Lobster mushrooms are easy to identify in the woods–they are large, heavy, and bright red in color. But are they edible? And how can you tell if they have begun to go bad? Keep reading. In this article, we’ll talk about how to tell if lobster mushrooms are safe to eat.
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Are Lobster Mushrooms Edible?
Lobster mushrooms are delicious and generally considered safe to eat. They are not exactly a separate species of mushroom; in fact, they are formed from parasitized russula or lactarius mushrooms, which are both edible but not very flavorful.
The Hypocymes fungus, which parasitizes the original mushrooms, actually makes them taste better. It gives them a mildly sweet, earthy, crustacean flavor and a delectable meaty texture.
That said, the Hypocymes fungus is thought to occasionally (though very rarely) parasitize toxic mushrooms, so it’s extremely important to verify the identity of the host mushroom if possible before eating lobster mushrooms. If you are unable to identify the original mushrooms, you may want to try eating a small amount before harvesting a bunch–the fungus does not parasitize any deadly mushrooms, so even if you end up eating toxic host mushrooms, the worst you will likely experience is a stomach ache and vomiting.
It’s also worth noting that lobster mushrooms go bad quickly after you pick them, and bad lobster mushrooms can cause food poisoning. When foraging for your mushrooms and storing your excess, it’s important to watch for the warning signs that your lobsters may be past their prime.
What are those warning signs, you may ask?
How Can You Tell if a Lobster Mushroom has Gone Bad?
According to Grow Your Pantry, these are the warning signs to look for if you suspect your lobster mushrooms may have gone bad:
- Strong odor: Fresh lobster mushrooms have a mild crustacean-like aroma but should not stink. If your lobsters have a strong, fishy, or overpowering odor, they are no longer fit for eating.
- Slimy: A lobster mushroom’s red-orange crust should feel dry and slightly bumpy. If you notice that it looks covered in slime, or if any part of it feels slimy, then it has gone bad or is in the process of spoiling.
- Dark color: As noted above, lobster mushrooms are usually bright red or reddish-orange in color. If you find a lobster in the woods or in your field that has turned brown or black, discard it immediately.
- Mushy texture: Lobster mushrooms normally have a firm, meaty texture. If they feel squishy, soft, or mushy in any way, they are past their prime and shouldn’t be eaten.
Some additional warning signs to look for include:
- Lightweight: Lobster mushrooms are dense and heavy compared to other mushrooms. If you find one that feels abnormally lightweight compared to the rest of them, it may be rotting or shriveling up inside.
- Soft spots: Anytime you find soft spots on a mushroom, this is an indication that the mushroom is rotting. Discard any lobster mushrooms with soft spots immediately.
- Purple color: Sometimes, rather than turning black or brown as they rot, lobster mushrooms turn purple. While this color may look inviting, it is a sign of spoilage and any purple lobster mushroom should be thrown away.
Are Purple Lobster Mushrooms Edible?
As noted above, lobster mushrooms may turn purple as they age. If you come across a purple lobster mushroom in the woods, leave it alone as it is past its prime and not fit for eating.
If you harvest lobster mushrooms and store them in the fridge, check them daily and discard any that begin to discolor. Lobster mushrooms have a short shelf life, so any you harvest and keep in the fridge will need to be used up within a couple of days.
Again, purple coloring is a sign that your mushrooms have gone bad; don’t eat them.
Can You Eat Lobster Mushrooms Raw or Cooked?
Yes, lobster mushrooms can be eaten raw as well as cooked. Most mushroom lovers agree that they taste better cooked, as the heating process brings out the flavor.
If you’re eating your mushrooms raw, it’s especially important to make sure they are completely clean. You may want to chop them up in a salad or slice them and eat them with dip, but be careful not to overwhelm the delicate flavor with other, stronger flavors.
If you’re cooking the mushrooms, it’s best to saute them or braise them slowly in oil, as these cooking methods work best for bringing out the flavor.
Drying the mushrooms also brings out their flavor–it’s a way of enhancing the flavor without actually cooking the mushrooms. Dehydrated lobsters can be reconstituted and used as you would other raw mushrooms, or they can be ground into powder and used as a flavoring in various recipes.
Lobster Mushroom Safety Tips
Let’s take a look at some important safety tips to keep in mind if you’re planning to harvest and cook your own lobster mushrooms, or if you buy them fresh at the store or farmer’s market:
- Identify the host mushroom: If possible, find other mushrooms in the area to help you determine what species was parasitized to become lobsters. If you find a number of russula or lactarius mushrooms in the area, there’s a good chance that your lobster mushrooms began as russula or lactarius and, thus, are edible.
If you can’t identify the host mushrooms, then start by eating only a small amount or seek a professional mushroom hunter to help you with identification. Remember, toxic lobster mushrooms won’t kill you, but they can make you pretty sick.
- Harvest fresh mushrooms: When hunting for lobsters, choose the youngest, freshest looking ones you can find. You may even want to dig around in the leaf litter on the ground to find the ones that haven’t fully “sprouted” yet.
- Store in fridge or freezer: If you don’t plan to use your mushrooms immediately, place them in the fridge to keep them fresh for a few days. If you want to keep them for longer than that, place them in an airtight container and store them in the freezer.
- Use within a couple of days: Lobster mushrooms lose their freshness quickly. Use up your harvest as quickly as possible, even if you are storing the mushrooms in the freezer.
- Discard bad mushrooms immediately: If you’re storing your mushrooms in the fridge, keep them loosely packed in a basket or a paper bag, and check on them once or twice a day. If you notice any that are starting to discolor, become soft or slimy, or are beginning to smell bad, throw them away before they can cause the others to spoil as well.
- Dry any that you can’t use: If you have more mushrooms than you can use, dehydrate your excess. Dehydrated lobster mushrooms have the longest shelf life, as you can store them at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a year.
Check out this video for a great visual on what good lobster mushrooms should look like when you harvest them:
Lobster mushrooms are generally safe to eat, but they can make you sick if they go bad or if the Hypocymes fungus parasitizes anything other than russula or lactarius mushrooms. Follow the safety tips given in this article to avoid unpleasant mushroom poisoning symptoms and enjoy your lobster mushroom experience.