The mushroom is a popular fungi commonly used in a wide range of culinary styles. A surprisingly healthy, flavor filled ingredient which is low in calories, fat and sodium as well as being free from cholesterol these fungi are also packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Despite all these benefits the mushroom is not the most attractive vegetable (although technically a fungi, they are classed as vegetables) around. Whether you want to grow them or just eat them, if you don’t know much about mushrooms then selecting the right one can seem daunting. This is not helped by the fact that there are many different types of mushrooms. Over 10,000 in fact.
But don’t worry if you find deciding between the many different types of mushrooms to be overwhelming this guide is here to help you. As well as highlighting some of the most commonly used types of mushrooms we will also provide you with useful growing tips and explain the best way to get the maximum flavour out of your harvest.
A common fungi, these specimens can be both attractive and edible.
What is a Mushroom?
Before we start exploring different mushroom varieties, it is important to understand exactly what a mushroom is.
The mushroom is a type of fungi that evolved on Earth over 700 million years ago. Today, there are over 10,000 named types of mushrooms in North America alone. In ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome the fungi were considered a delicacy for the upper classes and royalty.
Around half of the known types of mushrooms are indelible but harmless. Of the remaining, around a quarter may be edible but won’t taste particularly nice. Of the remaining mushroom varieties around 20 % of them can make you ill if consumed. A small percentage, around 1 %, may kill you if consumed. This means that it is important to always know what sort of mushroom you are picking. If you are foraging for a wild mushroom harvest, ask expert advice or book a guide before harvesting and consuming.
The many different types of mushrooms come in a range of different shapes, sizes and colors. This helps foragers to safely identify certain, edible species. You should never pick a mushroom without, first, consulting an expert.
While the appearance may vary, the vast majority of types of mushrooms share similar growing preferences and conditions. These fungi tend to like damp, humid conditions. In the wild they typically grow in woodland or forest areas at the base of trees.
These fungi come in a range of shapes, sizes and colors.
You can also buy mushroom spores and growing kits. Designed to be easy to use, growing kits enable you to grow many different, flavor filled types of mushrooms. A mushroom growing kit is a great way to get started if you have never grown your own before. If you’ve never used a mushroom growing kit, this is a great guide to help you select a suitable option.
Now that we have briefly examined what these fungi are, is it time to look at some of the best and most commonly found varieties.
1 White Button Mushroom
One of the most common types of mushrooms. If you go to a supermarket or grocery store, you will find shelves full of these specimens. Sometimes called the white mushroom, these are best harvested when young. Native to North America and Europe, White Buttons, also known as Champignons are widely cultivated in many areas.
A versatile fungi you can grow white buttons all year round. All you really need to grow them is a cool, dark area. This makes them one of the best types of mushrooms to grow at home.
Grown for their delicate, earthy flavor, older buttons have a milder flavor and a firm texture. This makes them great for baking or stuffing. Be careful when picking white buttons in the wild because they look like more poisonous varieties such as the death cap.
White buttons are amongst the most commonly sold and consumed varieties.
2 Portobello Mushroom
If the white button mushroom is allowed to mature and develop fully its cap starts to grow outwards. At this stage they are known as Portobello. Originally imported from Italy, today Portobellos are grown in many grassland areas of North America.
Mild in flavor, their meaty texture makes them a popular meat substitute. You can also use them on pizzas, pasta dishes, omelettes or grill them.
Larger than white buttons, portobellos are grown for their meaty texture.
3 Chanterelle Mushroom
Properly known as cantharellus cibarius, Chanterelles are easily identified by their fan-like shape. Coming in a range of colors, from the common golden brown shades to more unusual orange, yellow or even white hues, Chanterelles are grown for their earthy flavor and fruity aroma.
An ideal choice for use in soups and stews you can also saute them in butter and white wine. Chanterelles last up to 10 days in the refrigerator.
Home growers should use well draining soil or substrate with a pH of 4 to 5.5. If you are unsure of the acidity levels of your soil or substrate, a soil test kit is a quick and simple way to find out.
The distinctive fan-like chanterelle.
4 Hedgehog Mushroom
Hedgehogs have a sweet smell and taste, for this reason they are also known as Sweet Tooth. Hedgehogs have a meaty nutty taste and a crunchy texture. Older specimens can taste slightly bitter.
Similar in appearance to Chanterelles, they are hardy on the West Coast throughout the winter. One of the more versatile types of mushrooms, these are a great choice if you are trying to grow your own food all year round.
Easy to identify, they are typically found nestling in long grass and moss beneath spruce, beech and birch trees. Hedgehogs are light in colo with a large cap. This makes them one of the easiest types of mushrooms to identify for novice foragers.
5 Morel Mushroom
Another one of the more distinctive types of mushrooms, morels have a honeycomb texture. Less commonly grown than other varieties, Morels can be hard to find and, consequently, more expensive.
Popular in French cuisine, morels have a nutty flavor. They also feel tougher or less slimy than other types of mushrooms. This means that people who don’t typically like other varieties like morels.
In the wild Morels are commonly found growing on the edge of wooded areas or at the base of dying trees. If you are growing at home, make sure the soil base has lots of dead wood in it. The soil or substrate should also be slightly acidic.
Morels are one of the more distinctive types of mushrooms.
6 Cremini Mushroom
Sometimes called baby portobellos, Creminis are simply an older type of Button mushroom. Light brown in color they are grown for their mild flavor. Browner and slightly firmer than Button varieties, Cremini are ideal for incorporating in stews and soups.
7 Maitake Mushroom
Also known as Hen of the Woods, Ram’s Head or Sheeps Head, these are one of the most popular types of mushrooms in Asia. Maitake is a particularly common ingredient in Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Maitake’s are ideal for stir-fries, pizzas, ramen or as a meat substitute.
In the wild these fungi, like many other varieties, grow at the base of trees. Maitakes seem to favor the base of oak trees. A rich and earthy type they can resemble a flower.
If you are growing at home, try to maintain a temperature of 60 to 70 ℉ in the growing room. The humidity should average around 65%. Regularly misting with a Plant Mister Spray Bottle helps to maintain humidity levels.
8 Shiitake Mushroom
A member of the lentinula edodes species, Shiitakes are common across China, Korea and Japan and are a popular ingredient in Adian cuisine. Like Portobellos they have a meaty, chewy texture and are ideal for use in soups, stews and sauces. Filled with flavor you can also find powdered varieties.
A distinctive mushroom, Shiitakes have long stems that are topped with a dark brown cap which resembles an umbrella. These are typically removed during preparation because they can be tough to chew.
If you are growing Shiitakes at home, bear in mind that they take around 10 days to form and grow. Regular watering helps to speed up the growth process.
Like many other types of mushrooms, Shiitake in the wild often grow at the base of trees.
9 Enokitake Mushroom
Enokitake or Enoki for short, this is another inclusion on our list of types of mushrooms that are commonly used in Japanese cuisine. A long white stemmed variety with a small cap, Enokis bear a resemblance to bean sprouts. A crisp fungi, they are a great choice for noodle dishes, soups, salads and other Asian dishes.
In the wild Enoki types of mushrooms grow on the stumps of various trees including persimmon, mulberry, Chinese hackberry and ash.
If you are growing at home, start your Enokis in a warm, high humidity position. The humidity levels should be at least 90% and the temperature should average 72 to 77 ℉. When the spores start to appear the temperature can be lowered to 50 to 55 ℉. This change in environment may seem extreme but it helps to shock the mycelium into forming fruiting bodies. Small at first, these fruiting bodies quickly develop into large Enokis.
10 Porcini Mushroom
Also known as porcino or fungo porcino, Italian for hog mushroom, the Porcini (Boletus edulis) has a red-brown cap which sits on top of a white stem. Full of flavor, these meaty types of mushrooms are best used in soups and risottos as well as many Italian dishes. Procinis have a rich, creamy, nutty flavor.
If you are growing at home, remember to take their size into account. The Porcini can grow up to 10 inches wide. It can be difficult to grow Porcinis at home, they do best in soil rich in tree roots. While fresh porcinis can be found in most supermarkets, you can also find them dried or canned.
The thick stem of the porcini.
11 Black Trumpet Mushroom
A member of the chanterelle family Black Trumpets can’t be cultivated at home. Instead they must be foraged for. Flowering in the East and Midwest in late summer, Black Trumpets grow throughout the winter in Western areas. Also known as the Trumpet of the Dead or Horn of Plenty, Black Trumpets have a smoky rich flavor. When dried they are similar to Black Truffles, but a lot more affordable!
12 Oyster Mushroom
One of the most widely consumed types of mushrooms, Oysters have a distinctive appearance. Their light grey or grey-brown caps are oyster-shaped, hence their name. You can also find oysters in shades of brown and red. Oysters are grown for their sweet, delicate flavor.
Easy to grow and cook, if you are growing oysters at home remember to place them in a low light position such as the corner of a garage. Humidity levels should be high. If you struggle to find a naturally humid position, at least 95%, you will need to spray the growing bags to keep them moist.
