Figuring Out Fungi: The Gourmet Mushroom Flavor Guide

variety of mushrooms

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Button, shiitake, portabella, oyster mushrooms—these are just a few of the edible mushrooms that could add color and that earthy umami flavor to your cooking. Learn about the wonderful mushrooms you can use in the kitchen in our gourmet mushroom flavor guide.

What Are Mushrooms, Really?

Mushrooms are a type of fungi, meaning they are neither plants nor animals. Mushrooms do not need food or light to grow, instead they digest the nutrients they secrete. There are innumerable types of mushrooms, but not all of them are edible. Indeed, some are poisonous. The edible ones, however, usually have an earthy, woodsy, meaty flavor that add an umami taste when cooked. Because of their subtle but decadent taste, they are often called the “meat” of the vegetable world and is used as a meat substitute.

While all edible mushrooms offer great flavors, mushrooms with darker colors have richer flavors. Examples of these are shiitake, truffles, morels, Portobello, and chicken of the woods. Furthermore, drying mushrooms intensifies their flavor and umami. Fresh or dried, mushrooms add an interesting twist to food.

different types of fresh mushrooms

16 Gourmet Mushrooms You Should Know

Button Mushroom

Button mushrooms are the most common mushrooms around. Owing to their mild taste, they are a versatile bunch and tastes great with a wide variety of dishes like pizza, pasta, soups, stews, and salads. They could also be pickled, grilled, breaded then fried and then eaten on their own.

  • Cremini Mushroom

Cremini, along with portabella mushrooms, are of the same species as button mushrooms. Each one is harvested at different maturity—button mushrooms are harvested the earliest, while portabella is harvested at its largest and most mature state. Cremini mushrooms are harvested somewhere in the middle. They have a dense and bold flavor and low moisture levels. Cremini mushrooms are usually added to Alfredo sauce, polenta, risotto, and beef Stragonoff; but it could be used in other recipes as substitute for button mushrooms for a bolder flavor.

  • Portabella Mushroom

You may know portabella mushrooms as these large-capped mushrooms. They are loved for their rich, meaty taste, which is why they are often used as substitute for meat in vegetarian burgers and tacos. Whole portabella caps are even seasoned and grilled as steak because it resembles the taste and texture.

  • Oyster Mushroom

Oyster mushrooms are usually found on rotting trees, but they are widely cultivated nowadays. These mushrooms have a distinct fan-shaped caps that resemble oysters. They have a light flavor with earthy notes, but what makes it unique is that it has a hint of seafood flavor. Because of this, oyster mushrooms are perfect for seafood and fish dishes. They can be used for stir-fries, soups, pasta, and could be sautéed or roasted with herbs.

mushrooms on a cutting board
  • King Oyster Mushroom

King oyster mushrooms, also called king trumpet, are the largest among oyster mushrooms. They are known for their large stalks that are edible and have a chewy texture. King oyster mushrooms have a mild, oyster-like flavor with earthy notes but it also absorbs flavor from other ingredients well so it can be sautéed, grilled, or even fried in tempura batter.

  • Shiitake Mushroom

Shiitake mushrooms have umbrella-shaped brown caps. Their caps are tougher than other mushrooms’ and their stems are fibrous and woody. The latter is usually cut off and used for stock or fermented. Shiitake mushrooms are known for their savory, slightly smoky umami flavor. They’re also rich in amino acids. You’ll find this mushroom in many Asian recipes but they’re also great for pizza, pasta, and as meat substitute.

  • Porcini Mushroom

Porcini, or penny buns, are a prized ingredient in Italy and France. They have reddish-brown caps that have a firm, meaty texture and have a creamy, nutty flavor. Italian and French recipes use this mushroom for soups, stews, stuffing, and sauces.

Golden chanterelle
  • Chanterelle Mushroom

Chanterelle is a wild mushroom, so it has a strong flavor. When fresh, these have an apricot-like aroma, but they have an earthy, woodsy flavor with a subtle peppery note. Its rich flavor and velvety texture is great for sautéing and pasta. 

  • Morel Mushroom

This mushroom is popular among chefs, but it’s quite expensive. It has a spongy, conical cap. But what makes morel mushroom valuable in the kitchen is its distinct flavor that is often described as nutty, earthy, woodsy, and musky. Morel mushrooms are perfect for sauces and broths.

  • Enoki Mushroom

Cultivated enoki mushroom are more commonly used in cooking nowadays. They come in clusters of thin, white stalks and small caps. This mushroom is popular in East Asian cuisine, particularly in Japanese cuisine. It has a delicate savory flavor and a crisp texture. They can be eaten raw or added to stir-fries, ramen, and risottos.

  • Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Lion’s mane mushroom has a unique appearance. It grows as a single clump with hundreds of spines that resemble hair. It has a savory flavor and a chewy texture that is said to resemble that of crab or lobster meat. This mushroom is perfect for stir-fries, sauces, and stews as they absorb the flavor of the sauces they’re cooked in.

  • Maitake (Hen Of The Woods)

Maitake mushroom has a delicate savory flavor with mild spicy flavor. Their appearance resembles that of a head of lettuce. It has a firm wispy texture. This mushroom is perfect for almost any type of dish and could even be deep fried into chips.

  • Matsutake (Pine) Mushroom

Matsutake mushroom is more well-known in East Asian cuisines. Its flavor is quite unique compared with other mushrooms—it has a spicy flavor with hints of cinnamon and cypress. Its flesh is firm and meaty, too. In East Asian cuisines, this mushroom is used in simple recipes that let its distinct taste shine.

  • Hedgehog Mushroom

Hedgehog mushrooms have spines on their caps that resemble the back of hedgehogs, hence its name. They are known for their sweet, earthy, nutty taste. It also has a peppery aftertaste. When cooked, this mushroom has a slightly crunchy and chewy texture. These are great when sautéed in butter and garlic or as addition to creamy pastas.

  • Chicken Of The Woods

Its name is a giveaway. This mushroom tastes like chicken—it has a juicy, meaty flavor. Because of this, the chicken of the woods is often used as a substitute to chicken.

black truffles
  • Black Truffle

Black truffle is one of the most expensive and decadent mushrooms. It is seasonal and perishable. Its pungent, earthy scent is quite overpowering so it is used sparingly. Chefs love adding black truffle to add complexity to pastas, soups, and eggs.

Learn more about gourmet ingredients at Eat Café.

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