Morel Mushrooms: Your Complete Guide
by Susan Grey on March 19, 2019
Mushrooms people are prepared to pay a few hundred dollars per dried pound? Must be the morel, distinctly different to other mushrooms with its conical cap and honeycomb appearance. In this guide, we will explore these wild mushrooms and discover what makes them desired the world over, why people are prepared to pay so much for them, how to forage for them, plus their health benefits.
Warning: as morels contain small amounts of hydrazine toxins they should always be cooked before eating and it’s always sensible to begin eating in small amounts in case of an allergic reaction.
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Five Morel Mushroom Facts
Rich, earthy and nutty flavor with an almost meaty texture
Morels are the most desired wild mushrooms in the world
Top 5 most expensive mushrooms
Usually foraged rather than farmed
Used in Chinese medicine to treat indigestion, excessive phlegm and shortness of breath
Commonly Found Types Of Morel Mushrooms
Yellow Morel or Morchella Esculenta
This is one of the easiest morels to recognize with its grey sponge like body with lighter edges and expands into a sizeable yellowish sponge. The caps measure 2-7 cm wide by 2-10 cm tall with a hollow stem typically 2-9 cm long by 2-5 cm thick.
Black Morel or Morchella Elata
This is a more uncommon morel to find with its cap being dark brown to dark grey, sometimes even appearing black. The caps measure 3-8 cm wide by 5-8 cm tall with a hollow stem typically 4-10 cm long by 1-3 cm thick.
The term ‘false morel’ describes a few species of mushrooms that contain a toxin known as monomethylhydrazine. This is the same chemical which is found in certain rocket fuels. It can cause dizziness, vomiting and in some cases even death (link).
5 Health Benefits Of Morel Mushrooms
1. Vitamin D - Our primary source of vitamin D comes from sunlight, the exposure to sunlight causes our skin to produce it naturally. We can source vitamin D from several foods such as fish and eggs however it is not found in many plant-based foods. Mushrooms contain a high level, morel mushrooms in particular.
Having enough vitamin D in your body is vital for everyday functions, such as regulating calcium to ensure healthy growth and development. Studies have also shown it can help ward off depression and control mood and emotions as well as promote weight loss.
2. High Mineral Content - Morel mushrooms have a high level of zinc, copper, and iron. 100g of morel mushrooms contain 67% of your recommended daily value of iron (based on the average person).
Iron is a vital mineral for the body to function normally. Iron aids in transporting oxygen around the body, resulting in increased energy levels and improved cognitive function.
3. Vitamin B - Ensuring we have the right amount of vitamin B is vital to maintaining good health and wellbeing. One of the primary functions of vitamin B is to convert food to energy. This, in turn, controls metabolism, brain activity, and energy levels. Morel mushrooms contain several B vitamins.
4. Treat Drug Side Effects -
A number of medicines which are antibacterial, as well as antiviral, tend to have side effects on the body. They tend to deplete the antioxidant content of the body and under heavy dosage can lead to liver failure.
However, extracts derived from these mushrooms are known to rebuild the defense system of the body and hence act against the issues caused in the body by utilization of certain medicines (link).
5. Rich in Antioxidants - It is essential to eat a varied diet, by doing so you will eat a whole variety of foods rich in antioxidants. Morel mushrooms are known to be rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants stop free radicals and in turn protect our cells. Healthy cells are central to a healthy body (link).
What To Look For When Buying Morel Mushrooms?
Smell - Morels should not have an offensive odor. When best they should have a pleasant earthy fragrance.
Sight - Fresh morels should be slightly moist and remain the color when picked.
Touch - They should be damp and springy but firm to touch.
How To Grow Morel Mushrooms
Growing morel mushrooms indoors was thought of as impossible for many years. However in 1982, Ronald D. Ower reported the first success of growing morel mushrooms indoors. Ronald D. Ower, Gary Mills, and James Malachowski have patented two cultivation processes. Read more about it here (link).
Outdoor Growing and Outdoor Growing Kits - Growing morel mushrooms is indeed possible but can take many years to see your first yield as these are difficult mushrooms to grow.
Buying a spawn kit is one of the easiest and most commonly used ways to grow morel mushrooms at home. The kits will include mushroom spawn (mycelium - the vegetative part of the fungus) and instructions. I advise following the instructions within the kit. Many of the kits will advise to plant in an environment as described below and mix into the first layer.
