Understanding Different Types of Mushrooms

There are literally thousands of known types of mushrooms. The names of mushroom varieties often describe the way the mushroom looks, like the black trumpet mushroom and the Jack-o-lantern mushroom that glows in the dark. Most often, however, the names of mushrooms are unusual, hard to pronounce and border on the exotic.

Because there are such a vast variety of edible and inedible wild mushrooms, it's important that you never eat wild mushrooms without the guidance of a mushroom expert. Since many poisonous varieties resemble their edible cousins, always purchase commercially grown mushrooms from a reputable source.

How to Select Mushrooms
Mushrooms are fruit that grow on a particular type of fungus. The fungus grows in the dark and lives on decaying organic matter. Because mushrooms grow in the dark and are not governed by seasons, but rather by existing conditions, mushroom farms grow mushrooms year-round. The good news is that certain types of mushrooms will always be available.

When selecting cooking mushrooms, choose ones that have an even colored surface, a firm texture and still exhibit tightly closed caps. As a mushroom matures, the cap opens and the gills or frills beneath the cap will be visible. Avoid purchasing mushrooms with soft spots or discoloration marks.

Store mushrooms in the refrigerator in paper bags and never in plastic. Plastic retains too much moisture and mushrooms will break down quickly. Don't clean the mushrooms until you are ready to use them. Because mushrooms absorb liquids, it's best not to wash them in water. Wipe the mushrooms clean with a paper towel instead.

Types of Mushrooms
Both common and exotic mushrooms can be found on every continent. The most purchased mushroom in the United States is the white button mushroom, followed closely by the portabella and the shiitake.

White Button Mushroom
The white button mushroom stores well and is easy to grow. At prime, this mushroom has a compact cap. Homeowners can grow their own white button mushrooms with a kit. The kit should last for approximately three months, producing about four pounds of mushrooms during that period. The mushrooms would continue growing, but by the end of three months, they have depleted the nutrients in the kit.

Portobello Mushrooms
For many people, the portobello far outshines the white button mushroom. Because it's more pungent than the white button, it will enhance the flavor of any dish. This mushroom is an excellent grilling mushroom. Because of its size and texture, it holds up well and can be a substitution for meat in a sandwich.

The portobello mushroom's diameter measures about six to eight inches at maturity. It is versatile and retains its pungent, earthy aroma when heated. While dried mushrooms don't taste as earthy as fresh mushrooms, some prefer the milder flavor and aroma. When this mushroom is harvested in its youth, it is called a cremini.

Cremini Mushrooms
Cremini mushrooms are portobello mushrooms that have been cut prematurely or at their most tender point. These mushrooms are used in a variety of dishes because of their full-bodied flavor.

Shiitake Mushrooms
The shiitake mushroom is also called the Chinese black mushroom or forest mushroom. The umbrella caps on the shiitake mushroom can range in diameter from two to four inches. They are best when sautéed, broiled or baked.

Truffle Mushrooms
The elusive truffle is also a mushroom. Since this mushroom grows underground, it's exceedingly difficult to discover its whereabouts. For this reason, special tracking animals like female hogs and truffle dogs are used to locate these mushrooms. The hogs and dogs are able to detect the strong odor of the truffles from the surface of the earth.

It's important to eat fresh, uncooked truffles shortly after the mushrooms are harvested. These particular mushrooms lose their intense flavor as the mushroom matures.

Porcini Mushrooms
The porcini mushroom, with its rich and woodsy scent, looks much like the toadstools found in a child's storybook. Sought after by mushroom hunters across the globe, this meaty mushroom is often referred to as the king of wild mushrooms.

Varying from a few ounces to a couple of pounds-depending on age-this mushroom is good in a variety of recipes and can be used both fresh and dried. The only drawback is that the porcini mushroom is very expensive and hard to find. Dried porcini goes extremely well with pasta dishes.

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