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You should cook most mushrooms before eating. Cooking makes their nutrients accessible and their tissues easy to digest. Further, some varieties of mushrooms may be toxic when consumed raw. This being said, a few mushroom species are PERFECTLY FINE to consume raw in small quantities.
The Raw Mushroom Controversy
Raw mushrooms are a common topic of debate amongst mushroom enthusiasts. Some say to avoid them at all costs, while others swear they’re perfectly fine to consume. The truth is, this isn’t a straightforward answer. It depends.
Mushrooms are diverse, just like the many plants we consume. Asking if you can eat mushrooms raw is like asking if you can eat vegetables raw. Carrots are perfectly fine but potatoes aren’t. Eggplants on the other hand are mildly toxic when consumed raw.
Unlike vegetables, only a VERY FEW varieties of mushrooms are ok to consume raw.
Why you should avoid Raw Mushrooms in your Diet
Most mushrooms cannot be properly digested when eaten raw. This is because their cell walls consist of a tough compound called chitin. Chiten is the same tough material that makes up the exoskeleton of insects. Cooking your mushrooms breaks down the chitin, making the mushrooms digestible. Without cooking, the nutritional and medicinal components attributed to mushrooms remain inaccessible. Further, certain varieties of mushrooms require cooking to remove toxic compounds.
The Case for eating Raw Mushrooms
Some mushroom enthusiasts swear by the delicate and wonderful flavors of raw mushrooms. That is specific species of raw mushrooms consumed in small quantities. In fact, raw mushrooms are a common delicacy in some cultures. Some dishes using raw mushrooms actually date back hundreds of years!
Raw mushrooms can be served with salt, pepper, vinegar, and a bit of fresh olive oil. Do remember you will not be achieving the most nutritional benefit! Raw mushrooms are more of a culinary experience than a nutritional one. It is also important to consume in SMALL QUANTITIES. Especially if it is your first time consuming these mushrooms raw. About half an ounce is an adequate serving size.
Mushrooms that CAN BE consumed raw in small Quantities
- King Boletes (Boletus sp.)
- Chanterelles (Cantharellus sp.)
- Lion’s Mane (Hericium sp.)
- Witches Butter (Tremella sp.)
- Matsutake (Matsutake sp.)
- Some edible Amanita species
Mushrooms that should NOT be consumed Raw
- Morels (Morchella sp.), Elfin Saddles (Helvella sp.), and related mushrooms. These have a toxic compound that is only removed by cooking with high heat. Symptoms of intoxication can be severe. Consider seeking medical attention.
- Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sp.). These mushrooms need heavy cooking to be digestible. Chicken of the wood will cause gastrointestinal issues when eaten raw.
- Agaricus species including the White Button Mushroom and Portobellos. While some chefs serve them raw, they are mildly toxic when eaten uncooked.
- Tough, woody, or rubbery species. These will generally be difficult to digest and result in upset stomachs.
- Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria sp.). These may result in stomach discomforts.
- Most other species of mushrooms.
What about the Mushrooms at the Salad Bar?
This article may have left you wondering about the raw mushroom served in salads. They go under many names like Crimini, White Button Mushroom, and Baby Bella. It’s the most consumed mushroom in the world and famous as a pizza topping. While it’s often served raw, you may want to think twice about consuming it regularly!
Scientifically this mushroom is called Agaricus bisporus. Believe it or not, the small white button mushrooms are the EXACT SAME species as the large Portobello mushrooms. These mushrooms contain a carcinogenic compound called “Agartine”. Cooking it is the only effective way of removing this compound! The same applies to portobello mushrooms.
When in Doubt, seek Professional Help!
In some instances, individuals can have allergic reactions to mushrooms. For this reason, only eat small quantities when consuming new varieties of mushrooms. If you are experiencing a negative reaction, monitor your symptoms. In severe cases, seek advice from a medical professional.