Americans Don’t Know What Mushrooms Taste Like

Ok, so a few Americans do. Maybe a third. If you push it.

The rest of America doesn’t even know there is more than one type of mushroom! To them, a mushroom is either a dry tastelessy fungusy bit of foam rubber, or a slimy gray fungusy flavored bit of rubbery silicone. If they are particularly adventurous, they may know that Portobellos and Crimini mushrooms exist. A few very exotic individuals also know there is something called a Shiitake out there that people are reputed to actually eat.

That is most of America! I used to be one of them! It is no wonder I HATED mushrooms. Nasty things, only barely edible if you could chop them small and hide them where you did not have to actually TASTE them, or feel the slippery gooshy feel on your tongue or teeth.

The world outside of America understands that a mushroom is not just a mushroom. That the white button mushroom is the WORST of the mushroom clan, and that there exists an entire WORLD of mushrooms that are actually worth putting on the plate.

Portobello and Crimini mushrooms taste pretty much like a white button – unless they are grown without chlorine, in which the flavor is fuller, and more complex (a little fruitier and more savory). But to me, pretty much just another “hide them wherever you can” mushroom.

Of course, as a child, and as an adult, I’d tried Meadow Mushrooms, and they fall into the same camp as the nasty White Buttons. They are prettier though, with lovely pink gills, and I chop them up and put them into meat gravy and pretend they are not there!

Shiitakes are reputed to have a “smoky flavor”. I can’t taste it. They are just a mushroom. Fresh ones disappear into mixed dishes and you can’t taste them. Canned ones are just nasty slimy things that look like canned leaches. Dried ones are easy to snip up with a pair of scissors into any dish that has a water or broth base, and they’ll reconstitute as the rest of the meal cooks. But I can’t really identify anything spectacular about the flavor, they just taste like a mushroom to me, and I do not particularly like them.

The first mushroom I tasted that I did not hate was a King Trumpet Oyster Mushroom. A fat stemmed oyster mushroom with a little brown cap on top, and tiny gills running barely down the stem. It has a slightly sweet flavor. I didn’t hate it because the mildness of the flavor makes it easy to toss it into pretty much ANYTHING and not have to dwell on the fact that it is still, when all is said and done, a mushroom.

Then I tried Chanterelles. Ok, so I am still not sure what all the fuss is about where Chanterelles are concerned. While I do not hate them, and I find that they have a slippery texture but not the gooshy sliminess of the white button (a more firm bite), they still taste like a mushroom – sort of fruity, but fungusy. It is the fungusy part I have never appreciated in mushrooms, so I failed to become a fan of the Chanterelle – but I do not actively dislike them either.

White Garden Elm Oyster mushrooms do not seem to have any flavor at all to me once they are cooked and added to a dish. If I chop them finely, I do not even know they are there. Another mushroom I do not hate. But I cannot say I like it either. Later, when I tried Angel Wing Oysters, they seemed pretty much the same – I simply cannot taste them in a finished dish.

Then I tried Paddy Straw mushrooms. Oh, not the slimy flavorless canned ones. Dried Straw Mushrooms. I made a simple gravy with them. They knocked it out of the park! A full, dark, almost meaty flavor. WOW. A mushroom I actually LIKED. I don’t love them. But I actually like them!

Russulas fell into the “I can’t taste them” camp. Of course, you must understand I NEVER feature mushrooms in a dish that is just mushrooms. Just can’t make myself go there! Cut them up, cook them in butter, toss them into something that I hope will complement them. Or at least which won’t end up with a clash of flavors that ruins dinner entirely – and the Russulas that taste sweet raw have such a mild flavor that they disappear completely when mixed with other ingredients. Russulas do not offend me!

Various Agaricus species were not any different than Portobellos, when prepared fresh. When dried though, they developed a more savory flavor. Almost like the Paddy Straw. Except the Almond scented ones. Some of them retained some of the almond flavor and let it into the dish. Flavor good. Texture unappealing to me – too mushroomy. But OH, they smell just heavenly!

Slippery Jacks have presented two ways – one is fairly tasteless to me. I cannot tell if they are a good mushroom or not, because I honestly cannot taste the flavor. They sort of lose themselves in whatever we put them into. The other type has been like a mild Porcini, with a savory flavor.

