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Wild Mushrooms - How to distinguish foraged from farmed? [Moved from San Francisco Bay Area board]

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I went to the store today to purchase some wild mushrooms, preferably organic. I am new to specialty mushrooms and the following questions came up:

1. Is there a way to distinguish at the store between foraged wild mushrooms and ones grown on a farm? I saw a few that were markedly dirtier (golden chanterelles, pig ears, matsutake); they had signs of dirt and other natural matter one would expect to find in a forest. Most other mushrooms there looked very clean and I suspect were farmed.

Is there a way to distinguish? Is one preferred of the other?

2. Do foraged wild mushrooms grow completely naturally or are they processed in any way? In other words, are foraged wild mushrooms necessarily organic?

3. Do mushroom "farmers" grow "wild" mushrooms in forests, or do they grow naturally and found by foragers? I am talking about mushrooms available at stores, not a small farmers market stall.

Thanks!

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  1. You'll have to learn a little bit about different types of mushrooms to know which are farmed and which are truly wild. There are some varieties of mushroom that just won't grow in captivity, so if you see them in a store, you'll know that they are really wild. Others can be cultivated. It is possible to cultivate oyster mushrooms, shitakes and the usual array of white/cremini/portobello types. As far as I know, it is NOT possible to cultivate chanterelles, morels, porcini or matsutake. Dirt isn't necessarily an indication of either - cultivated mushrooms (like white and cremini) are grown in some type of compost so will often have bits of dirt clinging to them. Our local Costco has recently been selling chanterelles - which are definitely wild-picked - so obviously they are plentiful enough to market commercially. They come in a package but have quite a bit of foresty matter clinging to them - pine needles, dirt, etc.

    Wild mushrooms - truly wild ones - are obviously not grown using pesticides but I suppose it would be possible for them to become contaminated by a pesticide that is being used in a nearby area. So as far as organic goes, they're likely to be organic but there's no way of knowing 100%. Cultivated mushrooms are grown, as I said, on some type of compost or often on logs that have been impregnated with mushroom spores. These may or may not be fully organic, depending on the source of the material in which they're grown. I have no idea if mushroom farmers use other sprays to keep down insects - it's possible that some do.

    As far as preference, each mushroom has a flavour and texture of its own. So you decide which you like and for what purpose - no one can tell you what is preferable. It's your choice.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Nyleve

      Thank you. This is helpful introduction.
      As for preference, I was not referring to specific species but rather whether wild ones are preferable to farmed ones.
      May I ask which Costco you were referring to? Are you in the NW?

      1. re: alpinegroove

        Actually I'm in Canada - Ontario. But the package says the mushrooms are from BC, so maybe they would be available from a supplier in the NW as well. To be honest, I was shocked to see these chanterelles in Costco - and $9.99 for a pound! Unreal price.

        It's extremely unlikely that you'll often be faced with a choice between cultivated and wild mushrooms of the same species. And even if you did, the huge price difference would likely make your mind up for you.

    2. Nyleve has it right. Some species are cultivated, some are wild, each is unique. The network of mushroom foragers is vast and it's not that surprising that Costco had chanterelles, if the supply was there. Foraged wild mushrooms are exactly that, not processed but still subject to environmental contamination. I don't care how big the morels near Chernobyl are, I would not eat them. I've heard that at least on the west coast most of the foragers are Asian, and there is a territorial network of pickers and wholesalers.

      3 Replies
      1. re: babette feasts

        I've picked wild mushrooms for many years on Van. Is. for our own table. We dry them in a food dehydrator. I went to a mushroom picking camp on the mainland near Vanerhoof recently to buy some morels. Everyone seemed to be pretty stoned/drunk. I saw someone urinate onto a patch of morels and everyone had a good laugh except me. I didn't buy any. I'm not saying all mushroom picking camps are like the one I went to obviously.......just saying. BTW everyone in that camp was your basic White 'twenty something' hippie who appeared not to have seen a bar of soap for some time.

        1. re: Puffin3

          Wow puffin, I've just read three incredibly negative posts from you. Do you have any positive food related experiences to share here?

          1. re: babette feasts

            Yeah I have had thousands of 'positive' food experiences. And I've had some very negative experiences around food. So you'd prefer me to only put up 'positive' food experiences? Some people come here to learn from the experiences of others. Some don't.
            "I bought some morels one time and they were excellent" Happy now?