With more than 14,000 identified species, the world of mushrooms reaches farther than we can possibly imagine, from numerous varieties that thrive in animal manure to the parasitic Cordyceps species, which grows out of insect carcasses. Among those thousands of species, scientists and enthusiastic mushroom hunters have identified at least 3,000 types of edible mushrooms. Beyond your local grocery store shelf — which likely offers white button mushrooms, brown criminis, large portobellos and possibly a few other more common mushroom varieties — this wider world of mushrooms is out there, ready to be discovered.
Much loved for their rich, umami flavor and their nutrient density, mushrooms are often used as a meat replacement. They are also easy to store, cook and preserve. Adding new mushroom varieties into your pantry can provide different textures, flavors and cooking applications. So if you've only been picking up the aforementioned button, crimini and portobello thus far — which are all varieties of the same mushroom species, by the way! — look for something new. To help, we asked some mushroom experts, foragers and chefs who really know the Fungi Kingdom inside and out to share their favorite types of edible mushrooms.
Shopping and storing advice
Although these mushrooms differ greatly from each other — we're featuring both cultivated and wild mushrooms here — there are some basics when it comes to shopping for and cleaning mushrooms. When you are shopping for mushrooms, the general rule is to look for mushrooms that are fresh looking and bright colored, avoiding anything slimy, dried around the edges, or that has a browning that indicates age or lack of freshness. Buying mushrooms whole is always better, and purchasing them hand-selected is better than buying a wrapped container. "I would only buy pre-cut mushrooms if I was going to buy them that day," says Jeremy Umansky, a Cleveland, Ohio-based chef and wild food forager.
Keep mushrooms in the crisper drawer, ideally in a cloth or paper bag, where they will last longer than you probably think. "Most mushrooms, if they're fresh, if you get them from the farmers' market or directly from the producer, can last anywhere from a week to a month in your fridge," says Umansky. Mushrooms from the grocery store, where the chain from producer to shelf is longer, will last anywhere from three days to a week.
Pro tip: If your mushrooms begin to dry out before you use them, Umansky says to "move them out of the crisper drawer and put them on a plate uncovered in your refrigerator and they'll dry out before they actually spoil." These now shelf-stable mushrooms can be rehydrated or ground into powder.
When you are ready to cook the mushrooms, you'll need to clean them. Contrary to popular belief, the best way to do this is by soaking the mushrooms, allowing all the dirt and other debris to fall off, then drying them in a colander, or better yet, spinning them in a salad spinner to completely dry. Harold McGee, Serious Eats, Alton Brown and others have debunked the idea that mushrooms will absorb water if soaked (they retain around 1 to 2 percent by weight, aka not very much). "What we think of as [mushrooms] soaking up water is actually water that gets trapped in the little nooks and crannies and on the surface of the mushroom or in the gills themselves," says Umansky.
7 mushroom varieties to look for
For expert forager and editor-in-chief of Fungi Magazine Bret Bunyard, black trumpet mushrooms are a top pick. A chefs' favorite as well, these black-gray mushrooms, named for their funnel shape, are rarer to see in grocery stores but can be found at farmers' markets and in the wild. A cousin to chanterelle mushrooms (see below), black trumpets have a robust, smoky flavor that is prized fresh and dried, and some compare them to black truffle mushrooms when dried.
Black trumpets are "the" risotto mushroom, according to Bunyard: "Far and away, risotto is best with black trumpets or [my other favorite] king boletes." They grow in the late summer to fall months across North America, Europe, Japan, and Korea and can be found in dishes around the world, including yakitori, arancini, pate and more. Keep in mind that black trumpet mushrooms are particularly dirty and need to be thoroughly cleaned. Halving them first helps loosen any grit hiding in the centers.
Chanterelle mushrooms are a favorite among mushroom experts thanks to their wide availability and unique aroma. Although the fungus only grows in the wild, they are so commonly found, you can regularly spot them at well-stocked grocery stores and farmers' markets. The golden yellow mushroom is "a classic upgrade for the average mushroom, [with] a delightfully sweet yet slightly fruity aroma that some say is reminiscent of apricots," says Jess Starwood, author of "Mushroom Wonderland." Umansky describes their flavor as "so complex compared to most other mushrooms" with an aroma that's like a cross between the rose notes of black pepper and stone fruit.
Thanks to this lighter aroma, chanterelles are suited to both sweet and savory recipes. They can be candied, added to desserts or used in cocktails. Umansky suggests pairing the mushrooms with stone fruit, such as a savory stone fruit salad, a peach with pork dish, or duck in cherry sauce.
