Mushrooms come in all shades, from the beautiful and edible types to the odd-looking and poisonous ones. Unfortunately, many people are only familiar with one or two mushroom types that they see in the grocery store.
There is a whole world of these amazing fungus out there, and it is time to expand your horizons. This ultimate guide will show you the most popular mushrooms, including the edible and medicinal types, wild varieties, and more.
Certain varieties of mushrooms are easy to cultivate year-round commercially, because growers can replicate indoors the conditions and environment that they need to flourish.
Below are some of the common cultivated mushroom types.
Button mushrooms (aka white mushrooms) are the most consumed mushroom in the world. The reason for their popularity is simple: they are easy to cultivate.
Button mushrooms have a mild, meaty flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. They are also great when baked or stuffed.
Cremini mushrooms are the older version of button mushrooms. They are also called brown mushrooms because they are not as white as their baby (button) cousins.
Cremini mushrooms are great in soups and other cooked dishes. Their woodsy flavor comes alive when they are pan-fried in butter with a few drops of lemon and a little thyme. They go well with any roast or steak.
Portobello mushrooms are actually button mushrooms at the final stage of maturity. They are larger with a firmer and meatier texture than creminis.
If you want to cut down on eating meat, portobellos are the perfect replacement. They are great when grilled.
You can also try stuffing portobellos with cheese and risotto – yummy!
Enoki mushrooms are popular in Japanese, Vietnamese, and Chinese cooking. Their mild flavor makes them suitable for a variety of cuisines.
They can be eaten either cooked or raw. If you choose to cook them, remember to not cook them for too long, or else they will become too tough.
Enoki mushrooms make a nice addition to stir-fries and soups.
Oyster mushrooms (not in any way related to sea-food) are versatile and can be yellow, pale, pale blue, gray, and / or pink. They have a mild, delicate flavor and a velvety texture.
Whether baked, sautéed in plenty of butter, or added to stir-fries and soups, oyster mushrooms are quite tasty.
These mushroom types are native to East Asia. They are more expensive than white button mushrooms, but are still more affordable than some other mushrooms types, such as porcini and morel mushrooms.
Whether fresh or dried, shiitake mushrooms can be used in a wide range of cuisines. Their earthy flavor and meaty texture make them a great addition to a variety of dishes, including rice dishes, soups, noodles, and pan-fried.
Eating them raw is not advisable, though. Shiitakes have a woodsy flavor and are incredibly soft when cooked.
These are mushrooms that grow on their own in the wild and are harvested by mushroom foragers. Wild mushrooms can only flourish in their natural habitat because they grow on the live roots trees or have special characteristics that are difficult to replicate in commercial agricultural settings.
Some of the popular wild mushroom types include:
Although truffles are not exactly mushrooms, they belong to the world of fungi and are found in the wild.
Truffles are insanely pricey! They are among the most expensive foods on our planet. The white variety is rarer and even more costly than black truffles. They are almost impossible to cultivate, which explains why they are darn expensive.
Truffles are best enjoyed freshly grated over risotto and pasta.
These mushroom types are commonly found in Italy and some parts of Europe, New Zealand, and North America.
Their rich woodsy and earthy flavor combined with their dense, nutty texture makes them excellent additions to stews, risotto, stocks, and gravy.
Morels are commonly found in North America, India, China, and other temperate climates. They are quite easy to recognize because of their unique honeycomb textured caps (although they have poisonous lookalikes, too).
They are hardly found in grocery stores, but with some luck, you can find them growing in the forests beneath Oak, Elm, Aspen, and Ash trees.
Morel mushrooms are best enjoyed when they are the star of your dish, as that brings out their complex flavor.
Chanterelles are found in many parts of the world. They are among the most beautiful mushrooms and are shaped like a funnel. They come in white, orange, and yellow colors.
These mushrooms taste great with fresh or dried. They are mostly eaten cooked (not raw) because cooking makes their complex flavor more pronounced.
Chanterelles are nutty, and like morels, they are more flavorful when they are the star of a pasta dish or a soup.
For centuries, people have observed that mushrooms can provide medicinal benefits. Even some edible mushrooms, such as maitake and shiitake mushrooms, are known to have some medicinal properties.
In fact, the medicinal properties of these fungi are not based on mere anecdotal accounts. Some mushrooms have been scientifically proven to treat health problems such as reducing cholesterol, fighting cancer, and many more.
Many medicinal mushrooms are too bitter to eat, and so have been made into capsules. There are powders for sale that are a combination of several mushroom extracts. Mushroom tablets or supplements are an excellent way to get the medicinal benefit these of mushrooms while eliminating the unpleasant taste.
Here are 4 of the most popular medical mushrooms.
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) grows in humid and hot climates, especially in Asia. It has been used in Eastern medicine for several years.
Some of the scientifically proven health benefits of reishi include boosting the immune system, prevent depression and fatigue, and fighting cancer.
Genius Mushrooms Dietary Supplement is a very popular choice of mushroom supplement that combines the efficacy of Reishi, Cordyceps, and Lion’s Mane mushrooms to boost the immune system, support the liver, and relieve stress.
Host Defense Capsules is another great choice of reishi mushroom supplement.
For more information about Reishi mushrooms, see our article 10 Healthy Reasons to Add Reishi to Your Diet.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s mane mushrooms, also known as Hericium erinaceus, are both edible and medicinal. These mushrooms are typically white and shaggy, with an appearance that resembles– you guessed it, a lion’s mane.
This mushroom can be enjoyed as cooked, dried, raw, or even as a tea. But most importantly, lion’s mane extracts have become well-known health supplements due to their many medicinal uses.
