What Are Matsutake Mushrooms?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

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Matsutake mushrooms are a sought-after wild mushroom that grows in parts of Asia and the western United States from early fall through midwinter. They’re known for their thick, fibrous white flesh and earthy, spicy flavor and aroma.

What Are Matsutake Mushrooms?

Originally from Japan, matsutake mushrooms (tricholoma matsutake) grow wild in Japan, China, and Korea. The name “matsutake” means “pine mushroom” in Japanese after the pine forests where these fungi grow. However, the mushroom is threatened in Japan and Okinawa due to habitat loss from development and nematodes in the soil, which attach the roots of the trees these mushrooms need to grow.

Two related species, Tricholoma magnivelare and Tricholoma murrillianum, grow in similar forests throughout the Pacific Northwest in the United States and in parts of Europe. They’re also typically referred to and sold as matsutake. 

Because they’re so rare and can’t be cultivated like other mushrooms, matsutakes can cost anywhere from $40 per pound in the U.S. up to $2,000 per pound in Japan for particularly rare varieties and high-quality specimens. There, they’re considered a very high-status ingredient and are often given as gifts.

How to Cook With Matsutake Mushrooms

Before cooking, wipe down matsutakes with a damp paper towel to remove any debris; avoid washing or submerging them in water. Cut the fibrous caps and stems into thick cubes, slices, or coins to retain flavor and texture. 

Matsutakes can be prepared similarly to other specialty mushrooms: steamed, sautéed, seared, roasted, grilled, or in a clear broth. However, because the matsutake is so rare, expensive, and uniquely flavored, you’ll get the most out of your investment if you treat them gently and let them play the starring role in whatever you’re cooking.

In Japan, matsutake mushrooms are traditionally used to make matsutake gohan, a sought-after rice dish in which the mushrooms are cooked together with rice in dashi so the earthy, spicy flavor infuses the rice. They’re also used in sukiyaki, a Japanese dish similar to a hot pot in which ingredients are slowly simmered in flavorful broth in a heated vessel at the table.

What Does It Taste Like?

Matsutake mushrooms have a pungent, woodsy, spicy flavor and aroma, unlike any other mushroom, although they’re often compared to earthy, multidimensional truffles, another fungi with a singular sensory profile. Other flavor notes for matsutake mushrooms include cinnamon, pine, and cedar. 

Matsutake Mushroom Recipes

Where to Buy Matsutake Mushrooms

Because matsutake mushrooms can only be found in the wild and have a short season, they can be hard to track down. Lucky residents of the Pacific Northwest may be able to forage them in national forests, but foraging dates are strictly regulated by the U.S. Forest Service and a permit may be required.

Mushroom Foraging Warning

Never forage for mushrooms without the guidance of a trained expert, as lookalike mushrooms may be toxic or even deadly.

Otherwise, your best bet is to look for fresh mushrooms in specialty grocery stores, Asian supermarkets, and farmers’ markets during the U.S. growing season, typically September through November.  Fresh matsutakes can be purchased from online specialty mushroom retailers during the growing season, too. 

Look for firm, fragrant mushrooms that are just slightly moist but not wet, as they can dry out and lose their aroma easily. The flesh of fresh matsutakes is bone white, but these mushrooms often have characteristic rusty discoloration on their exterior.

Dried matsutake mushrooms are much easier to come by and can be purchased year-round. Find them at well-stocked supermarkets, Asian grocers, and online retailers.

Storage

Store fresh matsutake mushrooms in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Keep them in a paper bag or a plastic bag with a paper towel inside. They’re extremely perishable, with a shelf life of only a few days, so it’s best to cook or preserve them as soon as possible. 

Fresh mushrooms can be cut up and frozen or wrapped whole in foil and stored in an airtight plastic bag or container in the freezer for up to one year.

Nutrition and Benefits

Matsutake mushrooms are rich in protein, fiber, and carbohydrates and low in sodium. They’re also a good source of minerals and essential amino acids, including glutamic acid, which supports the nervous system and brain function.

Article Sources
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  1. Gang Liu, Hui Wang, Benhong Zhou, Xianxi Guo, and Xianming Hu (2010). Compositional analysis and nutritional studies of Tricholoma matsutake collected from Southwest China, Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 4, 1222-1227