Applied to the commercial mushroom world, the phrase edible mushrooms applies to multiple mushroom orders and species.
To some, edible mushrooms refers to specialty mushrooms such as the porcini mushroom with the ten inch cap shown in the top picture. Dried or fresh, porcini adds an earthy flavor to many menus.
At the other end of the commercial spectrum, others think button mushrooms, the now common product that sits packaged on grocery shelves across the country, when edible mushrooms enters the conversation.
Types of Mushrooms
Commercial mushroom farming in the United States dates back to the activities of early 21st century entrepreneurs in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
As the industry approaches its one hundredth anniversary, recent United States Department of Agriculture statistics explains some of the industry's longevity.
Between 1965 and 2010, American per capita consumption for fresh and processed mushrooms increased from 0.69 pounds/person to current estimates of 3.84 pounds/person.
Over that same thirty five year time span, American mushroom preferences expanded. Starting with the industry's basic button mushroom, Americans began exploring many mushroom varieties.
By the 2010/2011 crop season, aggregate mushroom production statistics showed that button mushroom production (all fresh and processed varieties of Agaricus mushrooms) reached a shade under one billion pounds (844,893,000 pounds).
By comparison, specialty mushroom farming produced a much smaller 18,174,000 pounds during the same time frame.
The chart compares specialty mushroom production over the past twenty years, showing growth in all three categories, shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and other specialty mushrooms, with oyster mushroom popularity recently surpassing shiitake mushroom popularity.
The legend differentiates mushrooms using the letters D for demand, or total sales, and S for total supply. The small to almost non-existent gap between the darker and lighter color blue, green and red lines indicates a healthy specialty mushroom industry where farmers sell as many mushrooms as they can grow.
The scalability of specialty mushroom farming accounts for some of its success. Mushroom growing kits, especially for shiitake and oyster mushrooms, can easily be purchased at many local garden shops and ecommerce sites.
Whether grown singularly, as a hobby grow on a windowsill, or grown in groups of hundreds in an indoor mushroom farming operation, specialty mushroom farming done correctly, can produce continuous fresh harvests over the course of a typical crop year.
The scope of North American specialty mushrooms extends beyond the major market varieties. Each season, public forest lands are open to the public, for the purpose of mushroom harvesting.
The list of fresh harvested mushrooms reads like a menu from an upscale restaurant, with culinary delights including matsutake mushrooms, truffles and morels.
Western porcini enthusiasts, for example, also keep an eye out for the Spring King (Boletus rex-veris), a tasty spring fruiting mushroom.
Often found growing in groups, they have thick, white to cream colored, reticulated stipes, dark caps and white pores.
Neither the pores nor stipes stain blue when bruised.
Along with morels, it is a prize spring mushroom.
The Queen Bolete (Boletus regineus), another native West Coast boletus, blooms during fall in mixed hardwood/conifer forests.
The dark brown cap and white stipe help with identification. Yellowed pores indicates mushroom aging, and the pores do not bruise blue when scraped.
Although a much less common species than porcini, culinary experts place it in the same prized edible category as porcini.Morel Mushrooms
The morel mushroom (Morchella) ranks at the top of the edible mushroom list.
Mushroom hunters know them as spring fruiting fungus, often associated with either recent burn areas or deciduous forests, although they can be found in coniferous forests.
While morel mushrooms grow in a variety of habitats, finding them can be difficult. It's probably more accurate to say that morels pick humans rather than the other way around.
Without practical knowledge about specific morel growing spots, often gained by year after year success with a specific location, mushroom pickers can literally walk themselves in circles around potential growing spots without finding any.
Sometimes not looking for them helps. That's the time they begin to pop up on the side of the road somewhere.
Morels are found throughout the United States, with the exception of the desert Southwest.
While there are a few different species, their unique look makes them easy to identify.
They can grow large, over six inches with stem. Generally two types can be found, easily differentiated by the shape of the honeycomb patterned cap.
The picture shows a yellow morel with a round cap. Yellow and black morels contain a toxic substance so they cannot be consumed raw. Cooking them easily removes the toxin.
Like boletes, morels retain their flavor when dried. Unlike boletes, they are hollow on the inside.False Morels
Their presence in the order Pezizales, along with the more glamorous truffles and morels species, gives gyromitra species a bit of added attention.
Most of the gyromitra species get tagged as false morels, although anyone familiar with morels and false morels can easily recognize the difference between them.
The picture shows Gyromitra infula, or Elfin Saddle, a fall fruiting species that often shows a less wrinkled cap than other gyromitra species.
In most cases, experts warn again consuming false morels either raw or cooked.
The snow mushroom (Gyromitra montana) receives its name based on its habit of fruiting at higher elevations in the West along the snow melt line.
Research over the past couple of decades has led to some confusion among Gyromitra species, with debate existing as to whether Gyromitra gigas and Gyromitra montana should be considered the same species.
Physically, the mushroom grows very close to the ground, often with only the rounded cap showing. Its low growing feature helps differentiate it from other Gyromitra species that grow on longer, above ground stipes.
Gyromitra montana sometimes gets called the false snow morel and brain mushroom.
One of the spring fruiting Gyromitra species, Gyromitra esculenta inhabits northern forests of North America.
Its stipe is longer and thinner than Gyromitra montana. Additionally, its cap is usually smaller.
The picture shows a specimen with a blackened cap. In drier areas the mushroom has the ability to hold up over time, and the cap color changes from brown to black.
The shape of the cap also give rise to a common nickname, the brain mushroom.Chanterelle
The Pacific Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus) a legendary West Coast edible mushroom, grow in a symbiotic relationship with confiers, especially Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock.
In a green forest setting, their golden color tends to highlight their convex cap and ridged gills, making them very easy to find.
Storing them is almost as easy as finding them. If refrigerated in an air tight container, fresh specimens have a few weeks' shelf life.
Their taste has been describes as both mild and nutty. Maybe "coney" would be a more appropriate adjective.
They fit right in with vegetarian, fish and fowl dishes. Slice and fry up a hand full with green chilies, orange peppers, red onions and a zucchini of choice, for example, and you have the beginning of a great vegetarian enchilada.
In 1999, Oregon named the Pacific Golden Chanterelle the official state mushroom.
Various Chanterelle species grow in forests around the world, many, but not all, of which are also considered choice edibles.
Source: Mushroom Industry Report (94003) August 31, 2011
© 2012-2014 Patricia A. Michaels