Mushrooms are safe to eat, but this depends on a few factors. If you’re picking up ordinary cultivated mushrooms from a grocery store or other retailer, you can start planning your dinner without having to worry. However, it is best to always cook your mushrooms rather than consuming them raw. Plus… they’re tastier that way :).
The reason cooking is recommended is because mushrooms are pretty much indigestible otherwise. Their cell walls are made of chitin, an extremely tough substance, which is broken down once cooked. The bioavailable compounds in mushrooms are locked within these walls, so the best way to enjoy your mushrooms and reap their benefits is by cooking them.
While there are thousands of species of mushrooms out there, some of them wouldn’t be fun for a meal. We might love eating mushrooms because they’re tasty and nutritious, but some don’t necessarily want to be eaten by us. They’d rather fulfil their biological imperative by staying intact to produce spores that go on to form new mushrooms.
Many mushroom species produce poisonous alkaloids, which are naturally occurring organic compounds that often affect the nervous system (think along the lines of a poisonous version of caffeine in coffee), to ward off predators. The psychoactive molecules found within psilocybe species are actually an example of this, but other compounds might cause other problems. When it comes to wild mushrooms, it’s always best not to eat anything you can’t identify.
As for the mushrooms we all know and love, there’s great news. Studies have found that many safe and edible species have anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and hypocholesterolemic properties, making an incredible superfood.
As we mentioned above, there are thousands of different species of mushrooms. Cultivated varieties like button mushrooms, shiitakes, enokis, maitakes —or any variety you would find at grocery chains or specialty stores— are completely safe to enjoy, and can even offer some pretty incredible improvements to your health.
Eating Wild Mushrooms
The study of mushrooms, known as mycology, is an amazingly broad field. Even if you’ve done some research in the subject, it still wouldn’t be wise to go foraging for your own wild mushrooms without some guidance from an expert. A lot of poisonous mushrooms resemble edible ones, but with subtle discrepancies that might escape the untrained eye.
An experienced forager should be able to identify these differences. Even if you see what looks like a common button mushroom growing in the ground, it might be the early growth stage of a more dangerous variety.
The takeaway here is that mushrooms are definitely safe to eat, and incredibly healthy —just as long as they come from a reputable source. The mushrooms at your local grocery or specialty stores are sure to be safe and delicious. If foraging for wild mushrooms is something that interests you, be sure to seek out such an expert first, and learn to spot the difference. If you’re looking for all the flavour and health benefits of mushrooms without the work of foraging, Troop has you covered.
- Larousse Gastronomique
- On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee