Looking at that box of fresh white buttons at the supermarket but don’t know if they’re worth it ? If you’ve never had mushrooms before they can be a little weird to wrap your head around.
Neither a vegetable nor a fruit, mushrooms bring a whole new kind of flavor to any dish. Once you’ve tasted them you’ll detect them in any dish, for better or worse.
Still, we should probably explain what mushrooms taste like, so you can make up your own mind.
What do mushrooms taste like ?
Mushrooms bring an earthy, vaguely sweet, and umami flavor that resembles gamey meat in many ways. They’re a noticeable flavor in any meal, but they can easily be seasoned and taken in another direction.
Because mushrooms have that meaty flavor they’re a very common meat substitute for vegans ad vegetarians. With the right seasoning you can take them from mediocre to the best thing ever.
Now, not all mushrooms are made the same. Some are more flavorful, some are light and fresh, and we’ll get to explaining those too.
What’s very important, aside from flavor, is the texture of mushrooms. You may like the taste but be put off by the texture, so let’s take a look at that too.
Why mushrooms have a soft texture
For the most part mushrooms are water. They have some protein and fiber, and barely any fat. In fact 100 grams of mushrooms have 0.3 gr of total fats. That’s one of the lowest calorie foods possible.
Back to texture, mushrooms are a bit of a sponge. This means they release but also draw moisture. When cooked mushrooms have a soft, spongy texture. They’re easy to chew and cut through, but still retain their shape. It’s kind of like they’re made of a very sturdy jello.
Now most folks are fine with this texture, but some find it way too soft. There are mushroom types that are tougher or stringier, so it might be best to opt for those in that case.
Read Also:Should You Peel Mushrooms ?
Which mushrooms have the best flavor ?
As we said before, not all mushrooms are created equal. Some of the best mushrooms, most flavorful mushrooms are difficult to find or very expensive, so we’re going to talk about them here.
You can find these in specialty shops, or at the gourmet section.
Chicken of the woods
These are not the most common mushrooms, and in fact they look very different from regular mushrooms. They look like wide, horizontal growths and they grow on trees. Bright orange with yellow edges, they look a lot like chicken combs (except not red).
These are very succulent mushrooms with a dense texture, and they actually do taste like chicken. Yes, it seems there’s finally a food that people say ‘oh it tastes like chicken’ and it actually does taste like chicken. A very light chicken meat, but still.
Be careful with these though. Some folks have an allergic reaction – albeit mild – to them. It’s best to eat a few bites, give it 48 hours, and see if you’re still fine after that.
You may have heard of truffles and how expensive they are, hard to find, truffle oil, truffle with gold foil, all of that. Why does everyone go nuts for truffles though ?
Apparently they have a flavor a lot like prosciutto and beef, minus the salt. A very deep, meaty flavor that only gets better the more you eat it. These bad boys grow underground, and you need special dogs to sniff them out.
Back in the day they used pigs to find and dig up truffles. But the pigs had a bad habit of eating a lot of truffles before they were even halfway out of the ground, which we kind of understand.
It’s not everyday you get to find a whole truffle for yourself.
The downsides to these two flavorful mushrooms is the price tag. Truffles are amazingly expensive, in 2019 the Winter Black Truffle retailed at $92.58 per oz, while the Italian White Truffle was 214.26 per oz.
Common mushroom types to use instead of meat
Okay, so you can’t get truffles, and you may or may not be allergic to chicken of the woods. What else can you use ? There’s plenty of mushrooms to pick (haha, get it ?) from, and some of them are still very flavorful without being expensive.
You might already have some of these in your local supermarket, so take a look. Even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian you can make a mean mushroom and parmesan pasta for dinner !
Big, leaf-looking grey mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms kind of look like opened mushrooms, and they’re one of the best options for meat replacement. This is mostly because of their texture, since they’re denser and stringier than other types.
Some of the best ways to cook oyster mushrooms is to bread them. If you season them right they can pass for chicken nuggets ! Okay maybe not but if you squint a little ?
Possibly the most common mushrooms in any supermarket in any place on the planet. You know them. Small, white, and they look like cute little buttons.
They can grow as large as a child’s hand and you can use the caps as a very small bowl to bake or grill something in them.
Their flavor isn’t the most exciting, in fact it’s one of the blandest and typical mushroom flavors you can get. Very earthy and a little meaty. In terms of texture they’re the soft, spongy ones we were talking about earlier.
You’ve probably seed these in supermarkets as well. They look like a mini forest with little white ‘trees’ all clustered together. These are more common in miso soup, garnished on the top like spring onions.
Very thin, very delicate, and very fresh in flavor. Some say you can eat them raw, some say you have to cook them. We’ve never had them ourselves, so we can’t vouch for the raw version.
Read also: Should You Refrigerate Mushrooms ?
Shiitakes look a lot like the white buttons, except they’re dark brown ad their top isn’t as rounded. It’s more of a flattened shape. They’re mush denser and this is true for the cooked version as well.
Mush meatier and heartier in flavor, shiitakes are a little more difficult to find than portobello.
These yellow trumpet-looking mushrooms are definitely something beautiful. They’re very soft and delicate and are amazing pickled. They don’t have the meatiest flavor, in fact they’re not that earthy either. They’re got a very light and fresh flavor, and are best when sauteed lightly in olive oil or butter.
Also known as porcini mushrooms, these are possibly the most flavorful of the bunch. The affordable, easier to find bunch, that is.
Boletus are often found in Italian cooking. They’re got a really hearty, meaty, earthy flavor that will hold up to most spices and they go great with pretty much anything.
And yes, they’re got a better texture.
Spices and flavors to use with mushrooms
The spices and flavors you use with mushrooms can really make or break a dish. Since mushrooms don’t have any fat to speak of, they need a little help with oil or butter to really develop the spices you add.
So even if you’re on a diet, spare a few drops of olive oil and sautee the mushrooms a little. It goes a long way.
Garlic, onions, chives, shallots
Anything pungent from the garlic and onion family is a welcome addition to mushrooms. They manage to extract they umami flavor even more and really round up the flavor profile.
Smoked paprika, hot paprika, chili flakes
Smoked paprika will give mushrooms a deep, slightly roasted flavor, while hot paprika will give it a nice spice. Whether you use paprika, chili, cayenne, or any type of hot pepper you get some flavor aside from the spiciness.
If you add bell pepper you turn the entire dish into a very earthy, fall-inspired direction so be careful what kind of peppers you use.
Peanuts or peanut butter
Ah yes, not the most common ingredient to add but they really do add so much ! If using peanuts you give the meal a nice crunch, and a change in texture. If using portobello this is a welcome change.
If using peanut butter you will get that peanut flavor and the entire dish will thicken a little. It’s the nutty that pairs to well with the meaty that really brings this dish together. Add in a bit of onion and you’re great !
Curry is a very heavy spice, we know. But it really goes well with a lot of things, including mushrooms. Whether you add mushrooms to a curry, or add a bit of curry powder on roast mushrooms at a barbecue the combination is amazing.
Even if it’s just an herb, dill brings an earthy, grassy tone to everything that just screams ‘home cooking’. Again, we recommend adding a bit of onion and smoked paprika to bring it all together.
And that’s it. You now have not-boring mushrooms ! We hope our explanation on what mushrooms taste like helped you make up your mind, and you’ll bring home a box next time you’re out.