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Are you in the dark about mushrooms? Enlighten yourself about this wonderfully tasty fungus, from the basic button mushroom to the more unusual varieties. Once you become familiar with the different mushroom varieties, try one of the many mushroom recipes.
There are over 38,000 varieties of mushrooms available, over 3,000 in North America alone, with varying colors, textures and flavors. Some are so rare that they only grow for one week during the year.
They grow wild in many areas, but most mushrooms on the market are commercially-grown on farms. Mushrooms do not depend upon photosynthesis to grow. They need only rain and moderate temperatures to proliferate. The best mushroom harvesting is done while it is raining.
Warning! Many mushrooms are poisonous
Some areas are known for their prized wild mushrooms, but it is most important that you research your target thoroughly if you intend to harvest your own wild mushrooms because many are highly toxic and life-threatening.
Please do not rely upon any casual column to determine toxicity of wild mushrooms. The danger inherent in many poisonous varieties of mushrooms cannot be over-stressed.
Unless you are well-educated in all types of mushrooms, particularly in identification of poisonous ones, it is wise to purchase your mushrooms from a reputable grower or grocer rather than hunting them yourself.
A simple identification error can lead to symptoms of sweating, cramps, diarrhea, confusion, convulsions, and potentially result in liver damage with a mortality rate of 60 percent or higher.
Why take the chance?
Here are a few of the most popular edible mushroom varieties, from the common to wild:
|Agaricus (white mushroom, button mushroom): Widely available; varies in color from white to light brown and in size from small to jumbo stuffer; plump and dome-shaped; pleasing flavor intensifies when cooked. Mature Agaricus with open veils have an intensely rich taste. Agaricus is quite versatile, being excellent for use both raw and cooked. Also available canned and dried.|
|Chanterelle (girolle): Vase-shaped; ranging in color from bright yellow to orange; nutty and delicate flavor and texture; expensive when fresh; also available dried and canned. Add late in the cooking process to avoid toughening. Use in salads, sauces and risottos.|
|Crimini (Italian brown): Naturally dark cap that ranges in color from light tan to rich brown; rich, earthy flavor is more intense than that of the Agaricus. Substitute for button mushrooms to add a more full-bodied flavor.|
|Shiitake (oak mushroom; Chinese black mushroom; forest mushroom; golden oak): ranging in color from tan to dark brown; characterized by broad, umbrella shaped caps up to ten inches in diameter, wide open veils and tan gills; rich, full-bodied flavor, almost steak-like, with a meaty texture when cooked. These are best when cooked in almost any method, particularly sautéing, broiling and baking. Remove stems before cooking but reserve them for soup stocks.|
|Oyster: Fluted cap resembles a fan; ranging in color from a soft beige brown to gray; can be eaten raw in salads but more often this mushroom is cooked to bring out its delicate flavor and velvety texture. Some say this mushroom has a faint oyster-like or seafood flavor, to match its likeness in shape to oysters.|
|Enoki (enokitake; enokidake; snow puff mushrooms; golden mushrooms; velvet stem): Long stems and tiny, snow-white caps; small white mushrooms are joined at the base and resemble bean sprouts; light and mild, almost fruity, flavor with a crisp texture. Also available canned. Before using, cut away from the communal base. Use in sandwiches, salads and as garnishes. If you use them in a cooked dish, add at the last possible moment as heat toughens enoki.|
|Portabello/Portabella: Largest of the commercially available mushrooms with a tan/brown cap, it's the mature version of the crimini. Its popularity derives from a brilliant marketing campaign in the 1980's to sell these perceived "over-mature" common mushrooms. Its long growing cycle gives a deep, meat-like flavor, and substantial texture. They are good whole, sliced, grilled, baked, stir-fried and deep-fried. Be sure to trim off the dry, fibrous portion of the stem.|
|Porcini (cepes; boletes; boletus; steinpilze; singular tense: porcino): Resembles the traditional fairytale toadstool; weighing from a couple of ounces to a pound each with caps from one to ten inches in diameter; smooth, meaty texture; pungent in flavor; pale brown color; very expensive; many general cooking uses. Also available dried.|
|Morel (black morel): A relative of the highly-prized truffle; tan to dark-brown, cone-shaped, spongey; smoky, earthy, nutty flavor; expensive and also available canned and dried. The darker the mushroom, the more pronounced is the flavor. This mushroom must be cleaned well when fresh due to its dimpled head.|
Recent studies have shown shiitake and reishi mushrooms are potential cancer-fighters. Reishi extracts have been shown to stop the growth of cancerous tumors and also produce an antihistamine action which can help to control allergies.
Shiitake mushrooms contain a compound called lentinan, which is being used as a cancer treatment in Japan.
Mushrooms are also a good source of riboflavin and niacin and contain no fat or cholesterol.