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How To Identify Wild Lobster Mushrooms?

When you forage for wild mushrooms, you come across a lot of different shapes, sizes and styles. Learning to correctly identify each one is an important skill since many edible mushrooms look similar to toxic ones. That said, some mushrooms are easier to tell apart than others. In this article, we’ll talk about how to identify wild lobster mushrooms and whether or not they have any look alikes.

What is a Lobster Mushroom?

What is a Lobster Mushroom

Lobster mushrooms are appropriately named due to their color, texture, and even their flavor. But how they acquire their unique characteristics is a bit of an anomaly compared to other mushrooms.

Lobster mushrooms actually begin as russala or lactarius mushrooms. A parasite fungus known as Hypomyces colonizes these mushrooms, giving the originally white shrooms a red outer shell and improving their taste and texture.

Lobster mushrooms only grow in the wild, as they are nearly impossible to cultivate. For this reason as well as their mild seafood flavor, they are considered a bit of a delicacy and are sought out by gourmet chefs and mushroom lovers alike. 

What Do Lobster Mushrooms Look Like?

Lobster mushrooms have a distinctive appearance that is difficult to confuse with other mushrooms.

They are large, often much larger than an adult’s hand; they are rust-red or bright orange in color due to the parasite fungus, and this fungus also gives them a hard outer shell. 

Lobster mushrooms have thick stems and ruffly, non-distinct caps; they are white inside, and both the cap and the stem are solid. The reddish “crust” or “shell” is harder than the meaty interior, a bit like a lobster’s shell.

Lobster mushrooms may be similar in shape to chanterelles, but they are much larger and heavier. They weigh roughly the same as a paperweight due to their large size and the fact that they are dense and completely solid inside. 

They tend to grow in groups or small clusters; if you find one, keep looking, and you’ll likely find more. They grow out of the ground, typically near the base of hardwood trees; you may have to dig around under layers of ground debris to find them.

Lobster mushrooms grow from mid summer through early fall, usually in July and August in northern regions and into September farther south.

Though most lobster mushrooms have the classic red shell, some seem to develop only partially or be less affected by the parasite fungus that colonizes it. These unique lobsters are white and, as you might imagine, less easy to identify without the bright red-orange shell; they also tend to have a more tender texture. 

For a great visual to help you learn to identify lobster mushrooms, check out this video:

What Do Lobster Mushrooms Taste and Smell Like?

Mild seafood or crustacean taste, similar both in taste and texture to lobster meat. It is a very mild flavor though and can easily be drowned out by other flavors in recipes.

The aroma will also be mildly seafood-like and earthy. Should not have a strong aroma or strong fishy smell.

Do Lobster Mushrooms Have Any Look Alikes?

As noted above, lobster mushrooms are highly recognizable and distinctive looking. In fact, they are a great mushroom for beginning foragers because they have no look alikes–either edible or toxic. 

Of course, there are other mushrooms of similar color, but these will not have the distinctive hard shell as lobster mushrooms do. Also, though lobsters may be similar in shape to chanterelles, they will be much larger and heavier, so they are difficult to confuse with chanterelles.

Lobsters are extremely easy for even a beginner to identify because of the characteristic hard shell, the fleshy white interior, and the mild seafood flavor and aroma, as well as their large size. 

When to Avoid Lobster Mushrooms?

When to Avoid Lobster Mushrooms

Lobster mushrooms are edible and delicious, and if you have some growing in your area, you will definitely want to give them a try–especially if you enjoy seafood. 

That said, there are some things to consider whether you buy them fresh from a farmer’s market or collect them yourself.

Lobster mushrooms have a short shelf life, and they can cause food poisoning if eaten when they are past their prime. You’ll want to avoid harvesting or eating previously harvested lobster mushrooms if they: 

  • Have a stinky or fishy smell: Lobster mushrooms should have a mild crustacean-like aroma; some people describe them as smelling like steamed lobster, while others say they have a generic nutty, sweet, or earthy smell. Always smell a lobster mushroom before eating it; if it smells strong, stinky, or fishy, don’t eat it.
  • Are lightweight: As noted above, lobster mushrooms are noticeably heavy; they are dense and meaty and should not have a lot of air holes in their flesh. If you pick up a lobster mushroom and it feels more lightweight, like styrofoam, then it is probably going bad inside and should not be eaten.
  • Are purplish in color: Lobster mushrooms turn a deep purple color as they decay. If you find purple lobster mushrooms in the wild, or if you find that some you previously harvested have begun to discolor, don’t eat them.

Conclusion

Lobster mushrooms are easy to identify for several reasons: they have a hard, lobster-like outer shell, usually red or orange in color; they are heavy like a paperweight and solid inside; and they have a mild, sweet aroma similar to steamed lobster.

Lobster mushrooms have no poisonous look alikes, and they are easy to distinguish from other edible mushrooms as well. If you’re new to foraging mushrooms, why not start out with hunting for lobsters?

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