Northern California is known for being a mushroom paradise. The region is home to diverse varieties of rich, nutritious, and edible wild mushrooms that grow year-round. There are numerous destinations dotted with mushrooms, drawing foragers from around the world.
Foraging for wild mushrooms in strange shapes, different sizes, and various flavors can be a fascinating hobby, and NorCal’s fertile soils and foggy, coastal climate create the perfect environment to pursue it as well. If you’ve ever been curious about the types of mushrooms you see when hiking through the state’s forests, here’s a guide to help you identify some of the most common species of wild mushrooms growing in the rugged coastal and forested regions of California.
Also known as boletus edulis, porcinis are among the tastiest edible wild mushrooms found in the Golden State. With their large stems and thick caps, porcinis look similar to shiitake mushrooms and contain numerous nutrients. Porcinis have a meaty texture and a strong woody flavor that dominates the palate. These mushrooms are commonly dried and powdered and added into sauces and soups.
Dominantly present in the West Coast, this type of mushroom grows in moss or rotting matter beneath spruce, pine, oak, or other hardwood trees. Varying in color from cinnamon to reddish-brown, candy caps tend to sprout in a scattered manner. They have wavy caps and a characteristic sweetness that is reminiscent of maple syrup, making them quite special. There are also hints of burnt sugar, butterscotch, camphor, curry, caramel, and fenugreek in candy cap mushrooms.
Featuring glorious hues of orange, yellow, or white, chanterelles (a.k.a., Cantharellus) are among the most popular and sought-after mushroom varieties. They grow under mighty oak trees and boast an enchanting aroma as well as spicy, earthy, and fruity flavors—the taste varies among different species, which makes cooking with chanterelles an experiment every time. The diverse flavors and unique textures offer endless cooking opportunities; you can even try powdered chanterelles in the form of capsules.
The pitted caps, honeycomb-like structure, meaty texture, and extraordinary taste make morels one of the most beloved mushroom varieties. They typically grow in and around the forest perimeter close to oak, ash, and elm trees. There are over 10 different species of morel mushrooms (also known as Morchella), and cooking them in butter tends to bring out their nutty, earthy flavors. Edible morels are white in color and hollow, while false (and potentially poisonous) morels are usually reddish, yellow, or brown in color.
Chicken Of The Woods
This succulent mushroom variety is a must-try while in California. Laetiporus sulphureus typically grow in clusters and are yellow or bright orange. Chicken of the woods along with porcinis, morels, and chanterelles are often referred to as the “foolproof four”—they are very easy to identify in the wild and do not have toxic properties, making them the ideal choice to explore in the kitchen. Chicken of the woods mushrooms are also among the tastiest varieties and are beginner-friendly, as they are quite easy to cook. Their texture and flavor are similar to those of chicken, hence the name.
Also referred to as crown tipped coral, this exotic fungus is a wild variety commonly found between June and September. As their name implies, coral mushrooms grow in clusters that resemble a coral reef. These mushrooms are known to cure stomach problems, as they have a strong laxative effect and can be consumed both raw and cooked. The variety has thin stalks with a crown shape at the top that is usually yellow or slightly pink in color. Corals are simple to cook and tend to have a peppery flavor that makes them ideal for sauces and soups.
Just as delicious as chocolate truffles, these edible mushrooms grow near tree roots and are very expensive due to their rarity. California is among the few regions that can sustain truffles. They don’t have a long shelf life, either, so they’re hard to store. Truffles can range from strawberry- to apple-sized and have a multitude of peculiar odors that makes them flavorful ingredients in many recipes. Truffle oils have also become popular in recent years.
One of the most colorful varieties in California, turkey tails are leathery disks that originate from tree bark. The fungus is a common part of Chinese medicine due to its therapeutic properties and immune-boosting abilities—the mushroom can help improve stamina, support gut health, and provide necessary antioxidants to fight free-radical damage. It is usually dried and powdered. The variety has a wild combination of flavors with a touch of sweetness, making it easy to include in salads dressing, oatmeal, or bone broth.
Boletes are quite easy to confuse with gilled mushroom varieties because of their caps, but boletes have tubes instead of gills underneath. They grow in mycorrhizal association with plants around them and are considered safer than many gilled mushroom varieties such as psilocybe cyanescens. Boletes are found in a vivid range of colors and tend to stand out in the forest due to their enticing looks. Most boletes are considered edible and feature an exquisite flavor profile. They are amazing ingredients for your kitchen, both when fresh and dry.
Apricot Jelly Mushrooms
Apricot jelly mushrooms have a characteristic look that makes them easy to identify. They boast a bright orange to pink color, carry a rubbery texture, and are trumpet-shaped. The ease of identifying these mushrooms is one of the primary reasons why these are ideal for beginners exploring wild forests. The fungus exclusively grows under conifers and is usually found in clusters. Jelly mushrooms have a strong odor and flavor compared to many other wild mushroom varieties and are mildly sweet. They have an amazing gelatinous texture that contributes to creating lovely dishes.
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