Oysters are easily identified by their open caps.
13 Clamshell Mushroom
Growing in clumps, the cap of the clamshell has a distinctive crunchy texture. Said to have a fish-like flavor, they are ideal for use in seafood dishes. Bitter or tough when raw, after cooking there is a nutty flavor which adds to the attraction of the clamshell, making it one of the most versatile types of mushrooms.
Also known as the Beech mushroom they tend to grow on beech trees in the wild.
14 Black Truffle Mushroom
Possibly the most expensive types of mushrooms, Black Truffles can cost up to $1,500 for a pound. Found growing in the mountains of Southern Europe the cost reflects how rare this variety is.
Believed to date back to the Triassic Period, over 250 million years ago, if you do acquire a black truffle you will find that they have an earthy, meaty or musky flavor. The aroma can be sweet, nutty or oaky with subtle savory notes.
Black Truffles may not look very attractive but they are one of the most expensive types of mushrooms.
15 Milk Mushroom
Milks are the only types of mushrooms that both are native to and widely cultivated in India. Medium to large in size they are a good source of a wide range of nutrients including potassium, calcium, iron and vitamins B2, A and E.
One of the easiest types of mushrooms to identify, toadstools are so called because they look like the place where a toad would sit. Most people assume that all toadstools have a large red cap with white spots. However they can actually come in a range of colors, shapes and sizes. This is because the name toadstool is commonly used as a catch-all term to describe the spore bearing fruiting body of a fungus that is usually inedible or toxic. Never pick toadstools.
Toadstools should be avoided when foraging for wild types of mushrooms.
17 King Trumpet Mushroom
Also known as King Browns or French Horns, these are one of the largest types of mushrooms. Grown for their thick meaty flavor, King Trumpets are a smaller version of King Oysters. They differ in appearance slightly thanks to their shorter stem and larger, trumpet-shaped cap. French Horns are best marinated before roasting or grilling. This ensures that they are moist and tender.
18 Green Amanita
Better known as the Death Cap mushroom, Green Amanita typically has a pale yellow or olive green cap. Never pick or handle a Green Amanita. The cap, stem, gills and spores can all contain poison.
Another deadly mushroom is the Russula Emetica or the Sickener. A poisonous specimen when eaten raw or not properly prepared. It can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains.
You should only ever harvest types of mushrooms that you can certainly identify.
Pale and distinctive, the Death Cap should be avoided.
19 Honey Agaric Mushroom
The world’s largest living mushroom, Honey Agaric can cover up to 10 sq km and weigh as much as a blue whale. However, to look at it you wouldn’t realize this. Most of the growth is underground. Only the tip of the fungi is visible above ground.
Known for their sweet taste and chewy texture, older honey agarics can have a bitter taste. Like many other types of mushrooms they grow on both deadwood and living specimens.
20 Amanita Muscaria Mushroom
Amanita Muscaria is a variety to avoid. Also known as Fly Agaric Mushroom, this is a hallucinogenic or psychoactive fungus that is also considered poisonous. Despite being deadly it does have some benefits. This particular fungi can attract and kill houseflies.
Native to woodland areas throughout the Northern Hemisphere these dangerous specimens are easy to spot thanks to their red caps with white markings.
Fly Agaric may look attractive but is very poisonous.
Mushroom Growing Tips
Packed full of nutrients and vitamins, it is easy to see why these fungi are so popular both in the kitchen and amongst home growers. A relatively low maintenance crop, growing your own doesn’t require much room, meaning that most types of mushrooms compliment a range of vegetable garden layouts.
Now that you know the difference between some of the most common types of mushrooms you may want to try growing your own. As with any vegetable or even living species it is important to do your research before you begin to grow. Take the time to research the needs and preferences of different varieties and select one that you can easily cultivate. A mushroom growing kit is a great way to get started.
As your interest develops you can further your knowledge by reading books or going on a course. You can also experiment by purchasing mushroom substrate and spores from specialist retailers. If you don’t want to invest in substrate, or drink a lot of coffee, you can also start the spores on used coffee grounds.
Helping to reduce waste even further, used substrate can either be put on the compost heap or incorporated in a Back to Eden garden.
Some styles of garden and vegetable growing methods, such as a straw bale garden, can cause types of mushrooms to appear. While these should never be picked, unless you can certainly identify them, they are a positive sign that the garden is healthy and functioning.
Now that you know a little about the different types of mushrooms you can continue your journey into the fabulous world of fungi.