Lion’s mane can help relieve mild anxiety and depression, boost the recovery of nervous system injury, prevent digestive tract ulcers, minimize the risks of heart disease, boost the immune system, and may even provide protection against dementia.
A study has shown that lion’s mane extracts can significantly improve brain function. Other health benefits include the possibility of fighting leukemia cells, minimize the chances of developing anxiety and depression, and help in eliminating colon cancer. The mushroom can also be beneficial in treating ulcers and inflammation.
Thankfully, you do not need to cultivate or forage for Lion’s mane mushroom to derive its health benefits. The mushroom is widely available in supplement form.
Read our article Mushrooms that Will Boost Your Brain for more information about lion’s mane mushrooms.
Inonotus obliquus, commonly called Chaga, is found in Siberia, Alaska, Northern Canada, Northern Europe, and other cold climates. They usually grow on the bark of birch trees.
Chaga mushroom looks like burnt charcoal, but it orange on the inside. This fungus is known for its several health benefits, including boosting the immune system, reducing cholesterol, fighting inflammation, preventing cancer, and reducing blood sugar.
It can be a bit of a challenge to find good quality chaga mushroom supplements. We have done some digging though, and we recommend this organic chaga mushroom powder formulated from ecologically grown mushrooms to boost immunity and improve overall health.
You can learn more about Chaga and its health benefits by reading our article The Amazing Chaga — An Overview.
Turkey Tail Mushroom
Trametes versicolor, aka Turkey tail, grows in a shelf-like pattern that looks like a turkey’s tail. It s packed with antioxidants that can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. A study has shown that turkey tail mushrooms can help to improve immune function in individuals with colon cancer.
Read our article Turkey Tail Mushroom Benefits and Uses for more information about Turkey Tail mushrooms.
Psychoactive mushrooms, aka “magic mushrooms,” contain substances capable of affecting the mood, mind, and mental processes. Most psychoactive mushrooms contain psilocybin – the psychotropic compound that causes hallucinations and euphoria, among other effects.
Recently much clinical study has been done on the possible mental health benefits of psychedelic mushrooms.
Cultivating, selling, buying, and using these mushroom types are prohibited in many countries.
Unfortunately, not all mushrooms are safe to consume, and many poisonous ones look like certain edible mushrooms. For this reason, it is important to be 100% sure of what you are eating before ingesting any wild mushroom.
Some of the most common poisonous mushrooms are:
The Death Cap
Of all mushrooms, the death cap causes the most cases of fatal mushroom poisoning. It damages the body’s cell within a few hours of consumption and can further damage internal organs, including the kidneys, liver, and even the central nervous system.
Conocybe filaris grows on lawns and can be fatal if ingested. It has the same toxins as the death cap, often resulting in initial stomach problems when eaten. Life-threatening gastrointestinal issues can occur if not treated immediately.
These are several all-white mushrooms in the Amanita family. Some of them look like the edible meadow mushrooms and button mushrooms, making them easy to misidentify. The Amanita bisporigera is the most toxic of all the destroying angel mushrooms, often causing convulsion, delirium, and death.
The autumn skullcap is another deadly mushroom you can easily mistake for an edible or a psychedelic mushroom. Ingesting a skullcap mushroom can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and liver damage.
The false morels look like true edible morels but are not completely hollow like edible ones. The resemblance often makes collectors mistake them for true morels. False morels are poisonous, whether raw or cooked.
Webcaps contain orellanin poison that causes symptoms of the common flu. It can take up to 3 weeks for symptoms to show, which usually leads to misdiagnosis. The poison can cause kidney failure and death if left untreated.
This gilled mushroom contains amatoxins that can cause liver toxicity. Unfortunately, you can easily mistake it for edible varieties.
Read our article The Most Common Poisonous Mushrooms to Watch Out For to learn more about mushrooms that you need to avoid.
Mushroom Classification Based on Growth Pattern
One other way to categorize mushrooms is based on how they grow. This is a more scientific organization of mushrooms as it deals with what they feed on and their host.
1. Parasitic Mushrooms
These are mushrooms that grow on hosts such as plants, trees, and even caterpillars. Parasitic mushrooms don’t provide anything to their hosts. Instead, they only take. In fact, these mushrooms can completely take over a host and even kill it.
Some parasitic mushrooms include cordyceps sinesis (caterpillar fungus), lion’s mane, chaga, and honey fungus.
2. Mycorrhizal Mushrooms
These mushroom types share a give-and-take or symbiotic relationship with their hosts, which include trees and plants. The mycelium or root system of these mushrooms weaves into the roots of their hosts.
The host supplies food to the mycorrhizal mushrooms, and in turn, the fungi allow the plant to reach nutrients and extra moisture it wouldn’t have otherwise had access to. These mushrooms can extend their hosts’ roots up to a thousand times, making the plants to grow faster, larger, and stronger.
Some of the popular mycorrhizal mushrooms are chanterelle, amanitas, matsutake, boletes, porcini, and truffles.
3. Saprotrophic Mushrooms
These mushroom types grow on a dead matter such as wood, decaying plants, and dead animals. Although the thought of your favorite mushrooms growing on dead animals may churn your stomach at first, it is actually an essential part of the food chain.
Have you wondered why there isn’t dead matter littering all over the place? It is because saprotrophic mushrooms recycle them into the soil by releasing acids and enzymes that break them down.
Some saprotrophic mushrooms are (don’t hate them, please!) button mushrooms, reishi, enoki, oyster mushroom, shiitake, and some other edible and medicinal mushrooms.
Now you’ve seen the various popular mushroom types, it’s time to make your pick and head to the kitchen! Don’t know how to cook mushrooms? No need to worry. You can learn everything you need to know about preparing these delicious fungi in our essential guide to cooking mushrooms.