A mushroom is a fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus. It is somewhat like the fruit of a plant. Millions of spores form in the gill underneath the mushroom's cap that, once released, spread with the wind or other means such as animal feeding. If they land on a suitable substrate, such as wood or soil, spores can germinate to form a network of mycelium which penetrate into their new food source. Unlike the mushroom, which form and decompose quickly, mycelium persists, often for many years, extracting nutrients and sending up its annual crop of mushrooms.
Most mushrooms are edible, though only a few are palatable, and have been consumed throughout history. However, some mushrooms are poisonous and can cause medical concerns or death. Amateurs should strictly avoiding eating mushrooms which they are unfamiliar.
Mushrooms can be cultivated through multiple methods, including log inoculation.
Mushrooms are sold fresh, dried, frozen, canned, and sliced. When buying fresh mushrooms, be sure to choose specimens that are firm and intact. Avoid those that are wrinkled, spotted, or slimy, as well as discolored mushrooms with a split cap and dry stem as they are not fresh.
Clean and prepare fresh mushrooms just before using them to avoid discoloration and rotting. Do not soak them as they will become saturated with water. Quickly rinse them under water. A small amount of vinegar can be added to the water to slow down blackening and a soft brush can be used if desired. Pat dry with a cloth or paper towel. Unwashed mushrooms can also be wiped clean with a damp cloth or paper towel.
Dried mushrooms should be soaked for 10 minutes in warm water. Drain the water and soak in fresh water for a further 10 to 15 minutes.
To use whole mushrooms, remove the stems, and slice or chop the caps. Some recipes advise peeling mushrooms, especially common white mushrooms, but this reduces flavor and nutritional value. You may, however, choose to peel or scrape old mushrooms.
Mushroom stems are generally edible though some species have stems that are tough and stringy.
- Fortin, Jacques. The Visual Food Encyclopedia. Macmillan, 1996. pp 306-307.