Buying Wild Mushrooms:
Origins, Safety, and Cleaning Tips
The story of how wild mushrooms get to your kitchen can be as wild as the mushrooms themselves. After all, these aren’t ordinary commodities. They grow wild in the woods and people dedicate themselves to looking for them in remote corners of the world. Unlike their cultivated relatives, there is much less control that occurs in the wild mushroom industry.
Wild mushrooms can come from anywhere. They can be shipped across the country, some species even internationally, dried mushrooms even more so.
The best way to ensure that your mushrooms are foraged sustainably, ethically, and safely is to work with trusted and local distributors. Find companies or individuals that align with your values and trust that they are doing their best to ensure a quality product and service.
Where Wild Mushrooms Come From
One thing that makes wild mushrooms great is that they naturally occur in forests. Some grow on burnt hillsides, tree plantations, some with oak, and others in pristine coniferous forests. Unless you pick them yourself, it’s actually very difficult knowing exactly where they occur. After all, many pickers are secretive about the location.
Large Buyers, Distributors, and Pickers
Most commercially traded wild mushrooms come from independent pickers who sell to large buyers. In the Pacific Northwest it’s not uncommon to see lines of pickers selling to large buyers from road-side stands. Pickers sell them by the pound based on species and quality. Certain mushrooms are ranked for quality by the buyers and then purchased appropriately.
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 tuff work. Commercial pickers often live under the radar and unconventional lives. Moving with the mushrooms 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.
Buying Wild Mushrooms In Your Area
If you happen to live close to a region that produces wild mushrooms, and if they’re in season, you may be able to find them near you. The following are all good places to look:
- Organic grocery stores
- Natural food stores
- Farmer’s markets
- Local cooperatives
- Local social media groups about fungi
Otherwise, you can find a wild mushroom distributor that can ship or bring wild mushrooms to your door. While many distributors work with restaurants or commercial businesses, some may work with personal clients. At Foraged, you can find fresh wild mushrooms seasonally and dried ones year-round. We connect you with producers who align with our forward-thinking values and goals.
Each buying option includes pros and cons. Factors like purchase effort, mushroom variety, and food traceability will determine where you should buy mushrooms.
Here are the traditional places to buy mushrooms, and their benefits and detractions:
- Pros – convenient and accessible. if you have a high-end grocer like Whole Foods, you can sometimes find variety like oyster mushroom and potentially shiitake.
- Cons – standard grocery stores rarely have mushrooms besides the standard portobello and button. often of poor quality too given the scale of the supply chain and lag in reaching the shelves.
- Pros – support local small-scale local businesses. generally fresh, high quality mushrooms.
- Cons – farmers markets are inconsistent (only weekends, usually), and it takes a lot of effort to buy mushrooms from a farmers market (driving there, finding the stand, driving back, etc). they typically offer a limited variety of mushrooms, confined to local species of wild mushrooms and whatever varieties the local grower might produce.
‘Know a guy’:
- Pros – if you know em, count yourself lucky. finding a mushroom forager or farmer to buy fresh harvest from is not easy, but it will provide you the freshest supply of local mushrooms. same goes for mushroom farmers.
- Cons – it’s tough to know a guy! foragers are out in the woods picking mushrooms all day.. not easy to track down. trying to buy from an individual is Inefficient and often lacks credibility if they aren’t certified. the variety is limited too, confined to the local environment. farmers are more consistent but they are more focused on big accounts like restaurants.
Specialty foods distributor:
- Pros – large selection of gourmet and wild mushrooms.
- Cons – only accessible to restaurants, for the most part. worse, they don’t offer any details on traceability (where the mushrooms came from). the mushroom market, like truffles, has a problem with sketchy imports.
The best place for you to buy mushrooms depends on how much effort you’re willing to put into the purchase process, how interested you are in mushroom variety, how much you care about ‘farm to table’ foods, and how much you value supporting small businesses.
If you want to buy mushrooms from somewhere that’s effort-free, offers high variety, includes detailed food traceability, and allows you to support small businesses, there is no better option than Foraged.
Are wild mushroooms safe?
Safety is a question that always comes to mind for many people unfamiliar with wild mushrooms. The fear is that a toxic mushroom can sneak its way through the distribution line into the skillet. The reality is, this fear is unwarranted.
The commercialized varieties of wild mushrooms are very distinct and easily recognized. The pickers, buyers, and distributors are all experts and have a trained eye that recognizes between species. Those fluent in wild mushrooms identify between species like apples and oranges.
This being said, always take precautions to consume mushrooms identified by inexperienced foragers. If you’re not sure about the identity of the mushroom, don’t eat it. As I always recommend, “When in doubt, throw it out!”
Washing Dirty Mushrooms
Skilled mushroom pickers usually manage to keep their haul pretty clean. They cut the stem butts and remove excess dirt before packing them to avoid dirtying their other mushrooms. Even still, certain mushrooms will always come with a bit of dirt. That’s normal.
There are things you want to be wary of when you’re cleaning your mushrooms to avoid spoiling them. It doesn’t have to be as tedious as wiping them down with a moist towel, which is what some chefs recommend. This strategy is done to avoid wetting your mushrooms which can diminish their quality.
While you don’t want to submerge your mushrooms in water for extended periods, a quick rinse isn’t going to ruin them. Just try to be careful, especially if you’re going to use them immediately.
If you have time, my recommendation is to wash them well with water. It doesn’t matter if they get wet and absorb it. Afterward, set them out on cardboard to dry for a couple of hours or until they’re dry to the touch. They’ll be good as new! At this point, you can cook them or store them in the fridge.