Mushrooms were prized in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, and have been cultivated in Japan for 2,000 years. But settlers in North America were late to the feast. We’re making up for that now and the variety of fresh mushrooms available in supermarkets is on the upswing. Whether served as a side dish or the main event, mushrooms’ meaty texture is very satisfying.
All mushrooms may provide health benefits, and contain nutrients like potassium (portobellos are a good source), copper, niacin and selenium. Research suggests that white button mushrooms seem to have as much antioxidant properties (and in some cases more than) as other mushrooms.
Fresh mushrooms should be firm with a fresh, smooth appearance. They should also appear dry, but not dried out.
White button mushrooms are the most popular and have a fairly mild taste that goes well with almost anything. Cremini mushrooms look similar to white buttons except for their brown cap, but have a deeper flavor than white buttons. Portobello mushrooms have large brown caps that can be up to six inches in diameter and a deep, meaty flavor. Shiitake mushrooms also have a meaty texture and flavor and are brown with umbrella-shaped caps. Oyster mushrooms have a very delicate flavor and can be gray, pale yellow or blue.
Wild mushrooms include morels, truffles and chantarelles, and unless you are purchasing wild mushrooms from a supermarket, it is best to only purchase or forage wild mushrooms with the guidance of a mushroom expert, as poisonous mushrooms can often resemble nonpoisonous mushrooms.
Dried mushrooms are available in the produce section of many supermarkets. When purchasing them, look for whole mushrooms in the package without a lot of powdery dust or spiky shards; the color should be uniformly brown.
Keep mushrooms in their original container up to a week in the refrigerator. Once opened, mushrooms should be stored in a porous paper bag to prolong their shelf life. Do not store fresh mushrooms in airtight containers, which will cause condensation and speed up spoilage. Never freeze fresh mushrooms.
Mushrooms are grown in nearly every state in the United States, with Pennsylvania as the leading producer at 61% of U.S. mushroom production.