To some, they’re a great ingredient if you want to add a bit of umami—that’s savory-ness—to a meal.
To others, they’re just a weird fungus.
It’s true, mushrooms are a fungus. Or rather, something like the fruit of a fungus, called mycelium.
There are thousands of varieties of mushrooms, ranging in size, shape, flavor and texture. Some are edible, some are not.
Edible mushrooms have been used in both food and medicine. In general, most mushrooms are good sources of selenium, B vitamins, potassium and even small amounts of vitamin D, if exposed to UV light.
They also contain prebiotic beta-glucans, which feed the gut flora and strengthen the immune system while also fighting cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Edible mushrooms are available locally as wild options, although common mushrooms are found year-round at the grocery store.
Locally, you may find morels in the spring, chanterelles in mid-summer and porcini in the fall. Price will vary based on availability.
Mushrooms can also be dried and stored longer for rehydration before cooking.
Before you eat them, wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth to remove any dirt—and avoid rinsing, as it can leave them rubbery. Also, be sure to cook your mushrooms, as many types contain a compound called agaritine, which may be potentially carcinogenic if eaten raw.
When incorporating mushrooms into cooking, take the time to explore different varieties and note the various flavors and textures.
Even some mushroom-haters may sometimes find alternatives they love.
Here are a few mushroom highlights:
White button, cremini and portobello
What do these have in common? They’re all the same mushroom.
White button mushrooms—accounting for 90% of mushrooms in the U.S.—are the baby of the cremini and portobello mushrooms. These are the most common and least expensive options at the grocery store. They offer a milder flavor.
Cremini are button mushrooms—the grown-up variety, also called baby bellas—with a brown color.
Portobellos are the most grown-up version of button mushrooms.
They are all similar in nutrition profile and come in quite high in antioxidant ranking. With age, they become earthier in flavor.
Use them in stir-fries, soups, salads or as a topping for an entree.
Many people like to use the portobello as a vegetarian burger substitute. It’s great for matching the texture and flavor, but it’s not quite a match, as it has a lower protein content.
While these look a bit different than your average mushroom, they’re a popular choice for pastas, tarts or other stir-fries. These mushrooms have a more delicate flavor and velvety texture.
This oblong-shaped mushroom has a spongy, honeycomb-looking texture and is more often found seasonally at a farmer’s market. They are often pricier, but worth a try when you can find some.
These golden mushrooms have a peppery and fruity flavor. They last a bit longer in the fridge and should be prepared without oil because of their higher moisture content.
Despite their color and flavor, chanterelles have a lower antioxidant content among mushrooms. Even so, they contain handful of vitamins and minerals.
This mushroom, which has a reddish-brown cap, ranks at the top in antioxidants. These are similar in flavor to the portobello, with a hearty, nutty flavor. They are common in Italian dishes such as risotto.
Higher in fiber, these mushrooms have a meatier texture and a rich, woodsy flavor. Remove the stems before cooking and cook into stir-fries, pastas, soups and entrees.
This mushroom has a furry appearance and has the texture of crab or lobster. Once cooked, it can be chewy, tender and juicy.
Prepare in a dry saute until water is released and then add seasonings. Lion’s mane has shown promise in improving neurocognition and memory by reducing free radicals that can wreak havoc in the brain and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.