What’s not to love about mushrooms? Aside from being packed with a lot of nutritional properties that provide many health benefits, they are also very versatile. You can use them as toppings or mix them in soups, sauces, stews, and more.

Mushrooms are very delicate though. They can spoil fast if you don’t know how to handle them. To make the most of them, you must learn to prepare and store them well.

How to clean mushrooms

The first thing you need to learn is how to clean them. For most mushrooms, except for morels, the easiest way to clean them is by gently wiping or brushing away all the dirt and debris. You can use a soft-bristled mushroom brush or even just a clean, slightly damp paper towel.

Washing them is usually not required especially when the mushrooms have already been cut. This will just make the mushrooms soggy.

Some might be worried about acquiring foodborne illnesses by eating unwashed mushrooms. However, if you purchase packaged ones from commercial growers, there is nothing to worry about. They usually go through a pasteurization and sterilization process that removes any contaminating elements.

On the other hand, it is absolutely required to wash morels because they are harvested in the wild and tend to be dirtier. Just soak them either whole or halved in a cool, slightly salted water for 15 minutes. Then drain and rinse with clear running water. Finally, pat them dry with a clean towel.

Aside from knowing how to clean them though, you also need to know how to store them well.

How to properly store mushrooms

Since mushrooms are very delicate, storage plays a critical role in how long they will last. There are very specific storage techniques that you must learn to help keep them fresh and make the most out of them.

Here are a few storage tips that you can try.

  • Let them breathe. Mushrooms emit ethylene gas after picking. You need to allow them to release or else the mushrooms will spoil faster.
  • Prevent them from drying out. Retain enough moisture on the mushrooms but not so much as to become slimy.
  • Place them in an appropriate container. To allow for air circulation, place the mushrooms in a perforated ceramic, glass, or stoneware bowl.
  • Do not store them in plastic bags. Some people suggest placing mushrooms in plastic bags. However, this should be avoided instead because storing fungi in sealed plastic bags will just cause them to become slimy.
  • Do not store them in paper bags. Storing mushrooms in a paper bag is likewise not a good idea because it prevents the ethylene from releasing. If you have no choice but to use paper bags, then you’ll have to poke holes on three sides to allow air circulation and help expel the gas.
  • Keep them in their packaging. For prepackaged mushrooms, it is best to leave them in their packaging until you are ready to use them. These types of packaging are usually designed to have air channels to let the gas out.

It is recommended to keep mushrooms in the refrigerator instead of keeping them at room temperature. This is because mushrooms contain 80 to 90 percent water and storing them in room temperature will help keep them damp.

Expert tip

Another reason why you must keep mushrooms in the refrigerator is that they continue growing even after picking. Refrigeration helps in slowing down their metabolism. Keeping them in room temperature will make them lose their energy reserves for the formation of mushroom fibers.

Carl Lawrence

How to tell if mushrooms are bad, rotten, or spoiled

Like any other food, mushrooms also have an expiration date. It may be hard to determine when it is though especially if you buy them fresh because those sometimes don’t come with an expiration date on the packaging.

The expiration date of mushrooms can depend on several factors, including on whether they are fresh, dried, cooked, whole or sliced. Generally, fresh whole mushrooms can last 7 – 10 days while fresh sliced mushrooms can only last 5 – 7 days. Unsliced mushrooms tend to last longer because they have less exposed surfaces. Cooked mushrooms can last up to 7 – 10 days as well while dried mushrooms can go up to 2 – 3 years before spoiling.

While you can use these expiration dates as a guide, it is still important for you to use your common sense and check on signs of spoilage as well. Sniff, poke, and eyeball your mushrooms to look for the following signs of spoilage:

  • They smell bad. Mushrooms normally emit a light and subtle smell. If you notice a foul or strong odor, then they have most likely gone bad.
  • They’re slimy. When you hold the mushrooms and you feel slime or some stickiness on the surface, they are most probably already developing mold and should be tossed out.
  • They have wrinkles. Sometimes mushrooms don’t get slimy when they start to go bad. Instead, they shrivel up and develop wrinkles. This is also a sign for you to let them go.
  • They have dark spots or have become darker. – Once mushrooms grow dark spots, it’s a sign that they’re starting to go bad. Quickly use them already as soon as you can or just get rid of them.

Can you eat spoiled mushrooms?

The quick answer to this question is you shouldn’t. Eating spoiled mushrooms can be detrimental to your health and can even be fatal.

The least that can happen is that you can experience an upset stomach. However, there are far more serious medical conditions you should be aware of such as:

  • Botulism. This can come in different forms, one is called foodborne botulism, caused by bacteria called Clostridium botulism. Because the toxins from this are some of the most lethal substances in the world, botulism can be fatal and is, therefore, a medical emergency. It disrupts your nerve function, causing paralysis. Some symptoms of foodborne botulism include difficulty speaking or swallowing, paralysis, dry mouth, weakness on both sides of the face, nausea, double or blurred vision, breathing difficulty, and droopy eyelids. These symptoms normally occur 12 to 36 hours after eating food that contains these toxins.
  • E. coli. An E.coli infection can occur 3 to 4 days after you are exposed to the bacteria, which lives on your intestines. You can become exposed to this through contaminated food or water. Mushrooms can specifically be contaminated when you wash them with water or simply when they have become too old. Symptoms can include abdominal cramps, mild or severe diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Salmonella. Salmonella due to mushroom intake can occur when eating mushrooms that are too old or also when you don’t cook them properly. Symptoms can occur anytime from several hours to 2 days. Vomiting, nausea, fever, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, chills, and headache are some of the common symptoms.

