Mushrooms occupy a strange place in our palates. Neither part of the plant or the animal kingdom, they are an oft-feared addition to any meal. Yet the little decomposers beneath our feet have tremendous health benefits for our bodies and for our planet. In the spirit of reviving the good name of mushrooms everywhere, Dear Food presents an in-depth look at the good, the bad, and the just plain weird of the mushroom world.
Latin name: Agaricus bisporus (and Agaricus hortensis)
Other names: button mushroom, white mushrooms, crimini (or cremini), portabella (or portobello, portabello, portobella), cultivated mushroom
Ever since I began my journey into the world of mushrooms, I’ve gotten a kick out of the mushroom section of grocery stores. There is some clever marketing going on in that section. You may have already guessed, but here’s the secret: most of those mushrooms are really the same kind.
Somewhere somebody was pretty smart to come up with that one. Known by the latin name of A. bisporus (though the button mushroom is also sometimes called A. hortensis), criminis, portabellas and white mushrooms are all the same thing. The difference depends on the point in the life cycle*: button mushrooms are young, portabellas are full grown, and criminis are from the second flush when the mushrooms don’t get as large. Aside from straw mushrooms (a.k.a. Volvariella volvacea, a.k.a. those slimy mushrooms you get in cans that kids everywhere hate), these are probably the most widely cultivated mushrooms in the world.
I was one of those kids who hated mushrooms because of those infernal straw mushrooms you get in cans of stir-fry vegetables (don’t worry–I like them alright now), and didn’t really learn that I liked mushrooms until I got to college and started eating the A. bisporus variety. They weren’t tiny and slimy! They have a consistency sort of like meat. Who knew mushrooms could be like that?
Nowadays, I probably buy at least a pound a week and put them in, well, just about everything. They can hide in just about any dish, or stand out if you do it right. You don’t have to harvest them, they aren’t going to kill you, the non-organic kinds don’t have that many pesticides, life is good.
*according to Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation by Tradd Cotter