Mushrooms are one of the most popular vegetables used in cooking. They’re rich, versatile, savoury and pair with a huge variety of flavours. They can punch up a soup, balance out a steak and even step up as a hearty main course when meat isn’t an option.

This is a quick guide to cover some of the mushroom basics and the more common varieties.

(And remember: You can’t spell “fungi” without “fun”.)

Where do mushrooms come from?

As fungi, culinary mushrooms aren’t merely sown and harvested like other plant-based vegetables. They must be cultivated in specialised soil and have specific light, temperature and humidity requirements. In fact, some types of edible mushrooms, like morels, are rarely farmed at all – instead, they’re foraged in the wild. Others are toxic until cooked or treated in some other way.

Thus, the availability of different mushroom types varies between region and season. Be sure to check out your local farmers’ markets and growing communities to discover the special mushroom varieties in your area.

Are mushrooms good for you?

Nutritionally, mushrooms don’t pack as much fibre, carbohydrates or vitamins as most plant-based vegetables. On the other hand, they tend to be rich in antioxidants and contain some B-vitamins and other compounds that boost metabolism. They are also a filling but low-calorie option for your diet; a cup of sliced button mushrooms contains just 20 calories.

Now for the tour-de-shroom!

Button

Also known as white mushrooms or table mushrooms, button mushrooms are the basic, supermarket variety that will serve in most recipes. They have a uniform shape and consistent texture and flavour that comes out when cooked, making them a neutral ingredient for salads when raw and a more robust component of skewers, meat dishes or stir-fries when grilled, boiled or sautéed. For cooking ideas, check out the top ten white button recipes from Yummly.

Bear in mind: Button mushrooms aren’t actually a species themselves, but the immature form of Agaricus bisporus, which when fully grown becomes…

Portobello

Portobello mushrooms are merely button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) that mature, graduating from a side ingredient to a main course. They absorb spices and marinades very well, and their large, thick caps and distinctive savoury flavours make portobellos an ideal replacement for meat and an excellent candidate for grilling, frying and stuffing and baking.

Savannah’s Best Marinated Portobello Mushrooms from Allrecipes.com

Cremini

Cremini mushrooms, often referred to as brown mushrooms or Roman mushrooms, are the third sibling in the Agaricus bisporus family. They’re harvested a bit later than white button mushrooms but before they develop into full-blown portobellos. They are as small and versatile in cooking as the white button, but like portobellos carry a richer, earthier flavour that goes well with garlic, vinegar, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

Fancy cremini mushroom recipes from Food & Wine

Oyster

Oyster mushrooms (Pluerotus ostreatus) are the second most commonly eaten mushroom and are especially popular in Asia. They have thin stems, a soft consistency and mild flavour, making them an understated, easy-to-cook ingredient.

King oyster mushrooms are a bit more robust, with thicker, chunkier stems that can be sliced thin and sautéed, stewed or served raw in a salad.

HuffPost’s favourite ways to cook oyster mushrooms

Enoki

You may have seen bunches of thin, stringy enoki mushrooms (or enokitake mushrooms) in hot pot or eastern style BBQ. These have a mild flavour and somewhat crunchy consistency (as mushrooms go) and are an excellent way to add substance and texture to a savoury dish.

Garlic and ginger sautéed enoki mushrooms from Delicious.com

Shiitake

As they are native to the forests of Japan, the dark, medium-sized shiitake mushrooms have become a staple ingredient in all sorts of Japanese dishes. Shiitake mushrooms are very flavourful (again, as mushrooms go), with a distinct earthy taste that comes out even more when dried. Don’t forget to remove the tough stem before cooking, though.

Vegan ramen with shitake broth by Feasting at Home

Wood ear

Another popular Asian mushrooms, wood ears are a dark variety of jelly mushrooms. They are a lighter mushroom option, and a soft and understated additive to stir-fries and soups.

Wood ear mushroom salad from Omnivore’s Cookbook

Chanterelle

A popular variety in European cuisine, the yellow-to-white, trumpet-shaped mushrooms are somewhat nutty with hints of peach or apricot. As a wild mushroom, chanterelles have a richer, earthier flavour than cultivated mushrooms like buttons.

 Fricasse of chanterelle’s by Bon Appetit

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