Once you have distributed your mushroom mix, it can take years for your mushrooms to grow. Keep the area hydrated and be patient!
Spore and Slurry Method - Many grow morel mushrooms using the spore slurry method. It is a popular and relatively easy technique.
1. Start with some clean water in a large container.
2. Add a little salt and some molasses, (the salt is to inhibit bacterial growth; the molasses is to provide sugars for germinating spores link).
3. Add mature wild morel mushrooms and allow to sit for 2 days.
4. Strain and remove the mushrooms, and you will be left with your spores.
5. This spore slurry can be distributed in the ideal environment as described below and mixed within the first layer.
For a more detailed and comprehensive explanation you can head over to the mushroom appreciation society, link here.
Environment Morel Mushrooms Grow In
1. Seasons - Morel mushrooms prefer seasons. They do not flourish in a tropical climate. It is recommended to plant your morel mushrooms between summer and fall.
2. Shaded Woodlands - Morel mushrooms prefer to grow in a shaded area and surrounded by trees close. If possible, make the bed close by.
3. Soil - Prepare the soil, it must be able to drain well. Morels are also known to flourish in a post-fire environment, so it is recommended to add some wood ash to the bed.
Foraging For Morel Mushrooms
When foraging we would always recommend using mushroom knife for ease of use, and a clean cut. Interested in learning more about mushroom knives? Click Here For The Complete Guide To Mushroom Knives
Where To Find Morel Mushrooms?
Country - Morel mushrooms are commonly found regions across the United States. They also grow across the world, particularly Europe.
Which Climate Do Morel Mushrooms Grow In?
Climate - They do not grow in the heat or any tropical environment, morel mushrooms need seasons to grow and flourish during the spring, popping up anytime between March and June. Early in the spring they can be found on south facing ranges and towards the end of the spring on north facing woodlands.
What Environment Do Morel Mushrooms Grow In?
Environment - Morel mushrooms tend to grow towards to outer edge of forests, sheltered under trees, specifically ash, elm, and oak. They need a shaded area and so also thrive in other woodland areas such as hedgerows and copses.
How Do Morel Mushrooms Grow?
Grow in Groups - Morel mushrooms grow in groups or clusters as well as alone, even if one is found it is always worth looking close by for more.
Differences Between True and False Morels
This infographic comes from Morels Of Indiana Facebook page and the link can be found here.
Irregular Squashed Shape
More wavy and lobed
Hangs freely off the stem
If you slice it in half, a false morel will not be hollow, but filled with cotton-like white fibres inside.
More uniformly shaped
Covered in pits and ridges
Attached directly to the stem
If you slice a true morel in half it will be hollow from the top to the bottom (link)
When Is Morel Mushroom Growing Season?
The morel growing season is early in the spring. Generally, March to June depending on where geographically you are.
How To Pick Morel Mushrooms
Appearance - Morels are around two and four inches long. They range in color from whiteish cream to black. The color of the morel also determines its flavor, darker morels are smokier, nuttier, and earthier.
Use A Sharp Knife - When cutting the mushroom cut the stem close to the cap, do this carefully with a sharp knife. Pulling or using a blunt knife may damage the mushroom ruining the quality when eating.
Keep Clean And Dry After Cutting - Morels which are bruised or soft are beginning to rot. Avoid picking them if you won't be using them immediately.
WARNING: never pick or eat mushrooms unless under the strict guidance of an expert. Below is a brief overview for those interested in certain characteristics of oyster mushrooms and not to be taken as a guide.
Why Are Morel Mushrooms So Expensive?
Time Frame - Morel mushrooms have a very short growing period. They tend to only flourish around springtime, between March and June.
Difficult to Control - They are also difficult to cultivate, as we explored earlier they can be some of the most challenging mushrooms to grow in a controlled environment such as a laboratory, therefore making them rarer and consequently expensive.
Hollow - Morel mushrooms are also hollow, this means that in order to make up a kg, you would require far more morels mushrooms compared to more commonly found (and easier growing!) mushrooms.
Shelf Life - Due to the hollowness, morel mushrooms tend to deteriorate quickly, only staying fresh for up to a week and therefore foraging and selling complications can also occur.
How To Tell If Morel Mushrooms Have Gone Bad?