One thing to note: Unlike other mushrooms, chanterelles don't hold up well once dried; their texture becomes rubbery when rehydrated and their aroma is subdued. Starwood suggests freezing, pickling or fermenting after cooking to retain its best qualities.
Chicken of the Woods
Not to be confused with hen-of-the-wood mushrooms (see below), chicken of the woods mushrooms are nicknamed the chicken mushroom. The bright yellowish-orange wild mushroom is robust and meaty and grows abundantly throughout eastern North America, particularly on oak trees. "It is generally an easy to clean mushroom, but due to its habit of growing on decaying trees," says Starwood, "it sometimes can grow around pieces of bark, stems or rock, so be on the lookout for any foreign matter embedded in its flesh."
Often used as a vegetarian replacement for poultry, chicken of the woods mushrooms can be deep-fried as 'nuggets' or for crispy chicken sandwiches, used in stir-fries, tacos and more. These mushrooms are also well suited to pickling, fermenting and freezing for use in future recipes. While not common, some people get a numbing sensation on their lips after eating these mushrooms, and others may feel some gastrointestinal distress, especially with undercooked mushrooms. Starwood suggests boiling them for 15 to 20 minutes before eating to avoid any problems.
When it comes to the more readily available mushrooms, Kristen and Trent Blizzard, authors of the book "Wild Mushrooms: A Cookbook and Foraging Guide," include lion's mane mushrooms among their top favorites. The mushrooms, which look a bit like shaggy snowballs, grow wild and are also cultivated (it's an easy mushroom to grow at home), and should be white and crisp; avoid yellow and brown edges when shopping.
Lion's mane mushrooms are popular for use as a seafood replacement: "I think a lot of people liken them to cooking with scallops," says Kristen Blizzard. "You can use that mushroom pretty much anywhere as a replacement for a white fish, their texture especially is very similar to that." "Wild Mushrooms" includes a recipe for lion's mane a crab cakes-style potato cake (see below) and the Blizzards use the mushroom to make Baja-style tacos.
Maitake (also called Hen-of-the-Wood)
Another popular mushroom amongst experts, maitakes are described to have a damp, wonderful musky smell, and a hardy texture that holds up well in cooking. The mushroom pairs well with smokey flavors and can be cold or hot smoked or grilled and does well in long braises and other heartier preparations. "It's a mushroom you might see in soups and stew because it holds up well," says Kristen Blizzard. "You can cook it all day long and it's not going to disintegrate." It grows wild all over the Midwest and Eastern United States from mid-to-late fall mushroom, and can also be purchased and cultivated year-round.
One note to keep in mind: Look for maitakes whose underside and gills are stark white. "If it looks like a beige color or manila, or like something along those lines, that means the mushroom is pretty much past its prime," says Umansky. "It's been sitting around for a while, it may be old, and in that case, if you get it or if that happens while you're waiting on it in your fridge, cook and then right away, dry them and they'll work great as a dried mushroom." This discoloration happens as the mushroom passes through the sporing process, and can result in overwhelming bitter notes, which the drying process helps dissipate.
Almost every mushroom lover lists morels among their favorites, thanks to their deep earthy flavor and aroma. Starwood describes them as "highly coveted." Bunyard says they are "most people's absolute fave." The wild mushroom is found throughout Europe, America and Canada, and appears from March until May or June in most areas, often paired in recipes with other spring vegetables including fava beans, asparagus and peas.
Morels are very versatile. Thanks to their hollow center, they are often stuffed with cheese, battered and fried, and are a classic risotto mushroom. During the winter, you can use dried morels or morel powder. "Love them sauteed or deep-fried but what about most of the year when they're not around? Used dried!" says Bunyard. "Dried mushrooms allow you to enjoy the flavors of mushroom season, even out of season." Look for fresh or dried morels at farmers' markets and grocery stores with a robust mushroom selection.
A cultivated mushroom (meaning you won't find them while out foraging), shiitakes are commonly found in grocery stores and markets, making them a very affordable option. "The shiitake is just a super healthy, high umami, versatile mushroom in so many ways," says Trent Blizzard. "It can kind of flavor the whole dish, whereas it seems like some of the other mushrooms, you taste their flavor in the food, but they don't drive their flavor into food."
