5 Morel Mushroom Facts You Might Not Have Known
Each time spring rolls around, you'll likely hear some buzz about hunting for morel mushrooms. Whether you've never heard of morel mushrooms or go morel hunting every year, you might be surprised by some of these facts.
You probably won’t see morel mushrooms in abundance at the grocery store like you do with button mushrooms, but you may have spotted a few at your local farmers market. Morel mushrooms spring up in forests (and, if you're lucky, backyards!) throughout the United States from late March through early June, and many mushroom hunters head out to search for them each year. Morels are a favorite for higher-end cooking, and they’re considered a delicacy because they can be expensive and hard to find. Even if you’ve never tried a morel mushroom recipe yourself, we scavenged for a few fun facts about morels that every true mushroom-lover should know.
1. They Have Lots of Fun Local Nicknames
You might be more familiar with one of the morel mushroom’s many nicknames. They’re also known as the sponge mushroom, due to their spongy-looking cap, but they have plenty of other fun local nicknames. In some areas, you might hear a morel called a dryland fish—this is because they can look like a small fish when they’re cut in half, breaded, and fried. In many parts of Kentucky, you’ll hear them called hickory chickens, while in parts of West Virginia, they’re known as molly moochers (which may have come from the scientific genus morels belong to, Morchella).
2. Morels Can be Elusive (And Expensive)
Both fresh and dried morel mushrooms are pricey—they’re among the most expensive mushrooms in the world. A pound of morel mushrooms can easily cost over $100, particularly the dried variety (though you might find fresh morels for a cheaper price while they’re in-season). Still, since morels are light, you’ll get a decent amount for your money (a pound is usually around the size of a gallon). Part of what makes morels so expensive is their rarity. Unlike common mushroom varieties, like creminis and portobellos, morel mushrooms aren’t farmed. Instead, they’re collected in the wild by mushroom hunters. In recent years, some techniques for farming morels have been developed, but some people question their quality and taste (similar to the difference between wild and farmed salmon).
3. One Cup Has 1/3 of Your Vitamin D
If you manage to get your hands on a few, morel mushrooms are pretty nutritious. Just one cup of morel mushrooms has nearly half of the recommended daily value of iron and about a third of your daily dose of vitamin D (a vitamin that's hard to find naturally in most foods—it's usually added to processed foods like milk and cheese, or available in supplements). Like most mushrooms, morels are also low in calories—one cup only has about 20 calories. Even if you’re not usually a mushroom-lover, you might enjoy munching on morel mushrooms. While some non-mushroom-lovers are put off by more common mushrooms because they find the texture slimy, morel mushrooms are tender and meaty, with a nutty, earthy flavor.
4. Morels Tend to Grow After Forest Fires
If you’re interested in doing some of your own morel hunting, you might want to start with areas that have recently experienced a forest fire. Though it’s not known exactly why, all types of morels tend to grow in abundance in wooded areas that have recently been burned by a forest fire. You can usually find black morels at the beginning of spring, followed by yellow, gray, and green varieties. One theory is that since forest fires cause trees to die and clear out other plants on the forest floor, it creates prime conditions for morels to grow. Because of this, a lot of commercial morel pickers and buyers will target areas that have recently been burned when hunting for morels.
5. Watch Out for False Morels (They're Poisonous!)
Before you try morel hunting on your own, make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for. Morels have a distinctive, spongy-looking cap, but there are a few copycat mushrooms out there that look strikingly similar. Usually called false morels, some of these look-alike mushrooms can be poisonous. You should never eat any mushroom that you can’t identify with absolute certainty, and beginners should head out with experienced mushroom hunters who can confirm your findings.
If you've tried all the common mushroom varieties at the grocery store, it might be time to add morels to your shopping list. This elusive mushroom can instantly elevate any side dish or meal, so try incorporating a few into your next special occasion dinner. They may be pricier than button mushrooms, but they're well-worth the splurge!