Season for Mushrooms: October – March

Mushrooms Described

Oh, you fleshy fungus, bearer of mystical genius and culinary prowess, we all hail the mushroom. Of course, we are also acutely aware that mushroom hunting should be done with an expert; the difference between deadly and delicious often being quite slight. Mushroom varieties number in the thousands with a huge variance in shape, size, color, texture and taste, from mild and earth to rich and nutty. Most commonly available are cultivated mushrooms like button, cremini, portobello, shiitake and oyster. While a tad harder to come by, the wild ones you’re most likely to encounter are chanterelles, porcini, horn-of-plenty, fairy ring, chicken of the woods, hedgehog, puffballs, morels and maybe even a truffle or two, if you’re lucky.

How to Buy and Store Mushrooms

Look for those that are firm and evenly colored, avoiding specimens that are broken, bruised or have soft spots or seem limp or slimy in the least. Make sure they smell woodsy, not moldy. We recommend you buy your mushrooms on the day you plan to cook them, although they’ll keep for up to three days in the refrigerator. They tend to sweat if stored in plastic, so opt for a paper bag instead.

If you just can’t decide which variety to go for, check out A Guide to Selecting and Cooking with Mushrooms.

How to Cook Mushrooms

Wiping down your mushrooms with a wet paper towel may be your best bet, as when you wash them under the tap, they’re likely to darken and get slimy within minutes, some say mushy too. And when it comes to stems, use ’em! They’re tender and juicy and delicious – oh wait, except for those shitakes which are a bit tough and chewy and probably better off trimmed and used in a soup stock. For all mushrooms, you may just want to slice the very tip off before use, as it can be a bit spongy.

Cook small mushrooms whole, halved or quartered and larger ones sliced, chopped or stuffed whole. All manner of seasonings add an abundance of flavor to mushrooms. And mushrooms add their own flavor and flesh-like texture to just about any dish. Use them in sauces, stews, bakes and salads. An Organic Authority favorite is a grilled shiitake which is tender, meaty and succulent.

Health Benefits of Mushrooms

The Pharaohs prized mushrooms as a delicacy, while the Greeks believed mushrooms provided strength for warriors in battle. The Chinese and Japanese have been using shitakes to fight colds and flus for centuries, as they contain lentinan which may bolster the immune system and help fight cancer. Unlike most vegetables, mushrooms contain two important B vitamins ― niacin and riboflavin. Some health benefits found include relief from high cholesterol levels, breast cancer, prostrate cancer and diabetes.

Mushrooms are also a weight-loss-happy food as they contain a lot of water and very few calories. Another thing worth noting is that your inexpensive, common mushrooms such as button provide as much – if not more – antioxidants as their exotic, expensive varieties. Now, flavor is a whole other story.

Why Buy Natural and Organic Mushrooms

Because mushrooms are so porous – like sponges – any pesticides are easily absorbed into them. Even some conventional mushrooms which are grown in climate-controlled buildings to keep pests at bay beget definite eco ramifications as to the amount of energy and resources it takes to do so. So, you are always better off buying your mushrooms locally, from your farmers market, where you will have the added advantage of testing out all kinds of varieties you’d never come across at any old grocery store.

image: Mnem