Maitake has a sort of spicy apple smell and flavor. Like a fungusy spiced apple with a faintly nauseating undertone. Very odd. We put it into a meatloaf which was baked in a pumpkin. It was good. But I am still uncertain whether I liked the Maitake or not!

Gold Cap Stropharia (Stropharia Ambigua) smells just like the bottom of a forest floor. That deep rich moldy dirt smell that rises up right after a rain. They taste about the same, but with a sharp strong flavor. I cannot say this is a mushroom that I like, but I did not hate it either, as long as I do not use too much in a dish – they seem to work best when combined with other mushrooms. I am still working on flavor combinations to see if there is a dish that I’d actually love to use it in. It is such an earthy flavor that it can easily overpower whatever you add them to.

And Blewits – they just taste like a mushroom to me! Maybe a stronger more robust flavor than white buttons, but just a mushroom. I manage to eat them without hating them. I’ve used them fresh and dried, and they are a usable food either way.

I think I might eventually learn to like Porcini. I cannot describe the flavor, because there is nothing to compare it with. Hints of savory, with the classic mushroom flavor, but an edge of something else too – almost but not quite buttery. It seemed to taste better in a chicken and rice dish than it did in a dish with red sauce and beef. The texture is also more palatable than other mushrooms, when cooked it has a firm texture that is less slippery and gooshy than the detested mushrooms. (UPDATE: I like Porcini fresh, sauteed in butter and served with something cream and chicken – like Chicken Porcini Alfredo. In beef or pork dishes it is ok, but not quite as good. Dried Porcini is better in beef than fresh but still has a distinctive buttery edge to it that other mushrooms do not. Porcini is better without onions.)

Gray Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus Ostreatus), and Phoenix Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus Pulmonarius) both taste about the same to me when cooked, though they SMELL differently from each other. Grays seem to have kind of a sweet ball point ink smell that many mushrooms have, and no other distinctive smell. Older Oyster mushrooms may begin to smell a little fishy. But none of them taste fishy. Their flavor is so mild it seems to take on whatever you prepare with them. They have a firm texture, very chewy when fried in butter or cooked in soup, either one. Sort of like clams, or maybe calamari. They do fry nicely in butter, they absorb less of the butter than many other mushrooms, and end up firm, with a golden color.

Freckled Dapperlings (Lepiota Aspera) have sort of a sweet candle smell when cooked, and a mild flavor. They were a pleasant surprise when we found them, and discovered that for us, they were actually edible (they should never be consumed with alcohol, they will cause illness that way).

I don’t understand the hype about Matsutake. It has a piney smell, but the odor seems to fade fairly rapidly after gathering (this is true of many mushrooms, including the Almond scented Agaricus species). It is a firm mushroom – not quite as tough as Oyster, but firmer than Chanterelles. The ones we tried did’t have a stand out flavor, we had to use them either in larger pieces, or we had to prepare them with ingredients that do not cover them up. We tried Matsutake that had caps just starting to open, so it is probable that the Grade 1 Matsutake with unopened caps may be stronger flavored.

I’ve also had various types of Puffballs, gathered in the wild. They taste just a little less fungusy than a white button, and are prepared about the same way. The texture is a bit softer, and they can really absorb the butter!

Black Trumpets just taste like mushrooms to me. They are raved over, but maybe I missed the point.

Yellowfoot Chanterelles also just taste like Mushrooms. Again, I can put them into anything and hide them pretty well, so I’m ok with them.

Hedgehog Mushrooms are pretty good. I really said that, didn’t I? They smell sort of caramelly when cooking, and have a vaguely sweet flavor. If they are dried, they end up having a chewy meaty texture when cooked that is not slippery at all (remove stems if drying them).

Brown Beech Mushrooms just taste like mushrooms. You have to cook them, so they end up like little slimy rubbery things, but I can disguise them in almost anything so we get along.

And MORELS. Ok, so I really LIKE Morels. They do not taste like mushrooms! Fried in butter until they are browned, they have a sort of meaty texture, and they taste savory and not mushroomy at all. I hate to get on a hype bandwagon with everyone else, but these are truly unique in the mushroom world. At least, to me, so far. I’ll make sure and note it though if I find others that have a similar flavor and texture because it is worth knowing.

