Mushrooms are the fruit of a fungus which takes its nourishment from organic matter rather than photosynthesize nutrients from sunlight. They thrive in dark, moist places. Mushrooms give an earthy flavor to savory recipes. See below for warning about poisonous mushrooms.
Basidiomycotina, fungus, fungi (plural), agaricus, bolete, mycelium. The word mushroom is derived from the Frankish word mussiriones referring to the meadow mushroom and from the French mousseron meaning growing on moist moss.
Common and Other Names:
Mushroom, agaricus, crimini, cremini, mussiriones, mousseron, pilz, seta, champignon, fungo, cogumelo. Mushrooms are also known by variety. See chart with photos for more common edible varieties.
Since mushrooms do not need sunlight to grow, they are available from farms year-round.
For common mushrooms, choose those with a firm texture and even color with tightly-closed caps. If the gills are showing, it's an indication of age, and they are probably past their prime. Discolored, broken and damaged mushrooms with soft spots should be avoided. If you are cooking mushrooms whole, choose those that are uniform in size to promote even cooking.
Mushroom Varieties and Forms:
There are over 38,000 varieties of mushrooms available, over 3,000 in North America alone, with varying colors, textures and flavors. There are so many varieties of mushrooms, both edible and toxic, that mass consumption is pretty much limited to those commercially-grown varieties which can be trusted to be edible. Mushrooms are available fresh, dried, and in powder form.
Store mushrooms in your refrigerator crisper where they can benefit from cool air circulation. Keep partially covered to prevent them from drying out, but never store packaged fresh mushrooms without venting. Paper bags are a good storage alternative. Use fresh mushrooms within three days. Store dried mushrooms in an airtight container. Dried mushrooms should be soaked in hot water or part of the recipe cooking liquid for about an hour before using. The liquid may be used for added flavor.
Miscellaneous Mushroom Information:
Warning! It is imperative that you research thoroughly before picking your own wild mushrooms. Many are highly toxic and life-threatening. Do not rely upon any casual column to determine toxicity of wild mushrooms. The danger inherent in many poisonous varieties of mushrooms is very real. A simple identification error can lead to symptoms of sweating, cramps, diarrhea, confusion, convulsions and potentially result in liver damage with a mortality rate of 60 percent or higher.