A Guide to Different Types of Edible Mushrooms and How To Cook Them
The humble, hardworking mushroom is one of nature’s greatest gifts. And what a generous gift they are – there are more mushroom varieties than we could probably ever count. Luckily for us, we seem to have most of the edible varieties nailed down. Here are some of our favourite (and easiest to find!) edible mushrooms.
A Guide to Edible Mushrooms
Brown and White or Champignon Mushrooms
These are your basic mushrooms, readily available anywhere. They go by either brown or white, depending on their colours (obviously), but have a similar, earthy flavour. When brown mushrooms are immature, they go by the names Italian brown, Italian mushroom, cremini or crimini mushroom, baby bella, brown cap mushroom or chestnut mushroom.
When white mushrooms are immature, they can also be known as champignon mushrooms and cultivated or table mushrooms. White and brown mushrooms in all of their forms are very versatile and can be used in many ways.
Soups, risottos and stews are great for these guys, otherwise, they can simply be pan fried or roasted and eaten as is or in a sauce. Make this recipe for Baked Potatoes with Creamy Mushrooms and Bacon
A portobello is what a white and brown mushroom turn into when they fully mature. They can handle nearly any form of cooking, but our favourite is pan-frying with lots of garlic and rosemary. Make these Mushroom Truffles with Roasted Garlic Aioli.
Oyster mushrooms are mostly cultivated, instead of foraged, because they grow happily pretty much anywhere. They are identified by their delicate frills that come in an array of soft colours. They can be eaten raw or cooked, but really are best when roasted with lots of herbs, thanks to their mild meaty flavour. Make this recipe for Kreef Tails with Textures of Mushrooms.
King Oyster Mushrooms
This is truly the king of the mushrooms, the king oyster is recognised by its stumpy base with a small cap. These are edible when raw, but honestly, why would you want to eat them raw? Their cooked flavour is incredible, with a strong umami note and an overall meatiness. Our best way to cook them? Pan fried with lots of butter. Simply delicious.
While native to East Asia, Shiitake mushrooms are readily available in South Africa. They form an important part of Asian cuisine, with the dried stems adding that little something to broths, stocks, soups and sauces. They should be avoided being eaten raw, as they can cause rashes, so they’re best cooked to tap into their earthy, rich flavour. Recipe for Shiitake Mushroom Risotto with Basil Oil
Maitake (or Hen of The Woods)
This little cluster of fan-shaped capped mushrooms can be pretty tricky to track down here, but when you do, grab them and run home to cook them. Maitake are native to Japan and The United States and form a large part of their respective cuisines.
Their flavour is mildly woody and can be eaten a number of different ways, but as with most mushrooms, simple is best and these benefit from being pan-fried in a little butter.
Enoki (or Enokitake) Mushrooms
These little edible mushrooms are easily identifiable by their white slim, pin-like appearance and are easily found in most supermarkets. They can be enjoyed in various ways, namely pickled or quickly fried to add a delicate nuttiness and texture to any dish. Make this Spaghetti with Mushrooms and Café au Lait Sauce.
Porcini (or Cep) Mushrooms
Is there a more anticipated edible mushroom than the great porcini? We think not. They pop up around pine trees after the first rains in winter and as far as we’re concerned, there is no better mushroom. They can handle nearly any form of cooking, and their flavour is distinctly rich, earthy and nutty. Make this Mushrooms on Toast recipe.
The elusive morel is a rare find, but a treasure one nonetheless. While technically more of a fungus than a mushroom, a morel is shaped like a long, spongy cap.
Their delicate nutty flavour is such that you wouldn’t want to overpower them with anything too strong, so use them in any dish that allows their flavour to shine. If you’re feeling particularly decadent, stuff them with a rich chicken or mushroom mousse.
These vase-shaped fungi are sweet-smelling, fruity, nutty, and a little peppery. Their colours can range from white or yellow to pink and sometimes even with a hint of red. They’re best served in dishes with relatively mild flavoured ingredients that let their complexity come through, like a wild mushroom soup or alongside chicken.
You’ll recognise shimejis from their long stems and tight concave caps. These little edible mushrooms should really be eaten cooked, as they can be difficult to digest. They take well to either high, quick or low and slow cooking methods, so fry them or pop them in a braise, they’ll be great either way.
You can pretty much do whatever to them and they’ll be able to handle it, just try not overpower their soft earthy flavour with anything too punchy. Make this recipe for Garlic and Sage Wild Mushrooms on Toast.
Chicken of the Woods
Edible mushrooms that tastes like chicken… well yes, so they say. These fungi are usually found in large, fan-like clusters and can be attached to a living or dead tree of some sort depending on the species. They are usually brightly coloured in oranges and yellows.
They can be known to cause stomach upset in some folk, so it is wise to cook well and maybe have a test bite to gauge reaction. When they’re good, they have a meaty flavour and spongy texture works well in a variety of dishes.
Truffles are those elusive and delicious treasures that hide underground and have to be sniffed out by a highly trained nose. They are in fact the subterranean fruiting body of a fungi and don’t have any outward stem or cap that would appear above the ground. They are knobby and really not the prettiest to look at but their rich, nutty, earthy flavour is really hard to beat. Only a tiny amount needs to be added to a dish to add loads of flavour.
They’re costly because they’re difficult to cultivate (you can’t just plant one and hope for the best) and also because they need to reach the place where they are going to be used within a short time frame, so the expense of transport is also a factor. Many have tried to farm truffles around the world but with little success, the real deal grow naturally in the rich soils of certain areas of Europe (think Italy and France) and are sniffed out by highly trained dogs.
Pigs used to be used for this back in the day but they would eat the truffles, so that put a stop to that practice.
Truffles take many years to grow successfully, and, once out of the ground they start degrading quite quickly, so need to be used as soon after harvesting as possible.
If you can get your hands on fresh truffle it is best used sparingly, possibly shaved over a simple dish such as a pasta where its natural flavour will really shine. They’re not the most expensive food in the world for no reason! Make these Risotto Bon Bons with Truffle Aioli.
Inspired to cook some shrooms? Check out our selection of mushroom recipes.
NOTE: There are hundreds of mushroom varieties, both edible and poisonous, many of which look very similar. It is advisable to only undertake foraging for edible wild mushrooms under the guidance of someone who is properly trained. If you are in Cape Town and are interested in foraging trips, get in touch with Justin Williams or firstlightfoods.co.za