada, and the northeastern United States. Long used in folk medicine, Chaga contains massive amounts of the pigment melanin. Chaga mushrooms do not taste like a typical mushroom. It has a somewhat earthy flavor with a slight bitterness. It also contains a naturally occurring form of vanillin, the same as what is found vanilla bean.
When purchasing ingredients, it is important that you, as a chef, are able to evaluate the quality of a product and that you know how to store it correctly. Below we have outlined the most important points to consider when purchasing and storing mushrooms.
The following points are important for purchasing mushrooms:
- Uniform colour
- Smooth surface, minimal bruising
- Nicely closed tracks
- No ‘sweating’ or beading of moisture
- No sour or rancid aroma
- The right kind, for which preparation
Keep mushrooms in the original packaging or in a plastic container. Brush them clean and store in a large container, covered with paper or a towel so that the exiting moisture does not promote spoilage. A refrigerator temperature of 4-5°C slows down the metabolism and ensures that the mushrooms stay fresh for longer. Do not seal them airtight, make sure they can breathe sufficiently.
Nutritional value. Mushrooms are rich in fibre and protein, low in calories and fat, and are cholesterol-free. The protein content is so high that it can be used well for vegetarian dishes. In addition, these fungi are good for healthy skin and help the body to get energy from food. This is due to vitamins B and D. The minerals are also represented by: folium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and copper. They ensure a good immune system and recovery of the body.
Allergens. Mushrooms are not among the official allergens. However, a connection can be made between a histamine allergy and the consumption of mushrooms. Mushrooms contain an amount of histamine.
Why mushrooms enhance the flavour of a dish. We love mushrooms for their full, almost fleshy flavour. Due to the high content of free amino acids (including glutamic acid, which we know as the 5th taste umami), mushrooms enhance the taste of dishes. It is a concentrated natural source of monosodium glutamate. Book: Harold McGee (2004) On Food and Cooking: an Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture, p. 344
Truffles are the fruiting bodies of species in the tuber genus, several of which are commercially important. They usually have a dense, knobby mass that can be the size of a walnut, but also larger than a fist. Unlike other mushrooms, truffles remain hidden underground. Book: Harold McGee (2004) On Food and Cooking: an Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture, p. 347.
Fungi are very important in the natural environment. Plants are supported by mycorrhizal symbioses with fungi, are attacked by other fungi that cause plant diseases, and are the major decomposers of their dead tissues. Fungi also engage in supportive and harmful interactions with animals, including humans. They are major players in global nutrient cycles. Book: Sarah Watkinson, Lynne Boddy, Nicolas Money (2015) The Fungi 3rd Edition.
- The breeding bed on which the mushroom grows consists of a fermented mixture of straw, chicken, horse manure, gypsum and water.
- Mould forms in the cultivation bed; the mycelium. This system of fungal threads ensures the supply of nutrients to the mushroom.
- A single portobella mushroom can contain more potassium than a banana.
- Fresh ceps (also called porcini mushrooms or porcini) are in season from late autumn to November.
- Mushrooms are used in developing ultra-processed fake meat, you can read more about it here.
- Always wanted to take a look behind the screens of a massive mushroom farm factory? Then watch this video.
- There are around 75 mushroom species that glow in the dark.
- The mushroom as we know it today was first discovered by accident about 350 years ago by melon growers in Paris.
- Want to know more about growing mushrooms? Then watch this video.
- Never put mushrooms with strongly smelling foods, they absorb odours quickly.
- Mushrooms are the only vegetarian food that contains high levels of vitamin D.
- Mushrooms have a high moisture content, which is between 85-95%.
- Would you like to know more about the production of preserved mushrooms? Then check out this book by Elisabeth Luard.
- Never pick mushrooms yourself without prior knowledge, there are poisonous species among them.
- You see a lot of wild mushrooms, but which ones can be eaten, and which are not edible? The next two videos will give you a beginner’s guide to foraging. Click here for the first video and here for the second part.
- View all components with mushrooms on Gastronomixs here.
All of the information above has been compiled with the greatest care, using various sources. Have you read something that you think is incorrect? If so, then please let us know and we’ll look into it.