3 Things to Know When Buying Wild Mushrooms
Mushrooms come in all shapes and colors with flavors that are just as diverse. No matter how familiar you are with them, they always offer something exciting. For some folks, mushrooms put forward unique flavors and sensations, while for others they induce memories of mushroom seasons of the past.
When it comes to buying wild mushrooms, it’s important to understand the quality and life history of the product. Even if you’re familiar with mushrooms, this may not be so easy at first glance. This is important to ensure you’re buying a high-quality and healthy product that is sustainable and ethically produced – or in the case of wild mushrooms, foraged.
As you might know, most wild mushrooms have defied our attempts at domestication. Scientists across the world have tried to cultivate various species, but have seldom had success. This means wild mushrooms only grow in the wild within natural ecosystems, often alongside mutualistic tree partners and only creeping out from the duff when the season is right.
You can find the marvelous fruiting bodies of mushrooms at various times of year, depending on the species and your location. Thus, you can see commercial and enthusiast pickers foraging wild mushrooms almost all year round. In North America, you can find boletes, chanterelles, black trumpets, morels, and many more – the crowd favorites amongst mushroom lovers.
And while most mushroom enthusiasts praise the taste of wild mushrooms, there’s no doubt that cultivated mushrooms are also culinary delicacies. While these are produced on a large scale, there are also important things to consider when sourcing cultivated species such as oysters, shiitake, and other gourmet or medicinal mushrooms.
#1: Where Your Mushrooms Are Grown
There is no better way to judge the quality of a product than by the place where they originate from. This applies to many different agricultural and commercial goods, but is especially true for mushrooms. After all, quality mushrooms are naturally nutritious and medicinal while those coming from more questionable sources may have impaired functionality. Also, by properly sourcing mushrooms, you can help support the countless small mushroom-based businesses that are popping up across the country.
- Not All Cultivated Mushrooms Are Ethically and Sustainably Produced – Not all mushroom growers are alike. Large-scale growers usually only do specific parts of the growing process while smaller growers do the entire process from scratch. Believe it or not, some growers only fruit the mushrooms! Their “grow kits” are pre-processed and inoculated, sometimes in other countries, and then shipped to farms in the USA.
- Mushrooms can be contaminated! – One of the most important things to consider is the conditions in which they’re grown and the quality of the substrate. Mushrooms are known to bioaccumulate contaminants. So if they’re grown on contaminated substrates, or in a contaminated environment, they could be a hazard to your health.
To get high-quality and pollution-free mushrooms, it’s best to go with local and trusted providers. Ask what they’re grown on and if they can guarantee the quality of their product. Look for certified organic producers if you have any doubts.
These buyers will then resell them to restaurants, grocery stores, and other independent distributors. Often the lower quality mushrooms from this market are sold for dehydration.
While roaming the woods looking for mushrooms might sound like a dream job to some, it’s tough work. Commercial pickers often live under-the-radar and unconventional lives, moving with the mushroom seasons and living out of their cars. Without health insurance, many struggle with work-related injuries.
In order to best support pickers, we recommend buying from as close to them in the supply chain as possible. Grocery stores and other distributors may have many middle-men in between, usually at the cost of both you and the pickers. Either buying directly from the picker or a trusted distributor are your best options.
#2: How to Identify Wild Mushrooms (of High Quality)
If you’re buying fresh wild mushrooms, you need to know what good fresh mushrooms look like. You should always follow your instincts and judge the vitality of the mushrooms yourself, but if you have any doubts consider the following:
- Mushrooms shouldn’t be soggy, spongy, bruised, or slimy.
- The ideal specimen is mostly dry to the touch, firm, and has a pleasing color/odor.
- Wild mushrooms can vary in condition just depending on the stage of the season. A little bit of dirt is also normal.
- Mushrooms don’t have the longest shelf life, so if they’ve been sitting unsold for a while they may not be in their prime.
- Younger, firmer, and fresher fruiting bodies are more desired for cooking and have a better shelf life.
Buy Wild Mushrooms from Foraged
#3: How To Store Mushrooms
The key to extending the shelf life of mushrooms is proper storage. Proper storage can allow you to keep certain mushrooms fresh for up to two weeks instead of a couple of days. After all, fresh mushrooms are still biologically active and living beings. By controlling the environmental conditions they are exposed to, it’s possible to keep them living and fresher for longer.
There are also long-term storage options for those looking to eat wild mushrooms once they’re out of season!
Storing Fresh Mushrooms in the Fridge
The best place to store fresh mushrooms is in the refrigerator. The cool temperatures and dry air help prolong their lifespan. Consider the following when storing mushrooms in the fridge:
- Allow For Air Exchange
Do not store mushrooms in plastic bags, containers, or anything else that is completely sealed. This will cause the condensation of moisture, cellular death, and ultimately your mushrooms will go bad.
Do store your mushrooms in clean cardboard boxes, paper bags, or other breathable materials. Even a wide bowl with a small towel on top will do. Just make sure the material is resistant enough to not come apart if it gets a little moist.
- Don’t Stack Them
Avoid stacking your mushrooms on top of each other. This will cause them to become damaged and could lead to excess moisture buildup. Use wider containers instead of deep ones.
- Make sure your mushrooms are clean and dry before putting them in the fridge. If they seem moist, put them out on the table above a piece of cardboard so they dry. Also, since they won’t be completely sealed in the fridge, make sure your fridge is clean to avoid absorption of unwanted odors!
How To Store Mushrooms For An Extended Time
There are many different ways to store your mushrooms long-term. While these options are fairly self-explanatory, use your imagination and research skills to make these work as well as possible.
Fresh mushrooms don’t freeze well, but if you cook them first they do. I recommend just cooking the mushrooms with a little oil with some simple condiments. Cook them until they’re a bit dry, wait for them to cool, and then bag them up and freeze them!
You can do lacto-fermented or quick pickles with vinegar!
- Many mushrooms are great dehydrated. Your easiest option is to buy a food dehydrator but you can also get creative and do it yourself!