Although there is an abundant number of edible mushrooms, the matsutake mushroom is perhaps one of the lesser-known varieties amongst non-mushroom hunters. Maybe it’s because of the more oriental-based name, but once you taste one of these, you’ll understand their popularity a whole lot more.
I’m always happy when I introduce a new variety of mushrooms to an avid forager. Beginners tend to stick to what they know, many concentrating on some of the better-known varieties.
But matsutake mushrooms deserve your attention, for you can only describe their taste as mushroom divinity. That’s probably the reason so many people actively hunt for these each year, keen to enjoy the specific flavors.
There are many things to learn about this mushroom and I wanted to cover as many as possible. The following 10 interesting facts about matsutake mushrooms will help you well on your way to understanding this delightful fungus.
Interesting Facts About Matsutake Mushrooms
Fact #1: Matsutake mushrooms don’t grow the world over
They grow abundantly in North America, Japan, Korea, China, as well as Northern Europe, mostly in Finland and Sweden.
The mushroom is one of the most prized by Japanese people, often gifting the fungus for important events. The gifts represent fertility and happiness, hence their popularity.
Fact #2: Matsutake mushroom flavors
The flavors of matsutake mushrooms are some of the most intensive found in any mushroom variety. The flavor is very spicy and intense, resembling cinnamon.
It’s a powerful flavor that unfortunately will overpower dishes when added in abundance. It’s best to start with a small sample, to build up the level of flavor in the dish.
Fact #3: Matsutake mushroom season
As with any wild-grown mushroom, it’s good to know when the proper season to find them begins. Matsutake mushrooms grow from late summer and early fall in colder climatic countries. In warmer climates, they begin to grow during the winter months.
Fact #4: Distinct ring around the stem of the matsutake mushroom
There’s a distinct ring around the stem of the matsutake mushroom. This ring is a remnant of its partial veil, leftover from when the fruiting body was still young.
The veil normally attaches from the cap to the stem and disappears once the mushroom matures. The veil’s job during the mushroom’s early life is to protect the gills.
Fact #5: Matsutake mushroom size
This mushroom variety isn’t small, the caps growing anywhere from 2 to 8 inches across. This makes them easy to spot in the wild for foragers. One way to identify the mushroom is to locate a distinct curl around the edge of the cap, although these may only be present in younger varieties.
The stems, on the other hand, grow anywhere from 2 to 6 inches in height. They sometimes appear two-toned in color, which makes them recognizable. One thing to note is that the stems are solid, never hollow, so be sure to confirm this before selecting them for your next meal.
Fact #6: The color of their spores
One way to identify mushrooms is by the color of their spores. Many mushrooms have distant cousins that appear similar, but often have different colored spores. Matsutake mushrooms have white spores.
An easy way to catch and identify the spores is to get a black sheet of paper and place the mushroom on it. Cover the mushroom with a bowl, making sure to seal the cardboard around the mushroom, then leave overnight.
You’ll find spores covering the black paper. Be sure to encase the mushroom properly to keep a breeze from penetrating under the bowl, otherwise the spores will just fly away.
Fact #7: Also named as pine mushrooms
Matsutake mushrooms have also been named pine mushrooms. This is due to their symbiotic relationship with certain species of pine trees. You see, matsutakes are mycorrhizal mushrooms.
This means they form a symbiotic relationship where both parties benefit equally. Whilst these mushrooms may sometimes be found near some hardwood trees, they more prefer pine trees.
Fact #8: It doesn’t mix well with certain additives
Because of the intense flavors of matsutake mushrooms, it doesn’t mix well with certain additives. Avoid using these mushrooms with butter or cream, as they don’t match well.
It’s a common belief that younger mushrooms contain more intense flavors than more mature mushrooms. Keep this in mind when selecting some for your next meal.
Fact #9: Overpower other mushrooms
One common trait of mushroom lovers is to mix them up a little. Many dishes include several varieties of mushrooms, each supposedly adding their own discreet flavors. The problem with matsutake mushrooms is that they tend to overpower other mushrooms considerably.
Avoid adding them to dishes with other mushroom varieties, except one. White buttons are OK to mix with these, as the buttons tend to absorb the flavors, which only enhance the dish.
Fact #10: Less is more
There’s one simple rule to remember when it comes to cooking with matsutake mushrooms. It’s a rule I employ a lot and one worth mentioning here. KISS. Keep It Simple, Silly. When it comes to the intense flavors of these mushrooms, less is definitely more.