How Do I Choose the Best Wild Edible Mushrooms?

T. Carrier
T. Carrier
A black truffle, one of the most expensive types of mushrooms.
A black truffle, one of the most expensive types of mushrooms.

Mushrooms are a type of fungi found in various environments, and while some varieties are dangerous to consume, others are entirely edible. Certain considerations are important when choosing wild edible mushrooms. Specific types of mushrooms like morels, for example, are renowned for their good taste and may be detectable based on their structures. Other wild edible mushrooms tend to thrive in specific environments or during targeted times of the year, such as chantarelles. Safety is perhaps the prime concern, and field guides can provide assistance in identifying dangerous wild mushrooms.

Pasta with sausage and edible mushrooms.
Pasta with sausage and edible mushrooms.

Taste is an important consideration in any edible offering. Many mushroom lovers are partial to morels, which are varieties with a pitted and honeycomb-shaped top. Specific kinds known as black or yellow morels are deemed as particularly tasty. Milk cap mushrooms and truffles are other varieties valued for taste, particularly in areas like Europe.

Mushrooms have growing seasons, so certain times of the year must be taken into account when choosing wild edible mushrooms. Morels, for example, tend to appear in the beginning of the spring flower season. Summer varieties called chantarelles are distinguishable by their bright color and their orange-like appearance. These mushrooms have a distinct flowery, fruity taste.

Different mushrooms also prefer different environments. Woods, streams, and hillsides provide some of the best locations for wild edible mushrooms. As an example, woods are preferred by black chantarelles, a uniquely flavored French favorite.

Button mushrooms.
Button mushrooms.

A surveyor of wild edible mushrooms should consider the versatility of the mushroom as well. Some varieties may function best as a lone edible offering, while others work well as components of a dish. Boletus edulis, for example — also known as bolete, cep, or porcini mushrooms — is a favorite mushroom found around the world. It is a summer or fall offering with a reddish dome-shaped cap. A large, leafy type known as maitake has a firmness and taste that is prized in culinary circles.

Morel mushrooms are often picked wild.
Morel mushrooms are often picked wild.

Some wild edible mushroom may have additional benefits health-wise. Maitake and bolete mushrooms, for example, may bolster the immune system — certain evidence even links these fungi to cancer prevention. Extracts taken from shiitake and portobello mushrooms are also believed to contain anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular-enhancing, and other useful properties. Any such fungi with perceived health benefits are often categorized as medicinal mushrooms.

Oyster mushrooms are commonly hunted in the wild.
Oyster mushrooms are commonly hunted in the wild.

Determining edibility is of primary importance with wild mushrooms, particularly since some mushrooms are poisonous. Mushrooms with a smooth or slimy feel may prove dangerous for some allergic individuals. Many common edible mushrooms also have risky lookalikes. A comprehensive field guide can best help a mushroom hunter distinguish these sometimes subtle differences. Choosing mushrooms that do not show any signs of bug or parasite infestation is also important.

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    • A black truffle, one of the most expensive types of mushrooms.
      A black truffle, one of the most expensive types of mushrooms.
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