He suggests using the stems of shiitake mushrooms, which can be rubbery, for stock. Then tear, instead of cutting, these mushrooms, which creates more surface area for sauce and other flavors. "We often trim them up a little bit with a knife, but then we tear them into bite-sized pieces with our fingers before we cook them," he says. Blizzard says this technique can be used for most mushrooms, depending on their size and texture.
These mushrooms are not consumed for their flavor or their taste, which fascinates Umansky. Instead, the wood ear mushroom, reddish-brown with a bendy and folded shape, is chosen for its texture and ability to take on other flavors. "The crunch and slightly gelatinous texture that they have is highly prized in a lot of ancient cuisines, and has a place in a lot of Eastern European cuisine also, where things like tendon or tripe are integrated into the cuisines," he says. If you want to emulate a dish like an Italian tripe dish or duck tongue or tendons used in different Asian cuisines, but make it vegan, Umansky suggests this mushroom.
"You know, some people are unsure of them because they look different than other mushrooms and some people aren't sure about the texture," says Umansky. "I've talked to a lot of meat eaters who are bone chewers; they like to chew the cartilage off the end of the chicken bones . . . for those bone lovers, this is the mushroom they will love because the texture is very reminiscent of those meats."
For both bone lovers and mushroom fans, wood ear mushrooms can be very versatile. Umansky suggests looking for them at Asian supermarkets, where they are almost always sold dried and are generally more affordable than commercial US grocers. Once the mushrooms have been rehydrated, wood ear mushrooms can be added to salads, stir-fries and soups, and pair well with strong flavors, like fermented black beans, oyster sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil.
7 cookbooks for making the most of mushroom varieties
We've covered mushroom foraging and guidebooks before, but if you are looking for something specific to cooking mushrooms, here are some great resources. And Kristen from Modern Foraging also suggests looking beyond mainstream publishing. "A little tip: some of the best mushroom cookbooks are out there were put together by mycological societies and can be purchased on their websites!" She suggests looking for cookbooks from the Cascade Mycological Society and the Puget Sound Mycological Society, among others.
A response to Louie Schwartzberg's award-winning documentary of the same name, the "Fantastic Fungi" cookbook (December 2021) is a compilation of more than 100 recipes from mushroom lovers all over the world (including the Blizzards), as well as essays on mushroom cultivation, foraging and other topics by Eugenia Bone. Billed as "the most diverse and comprehensive mushroom cookbook available," it is set to become the new "it" mushroom cookbook.
Both an expert forager and a classically trained chef, Chad Hyatt has made a name for himself at the Mushroom Hunter. In his cookbook, "The Mushroom Hunter's Kitchen," he highlights wild mushroom varieties in 120 recipes, including both savory dishes and sweet ones, such as granola, cake and ice cream. He includes some lesser-known mushrooms in his recipes but offers smart substitutions and plenty of recipes for more commonly found varieties including porcinis, morels and chantarelles.
Among the guidance in "Mushroom Wonderland," author Jess Starwood teaches readers how to forage for 12 edible mushroom varieties, including puffballs, morels, and porcini, many of which are sold at farmers' markets and grocery stores as well. Although the book is not strictly a cookbook — it includes color photographs and descriptive texts for many mushrooms as well as foraging tips — the book is great for those who want to expand their mushroom knowledge.
Written with the home cook in mind, "Shroom" by Becky Selengut, offers readers a down-to-earth guide for cooking mushrooms in new ways. In 15 species-specific chapters, the book covers flavor profiles, cooking techniques and recipes from around the world, including Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines.
Written by award-winning photographer Roger Phillips, "Wild Food" is both a comprehensive field guide with beautiful photography and a cookbook with more than 100 recipes. The book doesn't focus solely on mushrooms, including all wild foods like berries, edible greens, seaweed and others, but it has great information and recipes featuring mushrooms.
If you are interested in both foraging for mushrooms and cooking them, this is the book for you. Kristen and Trent Blizzard cover forest etiquette and foraging techniques, alongside mushroom preservation, tips for avoiding gastric upset and other undesired effects. With 115 recipes for more than a dozen mushroom varieties, "Wild Mushrooms" will up your game, from novice enthusiast to connoisseur.
Connie Green is the founder and "head huntress" of Wine Forest Wild Mushrooms, the first and still highly regarded wild foods business in the United States, which means she really knows a thing or two about mushrooms. Her book, "The Wild Table," earned praise from Michelin-starred chefs, cookbook authors and more, thanks to its insights into foraging and step-by-step cooking instructions. It features more than 100 recipes and accompanying essays, including recipes from chefs around the country.