The Essential Guide to Lobster Mushrooms
Lobster mushrooms, or hypomyces lactifluorum, are the ultimate two-for-one deal.
The result of one fungus, hypomyces, colonizing another fungus, normally a russula or lactarius species, the resulting blend produces a mushroom that tastes like lobster and looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.
The lobster mushroom is highly prized for several reasons. The first is the distinct shellfish-like taste, which only grows more pronounced when the mushroom is dried.
The second is the fact that, because russula and lactarius mushrooms are fairly common, lobster mushrooms can often be found in large quantities, making them ideal for both personal and commercial use.
In this article, we’ll be giving you all the information you need to identify, forage, and cook this delicious mushroom.
Lobster mushroom identification
As with all foraged mushrooms, correct identification is absolutely crucial. If you’re ever in doubt about whether what you’ve found is a lobster mushroom, leave it alone. It’s not worth the risk.
Real lobster mushrooms can be identified from the following characteristics:
- The hypomyces covers its host in a hard shell, giving the mushroom its characteristic rough exterior with a bright orange or red coloration.
- Lobster mushrooms do not have gills.
- The lobster mushroom is nearly always vase-shaped. In mature mushrooms, the caps can fold in irregular twisted patterns.
- When cut open, the lobster mushroom is dense, has no void, and is an orange-white color.
Where to find Lobster mushrooms
The best way to find lobster mushrooms is to find the hypomyces favored host, russula brevipes, or the common russula.
The russula is mycorrhizal, which means it forms a symbiotic relationship with the rootlets of trees and can often be found around the base of a variety of trees, from hardwoods to conifers.
Russula mushrooms and their hypomyces parasites are widely distributed in North America and are most commonly found during the summer and early fall months, although they can be found in winter in warmer climates.
Harvesting lobster mushrooms
When harvesting lobster mushrooms, you’ll want to prioritize mushrooms that are a bright orange or red, and are firm and heavy.
Mushrooms that are very knobby, have turned purple, or are emitting a strong fishy odor are past their best harvesting condition, and are normally best left in the ground.
Because of their vase-like shape, lobster mushrooms can collect rainwater in their center or become a home for small insects. When harvesting lobster mushrooms, it’s always a good idea to bring a small sharp knife and carve out the center to avoid any unpleasant surprises like bugs and other critters that may have beaten you to the punch.
You might also notice a ring of white powder either on or around the mushrooms. This isn’t anything to worry about, it’s just the spores of the lobster mushroom and can be wiped away before cooking.
Lobster mushroom look-alikes
The lobster mushroom’s distinctive hard orange shell means there aren’t really any look-alikes you need to be aware of. There are, however, two variations on the lobster mushroom to watch out for.
The yellow-green lobster mushroom – A cousin of the lobster mushroom, this yellow-green variant is caused by an infection of the hypomyces luteovirens fungus.
The yellow-green lobster mushroom isn’t poisonous and is fairly easy to spot, but it isn’t edible.
The white lobster mushroom – The white lobster mushroom might have all the same characteristics as a standard lobster mushroom, no gills, vase shape, hard shell, but no sign of the characteristic orange-red color.
This is thought to be because of either a partial infection by hypomyces or because of a rare mutation that doesn’t produce the right coloring.
They are generally considered just as safe to eat as standard lobster mushrooms and some even prefer them over the normal orange-colored fruiting body.
What does lobster mushroom taste like?
Unsurprisingly, the lobster mushroom has a distinct shellfish- or lobster-like taste that, when combined with its firm, meaty flesh makes it an ideal replacement for shellfish in most dishes.
One of the reasons that the lobster mushroom is so prized is that the hypomyces changes the russula brevipes right down to its DNA, exchanging a faintly bitter flavor for a much more pleasant shellfish one.
Where to buy lobster mushroom
While finding a fresh lobster mushroom when out foraging isn’t very difficult, farming them is next to impossible.
This is because of the complications due to the symbiotic relationship they form with the trees around them and the difficulties of inducing a hypomyces infection.
These difficulties mean you’re unlikely to find lobster mushrooms in your local grocery store or Whole Foods, unless it’s in dried powder form or in dehydrated slices that are not traceable and could even be mislabeled.
The good news is that there is another option. Foraged connects mushroom enthusiasts with small-scale foragers across the country.
Using the Foraged Marketplace,you can find lobster mushrooms for sale and compare the lobster mushroom price between sellers.
Cooking lobster mushroom
Because of their firm, meat-like texture and unique taste, there are a variety of ways to cook lobster mushrooms,and we’ve gathered together a few of our favorite recipes for you.
Quick and easy
If you’re just getting started with lobster mushrooms, or just want to whip up something quickly and easily, then these two recipes are ideal.
An excellent way to make a quick and simple one-pot, these recipes are a great choice for an easy dinner.
If you find yourself with one too many lobster mushrooms (which seems unlikely given how delicious they are!) you can always use these recipes to dry them out and make an excellent addition to your spice cupboard.