You’re out in the dark green woods in late summer and suddenly, you come across some bright yellow to orange mushrooms. The mushrooms seem to be announcing their presence to the world, begging to be harvested. But are they edible? In this article, we’ll compare chicken of the woods vs. chanterelle mushrooms, contrasting their similarities and differences and whether or not you can eat them.
What You'll Learn Today
What is Chicken of the Woods?
Chicken of the woods is a type of mushroom referred to as bracket mushroom, meaning that it tends to grow in a circular shelf-like pattern. Chicken of the woods mushrooms are commonly referred to as simply chicken mushrooms or sulfur shelf mushrooms.
According to Wide Open Spaces, this mushroom is called chicken of the woods because it has the taste and texture of chicken. It is often used as a chicken substitute to make vegan chicken nuggets, fried chicken pieces, and other chicken recipes.
Chicken of the woods is often bright yellow to bright orange in color, hence the “sulfur shelf” name. Different subspecies have different colors, however, and may range from more muted oranges and yellows, to pink or salmon colored, to beige and even white.
Chicken of the woods are parasitic mushrooms that grow on a variety of trees, especially oaks and other hardwoods. The type of tree they grow on can affect how they taste, and some mushroom hunters claim that if they are found growing on anything other than oak, they could be poisonous–so if you’re new to mushroom hunting, it’s best to only harvest chicken of the woods if you find it growing on oaks.
Chicken of the woods mushroom clusters can get quite large, growing to at least 30 inches in diameter and weighing up to 100 pounds. They do not have stems or gills but are smooth on the underside, with microscopic pores that release white or salmon colored spores.
These mushrooms can be found in the wild for up to 6 months each year, usually growing from late spring through late fall.
Check out this video to learn more about finding, identifying, and harvesting chicken of the woods mushrooms.
What are Chanterelle Mushrooms?
Chanterelle mushrooms are not parasites and do not grow on trees, but their bright coloring and ruffly caps can sometimes lead to their being mistaken for chicken of the woods.
Chanterelles have a symbiotic relationship with trees but do not grow directly on them; instead, they grow from the ground beneath hardwood trees, providing nutrients to the tree roots while receiving moisture and nutrients from them.
Chanterelles are typically bright yellow in color, but they may be found in a variety of other bright colors as well, including orange, red, blue, black, and white. They are somewhat funnel-shaped mushrooms with ruffled caps, meaty stems, and solid ridges on the underside of the cap running down the stem.
Chanterelle mushrooms have a uniquely fruity taste and smell very much like apricots. They are considered edibles, so if you mistake them for chicken of the woods, it’s not that big a deal because you’ll still be getting a tasty treat.
Chanterelles may grow singly or in small clusters, but they don’t get very large–only about 2 to 5 inches in diameter. They typically grow during the summer and early fall.
Check out this video to learn more about finding, identifying, and harvesting chanterelle mushrooms.
Chicken of the Woods Vs. Chanterelles: Similarities and Differences
Let’s take a closer look at some things these mushrooms have in common, as well as their major differences.
- Both edible: Both chicken of the woods and chanterelle mushrooms are edible, which is a good thing in the event that you do get them confused. If you harvest one thinking it’s the other, you may notice a difference in taste, but you won’t have to worry about getting sick since they are both edible mushrooms.
- Similar color: Both chicken of the woods and chanterelles can appear bright yellow to bright orange. They may also both appear in more muted shades as well as different colors, including white.
- Hardwood preference: Both chicken of the woods and chanterelles seem to prefer hardwoods over other kinds of trees. In particular, they both show a preference for oak trees, though they will grow on and near other hardwoods as well.
- Fruiting season: Both types of mushrooms grow in the summer and fall, though chicken of the woods has a slightly longer growing season than chanterelles–chicken of the woods mushrooms may appear slightly earlier and still be growing later into the fall than chanterelles.
- Ruffled caps: Both mushrooms can look fairly similar from the top, as they both have ruffled-looking caps. Add in the similarity of color, and it’s easy to see why these two mushrooms can be so easily confused.
- Scientific families: Chicken of the woods mushrooms belong to the Laetiporus genus in the order Polyporales (bracket mushrooms). Chanterelles, on the other hand, belong to four different genera which fall under the order Cantharellales.
- Growing habits: Chicken of the woods mushrooms grow on dead and dying hardwood trees, often killing the trees as their parasitic fungus eats them from the inside out. Chanterelles grow on the ground near hardwood trees and are beneficial to them, providing them with necessary moisture and nutrients to help them grow.
- Underside of caps: Chicken of the woods mushrooms are smooth on the underside of their caps, while chanterelles have hard and well-defined ridges on the underside of their caps.
- Taste: Chicken of the woods mushrooms are said to taste like chicken (though some people claim they taste more like crab). Chanterelles have a more sweet, fruity, taste with peppery undertones.
- Size: Chicken of the woods mushrooms grow in a shelf-like pattern and are commonly 3 to 12 inches in diameter, though they can grow up to 30 inches and weigh close to 100 pounds. Chanterelles are much smaller and lighter, rarely growing more than 5 inches in diameter and rarely weigh more than 2 pounds.
Chicken of the woods mushrooms and chanterelle mushrooms have many similarities, the most important of which is that they are both edible and delicious. However, they also have many differences that will help you learn to tell them apart when you are out foraging for wild mushrooms.