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What are mushrooms?
Mushrooms are macrofungi bearing fruiting structures that are fleshy and exist in a variety of species. They are found either above the ground as epigeous mushrooms or below the ground as hypogeous mushrooms.
While most mushrooms are edible, some mushrooms contain chemical components that affect the normal functioning of your body and therefore are considered poisonous. Others are not edible due to their taste or aroma.
Edible mushrooms are valuable for their medicinal and nutritional importance and can be cultivated or harvested from the wild.
However, when harvesting wild mushrooms for consumption, accurately identifying the variety of mushrooms before collection is important to ensure only edible mushrooms are gathered to avoid poisoning. Dozens of edible mushrooms can be cultivated.
Cultivating mushrooms can be done either by using organic material such as waste from cotton, coffee production, sawdust, or synthetic material. Mushrooms are one of the most valuable nutritional sources, offering an excellent source of proteins and other essential nutrients, especially for vegetarians.
They also have medicinal importance, as recent studies have shown that mushrooms have healing properties, making them of high economic value.
This article will help you identify and describe a few of the world’s major edible mushrooms that you can cultivate in the garden. We’ll discuss their different appearances, taste, and their nutritional benefits.
1. White Button Mushrooms
White button mushrooms are also called champignon mushrooms and are the most basic mushrooms available anywhere. They appear in two distinct colors, brown and white, but they are exactly the same in terms of flavor, which is mild, making these mushrooms very versatile.
White button mushrooms can be eaten either raw or cooked, and you can have them either on their own or in soups, pizzas, and stews.
2. Oyster Mushroom
They are known as oysters due to their oyster-shaped caps and very short stems. Oyster mushrooms have a long history of cultivation since the 1940s. They are often found in commercial markets in different colors, shapes, and sizes, depending on the species and region of growth.
They are light grey to brown even though they may appear in a wider range of colors, including yellow and pink, due to their wide range of potential substrates and differential resistance to harsh growing conditions.
They have a smooth oyster texture and a seafood flavor that is subtle and hardly detectable once the mushroom is incorporated into a dish, giving a very mild flavor with a general slight earthy note.
They grow on logs of fallen trees or dead standing trees, which often become home to oyster mushrooms growing in clusters or individually cultivated.
Oyster mushrooms can be incorporated into other dishes or eaten on their own in stews or soups and pizzas. They are rich in proteins, carbohydrates, and other minerals such as magnesium, potassium, folate, and more.
3. Cremini Mushroom
Also referred to as Cremino mushrooms, these are classic brown or roman brown mushrooms. They are slightly bigger than white button mushrooms and are also slightly darker in color, and they are a light shade of brown.
The caps look shaggy, but they maintain a smooth round texture compared to white button mushrooms. They are known to be low in saturated fat and low in cholesterol but are a good source of minerals such as potassium, copper, manganese, and riboflavin.
4. Shiitake Mushrooms
They are also known as golden oak mushrooms or black forest mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms grow naturally on hardwood tree remains that are decaying and are usually dark brown with white caps that usually grow to 2-4 inches in cap diameter.
It was first discovered in East Asia but has since become one of the most popular mushrooms known worldwide for its savory taste and diverse health benefits which include; helping fight a number of cancer types, boosting the immunity of the human body, and improving the health of the human heart.
They also offer good amounts of fiber and are rich in B-vitamins, among other useful minerals.
Shiitake mushrooms can be used as food or as a supplement giving an umami flavor when dried and can be used to prepare dry fries and soups.
Despite being edible, shitake mushroom has been reported to cause side effects causing skin rash when eaten or handled raw. This is very rare but is a call for proper handling to reduce the risk.
5. Porcini Mushrooms
They resemble oyster mushrooms, but they have a semi-circle-shaped convex cap with white stalks that are usually thick. They usually grow up to 2 inches tall but can grow up to 12 inches and weigh up to 3 pounds.
When mature, the caps become brown, and their edges become white, with the caps appearing to be a bit sticky when wet. The stems are cylindrical with a faint netting pattern.
Their surfaces are resistant to bruising when handling, and this is a distinguishing factor of porcini from other mushrooms that bruise easily during handling. Porcini also has a nutty, meaty taste.
