‘Shrooming in the Woods or Supermarket – It’s a Good Thing!

Common morel fungus growing in the forest

As spring creeps in this year, mushroom enthusiasts are just itching to get out into the woods and search for the highly prized, morel mushroom.  This elusive mushroom is prized for its tastiness and can only be wild-crafted as no one has figured out how to grow and farm them as of yet.

Besides being prized for their taste, morels are loaded with all kinds of nutrients.  Because they tend to grow in rich soils they come packed with vitamins and minerals such as iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin D, folate, niacin, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, calcium selenium, thiamin, vitamin E and vitamin B6.  However, their nutrient value varies with the soil where the moral grows.  Morals are also loaded with antioxidants, help to balance blood sugar, and provide protein and fiber.  Morals can be used in any way that farmed mushrooms would be used.

While the wild moral mushroom is high prized, its’ farmed mushroom cousins—white, shitake, cremini, oyster, maitake–are equally as nutritious and offer delicious and unique flavors, too.  They are also readily available at the supermarket.   Even though there are more than 2000 varieties of edible mushrooms in the world, most people cook with only one or two.  Here is a quick summary of those most commonly found on produce shelves:

White Button Shitake Cremini/Portobello Oyster Maitake
 
Most common mushroom.
Mild flavor, very versatile.
Protein-rich.
Deep woodsy flavor especially if dried and
re-hydrated.
Calcium rich.
Baby bella = Cremini; larger, mature form = Portobello.
Makes dark sauces and great for grilling.
Delicate, mild flavor.
Stays firm when cooked; excellent for stir-fry.
Iron and antioxidant rich.
Also known as hen-of-the-woods.
Earthy flavor.
Excellent for stir-frys.
Antioxidant rich.

The enemy of any mushroom is moisture in its packaging.  Fresh morels will keep about a week in the refrigerator provided they were harvested in good condition.  Place them in paper bags and store them in the refrigerator with plenty of air circulating around them.  Drying is an excellent storage option, too.  A paper bag is also a good way to store purchased mushrooms; this allows them to breathe.  Moisture build up inside the packaging is the fastest way for mushrooms to break down.

Mushrooms need to be cleaned before use. The best way to clean most fresh mushrooms is to wipe them with a clean, barely damp cloth or paper towel. Washing mushrooms is usually not necessary. If you must rinse them, do it lightly and dry them immediately, gently with paper towels. Never soak fresh mushrooms in water, which will cause them to become soggy. Morels need to be cleaned differently.  Begin by cutting a thin slice off the bottom of each stem.  You may also cut the mushrooms in half from stem to tip. Rinse them in cool water to remove dirt and insects. If heavy dirt, bugs and worms are present, it may be necessary to soak them in lightly salted water for a short time to bring out debris. Rinse the morels well and pat dry.

Cleaned mushrooms can be wrapped loosely in damp paper towels or a damp clean cotton cloth, placed in a container, and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days; the mushrooms may darken if stored this way.

Mushroom nutrition can be enhanced by placing them in the sun for 30 minutes prior to use.  Since most mushrooms are grown in the dark, they need sunlight to bring up their vitamin D content.  Exposure to sunlight significantly improves vitamin D.  If the mushrooms are chopped prior to exposure, vitamin D is maximized.  Some packaged mushrooms are marketed as vitamin D enhanced.

For those that do not care for fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms may be an option.  Dried or powdered mushrooms pack the same nutritional punch as fresh mushrooms.  Mushroom powder can be included in sauces, homemade bread, casseroles, soups, etc., to add nutrition.  There are now a number of mushroom powder “enhanced” products and foods on supermarket shelves.

So whether it is the wild moral mushroom or farmed, store bought mushrooms, mushrooms are an excellent food for both flavor and nutrition.  Take good care of them to maximize both the flavor and nutrition.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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