Shaggy Mane is a WONDERFULLY flavored mushroom. Sort of savory almost chickeny flavored when fried in butter. One of the only mushrooms to make me say, “Wow!” when I tried it! Not at all “mushroomy”.

The cousin to Shaggy Mane, Coprinopsis Atramentarius, which is also known as Tippler’s Bane because it reacts with alcohol, tastes nothing like Shaggy Mane, but it is mild, barely flavored, with a very smooth and slippery texture.

Hawk’s Wing is another meaty flavored mushroom, similar to Portobello.

Aspen Bolete is similar to Porcini without the buttery edge. We remove the pore surface, and discard the stem – the stem contains chemicals that the tops do not (it stains differently than the cap), so we are just using the cap, which is thinner than a King Bolete. It dries well, though grayish. We have never experienced a reaction from these, but we also cook them well.

I found a good sized cluster of Giant Sawgill, and we cut them up to use (too big to cook whole). They have a very bland, slightly sweet flavor, no fungusy edge to them, so I can tolerate the taste very well. The texture is very firm, very much like calamari.

I’ve also eaten Floccularia luteovirens, which I refer to as Yellow Shaggy on my mushroom website. I cannot distinguish an identifying flavor in it.

Wine Caps taste like a mushroom to me, no different than Criminis, though many people say they have a richer flavor. And I’ve also had Lactarius deliciosus, and could not distinguish it from other mushrooms in flavor or texture.

 

Part of the problem with mushrooms for me is that the essential thing about mushrooms that every mushroom lover raves over, is the very thing that repels me. The fungusy element. The thing that reaches into your nose and tickles your brain saying, “I am MUSHROOM!”. That thing. That is the part I do not like! So the less pronounced that is, the more I like a mushroom.

It has been disappointing – being mycologically challenged like this. Because I read descriptions of mushrooms all the time. They describe the appearance, the odor, and the flavor. I get all excited when I read the descriptions, because they make them sound SOOO INCREDIBLY YUMMY!

I’ve always had somewhat of an encyclopedic mind, so much so that I can recognize many mushrooms and identify them accurately the first time I see them. So those descriptions stick in my head. And they’ve been responsible for some amazing disappointments!

“Fragrant”, “Pleasant”, “Fruity”, and other words are used to describe an odor which, when held to my nose, simply says, “FUNGUS!”. I really wanted it to smell like the description, and it doesn’t. It just smells like laundry left in the washer one too many days during the winter in a damp climate.

Same with the flavor. I really WANT to taste a mushroom that really does taste amazingly delicious. But in the end, (with the exception so far of Morels) they always end up tasting like mushrooms – some have an edge of savory or wonderful flavor, but the mushroom still lurks and takes away the peak of enthusiasm.

Note: Since writing this, I have tasted Shaggy Mane mushrooms, and THAT is the mushroom that for me, is not mushroomy, but truly delicious.

The one odor that did not disappoint, is “Almond”. I’ve smelled about three or four different kinds of Agaricus mushrooms which smelled of almond, and let me tell you they smell LIKE ALMOND! Sweetly nutty and fruity, they smell absolutely wonderful. The flavor is less enticing, being only lightly almondy, and still possessing the rubbery fungus texture and flavor of other Agaricus mushrooms. But the gorgeous smell means I never tire of finding them!

One day, perhaps I’ll meet the perfect mushroom. One that actually tastes as delicious as the description. But until then, I’ll keep eating them – because they make a huge difference to my health – and I’ll keep growing them and hunting them and learning about them, because the effort to do so has been utterly fascinating, and may eventually prove lucrative.

Remember, if you have sensitivities to mushrooms, not all mushrooms cause the same sensitivities. Many mushrooms also cause sensitivities only if undercooked, or if consumed with alcohol, and mushrooms grown under conifirs are more likely to cause sensitivities than those grown in compost or under hardwoods.

So if you are a mycophile (mushroom lover), go try some new mushrooms and find some new flavor sensations. If you are a mushroom hater, then go try some new ones anyway! You may just find that you don’t hate all mushrooms. And one or two might just surprise you.

To purchase spawn or learn about cultivating mushrooms, visit our mushroom store at: Mushrooms.FirelightHeritageFarm.com

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