When it comes to edible mushrooms, the answer to the question "Can you eat raw mushrooms?" may surprise you. Though many people are wary of eating mushrooms in their raw form, there are actually a variety of mushrooms that can be eaten raw and enjoyed safely.
In this blog post, we'll discuss the different types of mushrooms that can be eaten raw, and how to do it safely so that you can enjoy a delicious and nutritious meal.
Are Raw Mushrooms Edible?
While it is possible to eat mushrooms raw if that's your preference, it may not be the most optimal or appealing way to consume them. Fortunately, all fresh mushrooms available for purchase at grocery stores or markets are safe to eat, whether cooked or raw.
Commonly eaten raw mushroom varieties include white mushrooms, cremini, portabellas, and enoki mushrooms, often used in salads or with dips. Although eating mushrooms raw may be more convenient, it may not be the best option. Raw mushrooms tend to have a spongy texture and a stronger and earthier taste compared to their cooked counterparts, which may not be enjoyable for those who prefer cooked mushrooms. For larger raw mushrooms like creminis or portabellas, removing the stems is recommended as they can be tough to chew. Before eating, it's important to give all mushrooms a quick rinse or wipe down to remove any dirt or substrate.
When it comes to digesting raw mushrooms, the cell walls of all mushrooms are made of chitin, a tough substance also found in the shells of crabs and lobsters. Although humans have a substance called chitinase in their stomachs that can partially break down chitin, its purpose is mainly to defend against chitin-based parasites, and it is not strong enough to fully break down chitin.
Consequently, extracting nutrients from raw mushrooms is challenging, and consuming them raw provides very little nutrition. Cooking mushrooms helps break down their cell walls, releasing nutritional and medicinal compounds that humans can then absorb and use.
Chitin in mushrooms is akin to cellulose in plants, adding fiber to the diet. While raw mushrooms can be an excellent choice for those looking to increase fiber intake, consuming them raw means missing out on their full nutritional potential.
Which Mushrooms Are Safe to Eat Raw
It is important to differentiate between mushrooms that are safe to eat raw and those that are not. Not all mushrooms are created equal. Here are some commonly eaten mushrooms and their raw eating status.
Shiitake mushrooms can be eaten raw and are known for their unique and flavorful "garlic and pepper" taste. However, some people may find the taste overpowering when consumed raw, and they are typically more enjoyable when cooked.
All types of oyster mushrooms can be eaten raw, but they are generally better when cooked. Raw oyster mushrooms have a spongy texture and a slight metallic taste that is eliminated when cooked. King oyster mushrooms are technically edible raw, but their dense and chewy texture makes them less enjoyable.
When it comes to white mushrooms, there is some debate about their raw consumption. Some experts, such as Dr. Joel Fuhrman, caution against eating raw white mushrooms due to the potentially carcinogenic substance agaratine. However, human trials have shown that raw white mushrooms are safe and generally well-tolerated, with a low risk of carcinogenic effects. Refrigerating or drying agaricus mushrooms also breaks down agaratine as much as cooking them, making them safer to consume.
If you are concerned about agaratine in mushrooms, it may be best to avoid all white mushrooms, whether raw or cooked. Other mushroom species, such as oyster mushrooms, do not contain agaratine and are safe to consume raw or cooked.
While some mushrooms, such as lion's mane, can also be eaten raw, cooking mushrooms helps to break down their cell walls and release nutritional and medicinal compounds, making them more beneficial when consumed cooked.
Which Mushrooms Aren't Safe to Eat Raw?
Although most edible mushrooms can be consumed raw, there are certain types that should be avoided. It is important to note that there are mushrooms that are poisonous to humans, and cooking them does not make them safe to eat.
Therefore, you should never consume mushrooms that you cannot identify.
Even if you can identify a mushroom, some types should not be eaten raw.
Reishi mushrooms, for example, are too tough and woody to be consumed raw. Instead, they are typically dried and crushed to make reishi tea or a tincture. Similarly, boletus mushrooms, such as porcini or penny bun, are difficult to eat raw due to their toughness.
Morels are a delicious gourmet mushroom that should not be eaten raw, as they contain a mild toxin that can cause stomach pains. However, cooking morels destroys this toxin, making them safe to eat. Honey mushrooms are also unsafe to eat raw and can cause cramps, stomach pain, and nausea.
Can You Eat Raw Mushrooms In Your Salad?
It is safe to eat certain types of raw mushrooms in a salad. However, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with certain varieties, such as the presence of agaratine in button mushrooms. If you have concerns, consider using alternative raw mushrooms like oysters or shiitake in your salad instead. Additionally, you can incorporate cold mushrooms in other ways, such as by adding pickled or marinated mushrooms to your salad.
Do Mushrooms Have More Nutrition Raw or Cooked?
Cooking mushrooms is highly recommended to maximize their nutritional value and health benefits. Polyphenols and antioxidants are significantly increased through the cooking process. However, boiling mushrooms is not recommended as it leads to the leaching of nutrients into the water and a soggy texture. Deep frying mushrooms is not a healthy option due to the high level of saturated fats in frying oils. Cooking is also necessary to break down chitin, which makes up the cell walls of mushrooms, to make their nutrients more easily digestible.
While some edible mushrooms can be consumed raw, cooking is essential to break down toxins that are present in some varieties, such as morels. Moreover, raw mushrooms may carry harmful bacteria and other pathogens, which can cause food poisoning or digestive issues. These contaminants can come from various sources such as contaminated water, improperly sterilized compost or manure, contact with animals, and cross-contamination during handling, storage, transportation, or preparation. Therefore, cooking mushrooms not only enhances their flavor but also reduces the risk of food poisoning and digestive issues.
Nutritional Benefits of Mushrooms
Mushrooms are a highly nutritious food and can be considered a superfood due to their numerous health benefits.
Antioxidants are present in all types of mushrooms, which offer various health benefits.
Research conducted by Harvard has revealed that consuming mushrooms may protect the brain in older adults by preventing the growth of amyloid proteins associated with dementia.
Mushrooms are low in calories and fat, and they contain moderate amounts of protein, making them an excellent option for satiety.
Moreover, mushrooms are rich in essential nutrients such as potassium, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin D, among others.
Unless you have an allergy or personal dislike, there are no apparent disadvantages or downsides to incorporating mushrooms into your diet.
Are Raw Mushrooms Safe to Eat While Pregnant?
Pregnant individuals are advised to avoid consuming certain foods, including raw mushrooms. This is because, like other raw foods, raw mushrooms may harbor bacteria and pathogens that could pose a risk to the weakened immune system during pregnancy.
Other foods that pregnant individuals should avoid include sushi, raw steak, raw sprouts, raw or undercooked eggs, and soft cheeses. While small amounts of food contaminants are generally not harmful to healthy individuals, they may be a potential risk to the health of the pregnant person and their unborn baby. It is advisable to consult a doctor for personalized advice on what is suitable for one's body during pregnancy.
Is it safe to eat raw mushrooms? Yes, but not necessarily recommended.
While some types of mushrooms are safe to eat raw, cooking them can make them tastier and more nutritious.
Mushrooms contain chitin, a fibrous substance that is difficult to digest and can only be broken down by cooking.
Cooking mushrooms is therefore important for obtaining the full nutritional benefits that mushrooms have to offer.