There are many different types of edible mushrooms. Today, we’re going to look at a couple that seem to take their inspiration from the sea. As we compare the lobster mushroom vs. the oyster mushroom, you’ll see that these two mushrooms have some unique characteristics as well as some surprising similarities and differences.
What You'll Learn Today
What is a Lobster Mushroom?
Lobster mushrooms are not a specific species; instead, they are mushrooms that have been taken over by the parasitic hypomyces lactifluorum fungus. This fungus infects lactarius and russula mushrooms, causing them to grow large and lumpy and turn a bright red-orange color.
Lobster mushrooms grow in parts of North America, particularly the New England area and parts of the northern West Coast. They grow in forested areas, near the base of conifers and some deciduous hardwood trees.
They are nearly impossible to cultivate, so they must be harvested in the wild. Though they are not one of the more common edible mushrooms, they are prized for their hearty texture and crustacean-like flavor.
Lobster mushrooms grow during the summer and fall months, usually from July through October. They have no poisonous look alikes, so they are a good foraging choice if you are new to hunting mushrooms.
What is an Oyster Mushroom?
The term “oyster mushroom” applies to over 200 distinct species within the Pleurotus family. These mushrooms vary widely in appearance, growing condition, distribution, and other factors.
For example, the pink oyster thrives in warm conditions, while the blue oyster prefers much cooler weather. The king oyster looks different when it grows in a high oxygen environment than when it grows in a more carbon-dioxide rich environment.
One thing that all oyster mushrooms have in common is that they are edible; many people claim they taste like oyster meat. Most oyster mushrooms look similar to oysters as well; some are smooth and round like the oysters themselves, while others have a more wavy appearance similar to oyster shells.
Many oyster mushrooms grow in large, flat, shelf-like or fan-like clusters; the king oyster is a notable exception, as it grows singly and has thick stems. Oyster mushrooms grow almost exclusively on dead and dying hardwood, though many varieties are easy to grow at home using a substrate.
Most oyster mushrooms grow during the spring between March and May. They have few poisonous look alikes, but if you’ve never foraged for them before it would be good to have them properly identified by an experienced mushroom hunter before you eat them.
Lobster Mushroom Vs. Oyster Mushroom: Similarities and Differences
You’re probably thinking that lobster mushrooms and oyster mushrooms don’t have many similarities; and you would be correct. These are two very different mushrooms that are difficult to confuse once you’ve learned some basic information about them.
Still, they do have a few similarities. Let’s take a closer look at those, as well as the differences between these mushrooms.
- Common name: People who don’t know anything about these mushrooms may confuse them simply because of their similar-sounding names. Since lobster and oysters are both crustaceans, it is easy to assume that both names are used interchangeably to refer to the same type of mushroom.
- Edible: Both lobster mushrooms and oyster mushrooms are edible and delicious. They can both be used as meat substitutes and added ingredients in soups, stews, sauces, and a variety of other recipes.
- Taste: Many varieties of oyster mushroom have a crustacean-like flavor similar to that of the lobster mushroom. This flavor is enhanced when the mushrooms are cooked or dehydrated.
- Scientific families: Oyster mushrooms belong to the Pleurotus family. Lobster mushrooms are created when members of the Russulaceae family are parasitized by the hypomyces fungus.
- Growing season: Oyster mushrooms are commonly found growing in the spring, between the months of March and May. Lobster mushrooms have a slightly longer growing season and are more commonly found in summer and fall, between July and October.
- Distribution: Oyster mushrooms can be found growing in many different locations throughout the Northern Hemisphere; they are widely distributed throughout North America, Europe, and parts of Africa and Asia. Lobster mushrooms have a much smaller distribution; they are sometimes found in northeastern and northwestern parts of North America.
- Growing conditions: Lobster mushrooms grow from the ground near hardwood and conifer trees. Oyster mushrooms grow primarily on dead and dying wood.
- Appearance: Lobster mushrooms have few, if any, look-alikes; they are large, lumpy, thick-stemmed mushrooms with funnel-shaped caps and a distinctive red-orange color. Oyster mushrooms typically grow in clusters and come in a variety of colors; they have flat or ruffly caps that grow together in a fan- or shelf-like pattern.
Lobster Mushroom Vs. Oyster Mushroom: Which Tastes Better?
Both lobster mushrooms and oyster mushrooms have a mildly crustacean-like flavor. Many mushroom lovers agree that both mushroom types make excellent meat substitutes in seafood dishes and a variety of other recipes.
So, which one tastes better?
The answer, of course, depends on what you’re looking for.
Lobster mushrooms are large, so you don’t have to harvest as many of them to get the great flavor you’re looking for. Their texture is thick and hearty with a crispy shell, much like actual lobster meat.
Oyster mushrooms have a variety of flavors, many of them vaguely seafood; some have a stronger taste, while others are much milder. They generally have a lighter texture than lobster mushrooms.
Both mushrooms have been described as having a seafood-like, earthy, umami flavor. This taste may vary slightly between lobsters and the various oyster species, but overall, both types of mushroom have very similar flavors.
Check out these videos for some ideas of how to cook oyster and lobster mushrooms:
Lobster mushrooms and oyster mushrooms are sometimes confused because of their similar-sounding names. They are very different types of mushrooms with very different growing conditions and appearances, but both have mildly seafood flavors and are commonly used as meat substitutes in recipes.