Sight - Fresh morels should be slightly moist and sustain the color when first picked. If they have darkened in color they are beginning to rot.
Touch - They should be springy but firm to touch. Like other mushrooms, if they are soggy and slimy, they are probably past their best.
Smell - Morels should not have an offensive odor. When best they should have an earthy fragrance.
Cleaning Morel Mushrooms
It is best not to clean or rinse morels until just before use so as not to spoil them.
Begin by shaking off as much dirt as possible. To do this put the morels into a paper bag or a colander and shake. Don't shake too hard otherwise you'll damage the morels. If you shake too hard and the morel could break apart. Gently remove from the bag or colander. With a paper towel or a mushroom brush, brush over the morels checking the stem for dirt and insects left after shaking, cut in half if necessary for easier cleaning.
Soak the morels. Start by filling a bowl, double the size of the morel quantity, with cool water. Add a good amount of salt in and add the mushrooms. The mushrooms should float inside the bowl. Delicately move the mushrooms around to loosen dirt. Carefully drain and rinse the mushrooms to remove the salt from the morels. Lay the mushrooms on a kitchen towel to dry.
How To Store Morel Mushrooms
Morel mushroom store best loose in the fridge, I recommend an open container to ensure the morel mushrooms are well ventilated. Do not store them in a sealed plastic or paper bag as it will make them rot quicker. It is best to only store morel mushrooms for 4-7 days once picked.
There are three main ways to preserve morels;
Freezing Morel Mushrooms
1. Clean the morels if necessary
2. Cut them in half lengthwise
3. Dry by rolling on paper towel
4. Dust with flour and spread them on a tray
5. Freeze solid for about two hours
6. Once frozen put into a plastic bag or tub
7. Store in freezer up to six months
8. Morels can be used from frozen
Drying Morel Mushrooms
Drying is a good way to preserve morels. There are multiple methods including using a machine, outside drying or oven drying. For a full summary of drying mushrooms we have a link here. Hydrating morels is very easy. Simply add water to a bowl and leave to plump out.
Pickling Morel Mushrooms
Inspired by Forager Chef (link).
1.5 lbs fresh, small morels
3 cups water
1 tbsp salt
5 black peppercorns
1 cup of champagne vinegar
A few small sprigs of fresh thyme
1 clove of garlic, crushed.
Canning jars - 2 pint jars.
1. Wash and clean the morels to remove grit, making sure to leave the morels whole.
2. Heat the oil and cook garlic until lightly browned and caramelized but not burnt.
3. Add the water, salt, thyme, vinegar, and pepper then bring to a simmer. Add the fresh morels and cook, about 3-4 minutes, until they wilt and decrease in size.
4. Discard garlic.
6. Place the morels and the pickling liquid into canning jars and process in a water bath canner for 15-20 mins.
Morel Mushroom Recipes
Morels are best cooked simply in butter to bring out the flavor.
Sautéed Morel Mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
1. Heat oil in a skillet over high heat, add the garlic.
2. Lower heat and add morels stirring gently for about 3-4 minutes.
3. Once morels have started to brown add butter.
4. Once butter has melted and morels browned serve immediately.
5. Season to taste.
Morel Steak Sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 shallot, finely minced
1/2 tsp thyme
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
20 dried morel mushrooms
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Slice mushrooms into quarters.
2. Heat butter and oil over medium heat in a small pan.
3. Add shallots and morels, season lightly, sauté until morels soften about 5-6 minutes.
4. Add cream and thyme. Cook until sauce has reduced slightly, approximately 5 minutes.
5. Pour over steak or chicken.
Pasta with Morel Mushroom Sauce
1/2 lb capellini or thin linguine, cooked and drained
3 tbsp butter
6 oz dry morels rehydrated, chopped
1/2 cup cream
1 tbsp chopped wild garlic
2 tbsp fresh parsley
Salt and fresh black pepper.
1. Heat a large pan on medium and melt the butter.
2. Add the mushrooms and sauté.
3. As the mushrooms cook and begin to release their juices stir in the garlic the chopped parsley and add salt and pepper.
4. Once the mushrooms begin to brown stir in the cream.
5. Heat through until the mixture thickens a little.
6. Stir in a tbsp of grated cheese and black pepper.
7. Add the pasta to the bowl and sauce on top and mix.
8. Garnish with parsley.
9. Serve immediately with fresh black pepper and grated cheese.
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