How to Buy and Store Mushrooms

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Love fresh mushrooms but not sure how to choose the best ones? Wondering about all the different varieties and how to store mushrooms at home? Here’s what you need to know!

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Mushrooms are packed with nutrients, low in calories, and just plain delicious. They boost your recipes to a new level of mega flavor and depth.

If you want to cook with mushrooms more but don’t know which ones to buy (or how to keep them from turning to brown slime in your fridge), this guide will help!

THE 5 COMMON TYPES OF MUSHROOMS ON THE MARKET

In culinary terms, we think of mushrooms as vegetables. But they are not plants! Mushrooms are members of the fungi kingdom, which also includes mold and yeast.

There are scores of edible mushrooms in the world, but only a tiny fraction of them are cultivated on a large scale. Here are the most common kinds:

  1. White mushrooms
  2. Cremini mushrooms
  3. Portobello mushrooms
  4. Shiitake mushrooms
  5. Wild mushrooms

Let’s take a closer look at each of these!

white button mushrooms on black plate

WHITE (a.k.a button or field mushrooms)

Classic! If you see only one kind of mushroom in the store, this is it. According to the American Mushroom Council, white mushrooms account for 90% of the mushrooms purchased in the United States. They have a mild flavor and can be used in nearly any recipe calling for mushrooms.

cremini mushrooms on black plate

CREMINI (a.k.a crimini, baby bella, or brown mushrooms)

These have a more robust flavor than white mushrooms. Their shape is about the same, but they are slightly firmer, with light brown caps and pale brown interiors.

Fun fact: Creminis are the same species as white mushrooms, but grow from a different strain of spores. Any time you’d like a smidge more oomph in your mushroom recipes, reach for these.

underside of portobello mushrooms

PORTOBELLO

When cremini mushrooms go through a growth spurt, they become the large-capped portobellos we’ve all seen grilled as alternatives to hamburger patties.

That’s right, portobellos are simply mature creminis! You can marinate and roast them, stuff them, or cut them into thick slabs and layer them over grain dishes or into lasagna. Or you can chop them up and use them just as you would white or cremini mushrooms.

pile of shitake mushrooms

SHIITAKE (a.k.a. shitake mushrooms)

These guys are firm and umbrella-shaped, with tan caps on woody stems. Of grocery store mushroom varieties, they gave you the most flavor, and they’re notably more expensive.

Shiitakes are very sturdy, and they cook up nice and chewy. Brown them and add them to braises and stir-fries, or add their sliced caps to brothy soups. These mushrooms originated in East Asia, and you’ll see them in a lot of Japanese and Chinese recipes.

wild mushrooms

“WILD” AND GOURMET (a.k.a mushroom blends)

These are spendy little cartons with a mix of cultivated—not wild—fresh mushrooms such as oysters, creminis, and shiitakes. While they are not truly wild, you can go wild with them for fun and variety!

Take a close look at the carton before you sling them in your cart, though, because often these cartons contain mostly lower-cost creminis with only a scattering of the more expensive “exotic” ones like oysters and shiitakes.

a guide to buying the best mushrooms

WHAT TO LOOK FOR AND WHAT TO AVOID WHEN BUYING MUSHROOMS

Have you ever bought mushrooms with the best of intentions, only to shove them in the back of your produce drawer … and then a week later, you dig out a carton of sad brown goo? I’m guilty. So, it pays to look closely and get the freshest mushrooms you can, because those will last longer in the fridge.

With any variety, look for mushrooms that are smooth, firm, and dry. Slimy, soft, and spotty is bad. Avoid those!

Younger mushrooms are more compact, with closed caps. Slightly more mature mushrooms have caps that open to reveal the gills on the undersides. These mushrooms have more flavor, but their texture means they might be a bit slimier when cooked, because those dark, feathery gills break down easily when exposed to heat.

BUYING BULK VS PACKAGED MUSHROOMS

A lot of stores offer mushrooms in bulk. You select your own from a bin and stick them in a bag. I like doing this, because I can choose the size I need (larger for stuffing, smaller for marinating), and I can also see up-close if the mushrooms are clean, dry, and fresh. They also waste less packaging.

Pile of sliced mushrooms

BUYING SLICED VS WHOLE MUSHROOMS

How do pre-sliced mushrooms hold up to whole ones? Since sliced mushrooms have more surfaces exposed to air, they don’t keep as long as whole ones.

This does not mean sliced mushrooms are inferior. It just means you need to take extra care when selecting them to make sure what’s in the carton is in good shape (clean, firm, etc.), and then try to use them within a few days of purchase.

Whole mushrooms last a few days longer in the fridge, and they offer more cooking options, like cutting them into cubes or wedges, which some recipes might call for. But sliced mushrooms offer ease of prep, which is certainly nothing to sneer at.

store mushrooms in a paper bag

HOW TO STORE MUSHROOMS

Even though mushrooms usually come from the store in a film-wrapped carton, it’s best if they breathe.

A brown paper bag is ideal. An airtight bag, like a Ziploc bag, is worst case scenario. Keep mushrooms in their original packaging or a paper bag. If you’re lucky, they’ll keep for up to one week in the refrigerator.

If your mushrooms are looking borderline, it’s okay to cook them. Rinse them, dry them well, and proceed. If they are floppy and slick with slime, pitch ‘em. (And yes, it’s okay to get mushrooms wet!)

Don’t freeze fresh mushrooms; it will destroy their texture and render them into slime. You may, however, freeze cooked mushrooms.

pile of white button mushrooms

FAST FACTS ABOUT MUSHROOMS

  • The good old state of Pennsylvania accounts for about 60% of total U.S. mushroom production.
  • It’s not a good idea to eat raw mushrooms. It’s not unsafe, but your body can’t digest uncooked mushrooms, and it can lead to gastric distress—which is unpleasant. Tens of thousands of salad bars across the country prove that many people eat raw mushrooms without a second thought. In any case, your body can’t absorb the nutrients in raw mushrooms because their cell walls are too thick. Cooking the mushrooms breaks down their cell walls, making their nutrients available to you.
  • Commercial mushrooms are grown indoors. They don’t need light to grow because they’re not plants, so they grow around the clock.
  • Mushrooms grow fast, doubling in size every day.

LOOKING FOR MUSHROOM RECIPES? WE GOT ‘EM!

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Sara Bir

Sara Bir a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and the author of two cookbooks: The Fruit Forager’s Companion and Tasting Ohio. Past gigs include leading chocolate factory tours, slinging street cart sausages, and writing pop music criticism. Sara skates with her local roller derby team as Carrion the Librarian.

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3 Comments

No ImageHow to Buy and Store Mushrooms

  1. Mystic Wolf

    Thank You For Very Good & Informative Info! I am 75 years old & did not know some of what Your info taught me today! I have wondered about some of these things…& now I have my answers! I Love This Group & I Am Glad That I Belong To It!
    Thanks Again From Mystic Wolf In Texas!

  2. Liz

    I love these sorts of posts. I might prefer them to actual recipes…rather than trying to learn more new recipes I’ve been trying to improve on basics. Thanks

    Show Replies (1)
a guide to buying the best mushroomsHow to Buy and Store Mushrooms