With their strange shapes and dark, damp growing environments, mushrooms sometimes seem to be shrouded by a veil of mystery. Because they propagate through spores instead of by seeds, certain varieties are hard to grow commercially and can only be foraged in the wild. This is a job best left to the professionals, however, as many types of mushrooms are inedible and in some instances even poisonous.
Note: This visual guide is not meant to be an authoritative source for foraging in the wild.
High in fiber and vitamins, mushrooms are also fat- and cholesterol-free. They're popular around the world due to their versatility as well as their meatlike heft and texture. To see when these may be in season at your local farmers' market, check out our interactive seasonal ingredient map. If you have difficulty obtaining certain varieties in your local grocery or specialty stores, try an online source like Far West Fungi.
Alternate Names: Portobella, field mushroom, open cap mushroom
Characteristics: Common in Italian cooking, dense, rich portobellos lend depth to sauces and pastas and make a great meat substitute. Their large caps are perfect for marinating and grilling. When portabellos are young and small, they're called criminis.
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Alternate names: Tree oyster, angel's wings, pleurotte en huître, abalone mushroom, shimeji
Characteristics: Although these can be found in the wild growing on the sides of trees, the ones you'll find in the store or on a menu are most likely cultivated. Like their namesakes, they're whitish in color and fan-shaped, and possess a delicate odor and flavor. Oyster mushrooms are found in many Japanese and Chinese dishes such as soups and stir-fries.
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Hen of the Wood
Alternate names: Maitake, sheepshead mushroom, ram's head, kumotake
Characteristics: From afar, this mushroom can look like a head of cabbage. Cultivated, as well as found in the woods, hen of the woods mushrooms are often sold in clusters with their soft, feathery caps overlapping. This mushroom has an earthy aroma and a gamy flavor, and is native to both the northwestern United States and Japan, where it's known as maitake ("dancing mushrooms").
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Alternate names: s---ake, black forest, black winter, brown oak, Chinese black, black mushroom, oriental black, forest mushroom, golden oak, Donko
Characteristics: In Japanese, shiitake means "oak fungus," which describes where the mushrooms can be found in the wild. These days, however, most shiitakes are cultivated. They're best identified by their caps, which curl under ever so slightly. Fresh shiitakes have a light woodsy flavor and aroma, while their dried counterparts are more intense.
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Crimino (crimini, pl.)
Alternate names: Cremini, baby bellas, golden Italian, Roman, classic brown, Italian brown, brown mushroom
Characteristics: A crimino is a young portobello. Although the crimino is darker, firmer and more flavorful than its cousin the white button mushroom, the two can be used interchangeably. Increasingly, retailers hoping to capitalize on the popularity of the portabellos are selling crimini mushrooms as "baby bellas."
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Alternate names: Table mushroom, cultivated mushroom, button, champignon (de Paris)
Characteristics: Less intensely flavored than many of its more exotic kin, the white button is the most ubiquitous of mushrooms in the United States. It can be eaten either raw or cooked, and works well in soups and salads, and on pizzas. In France, button mushrooms are called champignons.
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Alternate names: Golden (yellow) chanterelle, egg mushroom, girolle (girole), Pfifferling
Characteristics: Trumpetlike, with a depression in the center of its cap, the chanterelle is one of the most popular wild mushrooms. (Because they're notoriously difficult to cultivate, chanterelles are usually foraged in the wild.) Fleshy and firm, they're described as having an apricotlike scent. They're common in many European cuisines, including French and Austrian, and are also native to the United States.
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Porcino (porcini, pl.)
Alternate names: Cèpe (cep), bolete, king bolete, borowik, Polish mushroom, Steinpilz, stensopp, penny bun
Characteristics: Slightly reddish-brown in color, porcinis are one of the most prized wild mushrooms, sought out for their smooth texture and aromatic, woodsy flavor. They're popular in Italy, as well as in France, where they're called cèpes. Fresh porcinis aren't as easy to locate in the United States, but dried ones are easily reconstituted by soaking in hot water.
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Esther Sung first joined Epicurious.com in 2006. Prior to this, she spent several years in book publishing, including at Harper Entertainment, where the proverbial three-martini lunch was sadly nowhere to be found. When not in the office, she moonlights at the Bottle Shoppe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and through this she has developed a fondness for Syrah and Malbec. A quasi-vegetarian, she admits to having relished eating yuk hwe, a Korean raw beef dish.
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