Porcini can be incorporated in dishes such as soups and broths, sauces and gravy, meat dishes, and pasta and risotto. They can also be eaten on their own as an appetizer and may be coated with flour for a better crispy taste.
6. Reishi Mushrooms
From the name, which means a traditional Chinese medicine, reishi mushrooms are known to have been used before for their immense medicinal value. They are also often referred to as Ganoderma mushrooms.
They exist in different species that grow in different regions depending on the climate and the surrounding trees.
They appear as a type of shelf mushroom but with a deep red body, and their colors may range from light orange to yellow, especially towards the edges of the cap.
They should be harvested while still young and their shells are not so tough to allow for easy cooking and digestion.
Reishi mushrooms may be chopped thinly, dried, and crushed into powder to extract their medicinal properties. The powder may be sprinkled on other dishes to add medicinal value. However, the known traditional way of consuming reishi mushrooms is by making tea using their powder.
Reishi mushrooms have been known to have much medicinal importance, and this includes;
- Beta-glucans known to slow down and stop the spread of cancer in the human body
- Triterpenes: a substance that lowers blood pressure and also acts as an anti-allergenic
- Sterols act as precursors to human hormones
Due to this economic importance, reishi mushrooms are among the most expensive and sought-after mushrooms worldwide as people try to utilize their medicinal value.
7. Morel Mushrooms
Morel mushrooms are the most common wild mushrooms that are highly sought after in the market and are known to sprout naturally during spring. You can easily differentiate morel mushrooms from other mushrooms because they have a unique meaty texture with a nutty flavor fetching among the highest prices in the markets.
The shape and sizes of morel mushrooms depend on a number of factors: the type of soil, temperatures, prevailing weather conditions, and surrounding trees.
You will find some morels are short and stout while others are long with colors ranging from grey to brown, and their sizes can be as small as a fingertip or as large as a hand depending on the above factors.
They grow in orchards, meadows, and pastures and commonly appear around trees growing either in clusters or individually isolated. They are known to show up once a year during spring, after which it might take a couple of years to show up again.
Due to their seasonal appearance, growing morels indoors is quite hard. Even though recent technology has been introduced, a grower may have to wait a couple of years before harvesting their first morels, which has made morels one of the most sought-after mushrooms.
Many words can be used to describe morels’ taste including earthy, nutty, and toasted. But these tastes are not so strong and often become undetected when morels are incorporated in other dishes.
Morels also have nutritional importance as they contain significant amounts of proteins, fiber, and antioxidants that are helpful in maintaining blood sugar levels in the human body.
They also contain minerals such as calcium, iron, B-vitamin, and potassium, among many other minerals.
Some of these varieties may be poisonous to humans so you need to make sure you can accurately identify this mushroom.
8. Chanterelle Mushrooms
Chanterelles are among the world’s most famous mushrooms for their more pronounced gills that run down to their stem. They are commonly found in a range of colors from white to yellow to orange, with many species having a fruity smell, although their taste may be a bit peppery.
Their gills appear smooth and full of forks, and their cap may appear light-yellow or orange-yellow. They usually grow from late spring or mid-summer to early fall with July to September being their prime season.
Indoor gardening of chanterelle mushrooms may not be easy as they form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of trees. Therefore, they are easier to cultivate outdoors rather than indoor and should be grown in soils with good drainage, low nitrogen levels, and low acidic levels.
Chanterelles are hardly ever eaten raw because cooking improves their flavor. They can be cooked in soups, soufflés, and sauces. They are sometimes also dried and crushed into powder to season other dishes and soups.
Mushrooms are delicious and highly nutritional. Many farmers have opted for mushroom farming to meet the market demands, but this is a very tough venture that needs intensive inputs, dedication, and patience.
Many recent technologies have been developed to improve and enhance the cultivation of mushrooms both in the garden and indoors, but this is a difficult task because mushrooms are fungi that grow well in the wild, making use of symbiotic relationships with other plant roots and decaying matter.
This has made it hard to cultivate some types of mushrooms, but others have been cultivated indoors under intensive conditions.
Often, the demand for mushrooms has not been adequately met because not many growers can meet the technical requirements and the intensity of mushroom farming.
There is a need for more research and study on mushrooms to describe and enhance the identification and differentiation of those wild and potentially poisonous mushrooms from edible mushrooms to reduce food poisoning cases.