Expert tip

There are many different types of mushrooms and many of them have various alternate names, which can become quite confusing. To help you identify them and figure out which one to use for your next meal, check out this list of popular ones that include their names, flavor profiles and characteristics.

Carl Lawrence

What to do with leftover mushrooms

If you went on a mushroom-buying binge and you suddenly find yourself with excess, what would you do? Surely, you don’t want them to go to waste. If you don’t have any ideas on what to do with them, here are a few that you can try.

  • Try some mushroom-based recipes. Mushrooms are a great addition to any dish because they are healthy and flavorful as well. They can be added to salads, soups, and pasta for either breakfast, lunch or dinner. But there are also a lot of other dishes that feature mushrooms as the main ingredient. Cooking them will be a great way to use up a lot of your stock. Some of them include Mushroom Curry, Stuffed Mushrooms, Mushroom Pie, and Mushroom Strudel among others. Check out more of these recipes here.
  • Make mushroom powder. Some people are not fond of eating mushroom because of the texture. If you’re cooking a dish for these people, you don’t need to totally let go of adding mushrooms to your dish. You can simply make mushroom powder and use that instead. Mushroom powder can be made by simply grinding some dehydrated mushrooms. You can easily achieve that umami flavor to your dish by sprinkling some powder on your favorite salads, sauces, pasta, and soups.
  • Freeze them. Freezing is a great way to prolong the shelf life of mushrooms. The process of freezing mushrooms involves cleaning, slicing and sautéing them first. Then after cooling them on a tray, you can place them in the freezer then later transfer them in plastic bags for storage.

Helpful information about mushrooms

Many people think that mushrooms are vegetables because they are used and served as such. However, mushrooms are really fungi, which is a separate kingdom of life from animals and plants.

Different types of mushrooms

Did you know that there are over 10,000 known types of mushrooms in the world? What’s even more amazing is that this is probably just a fraction of what’s truly available. With what we currently know though, we can place mushrooms into four categories that describe how they feed themselves: saprotrophic, mycorrhizal, parasitic, and endophytic.

Saprotrophs are decomposers that thrive on decay. They feed on decaying wood, plants, and even animals. Some of the more common saprotrophs include gourmet type mushrooms such as morels, shiitake, white button, and cremini.

Mycorrhizae have successful partnerships with other trees and plants. Their mycelia enter into a beneficial union with the roots of other plants, bringing them additional moisture, phosphorous, and other nutrients. These plants, in turn, give them access to sugars. This makes the plants grow bigger, faster and stronger, which is why many farmers inoculate their crops with this type of fungus. These types of mushrooms, such as truffles and porcini, are difficult to cultivate though and can often only be sourced from nature.

There are mushrooms that feed on the weak though and they are called Parasitic. They infect their host plant eventually killing it. Some examples are honey fungus, caterpillar fungus, and lion’s mane.

Lastly, there is a unique type of mushroom that is yet to be fully understood by mycologists and they are known as Endophytic. Just like Parasitic ones, they also invade their host tissue, but the host does not die and instead remains healthy and even thrive. In this case, it is also similar to Mycorrhizal fungi but they are easier to cultivate in a lab.

Nutritional facts of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are very nutritious food and can be incorporated into whatever dietary system you prefer. They are a good source of fiber, particularly beta-glucan, and are low in carbohydrates. They also have high levels of some antioxidant compounds that are said to help prevent cancers.

Mushrooms are also very low in fat content, most of which is polyunsaturated. You can only find 97 milligrams of omega-6 fatty acids per cup. However, mushrooms are not protein-rich, with only 2.2 grams per cup. A cup of raw mushrooms usually contains only 15 calories and 2.3 grams of carbohydrates.

Take note though that mushrooms also vary in terms of nutritional values and health benefits. Generally, they are full of vitamins and minerals and are a good source of copper, niacin, pantothenic acid, potassium, phosphorus, and iron.

Cremini mushrooms, for instance, are high in selenium (37% RDA), riboflavin (29% RDA), and copper (25% RDA) among others. Morel mushrooms, on the other hand, contain high levels of iron (68% RDA), vitamin D (52% RDA), and copper (31% RDA).

Shiitake mushrooms, considered one of the healthiest varieties because of their anticarcinogenic and antimicrobial properties, are high in copper (45% RDA) and pantothenic acid (36% RDA). Another type of mushrooms also known for its medicinal properties is the oyster mushroom. These mushrooms have large amounts of antioxidants and have anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory properties. They have high levels of niacin (25% RDA), riboflavin (21% RDA), and pantothenic acid (13% RDA) among others.