We have been foraging and eating mushrooms since before the beginning of recorded history, and have been preserving those mushrooms for nearly the same amount of time. Mushrooms, especially wild mushrooms, are highly seasonal, appearing during snowmelt in the spring and after the first rains in the fall. In order to have mushrooms as a part of our diet year round, it was and is necessary to preserve them, and the best way to preserve mushrooms is by drying them.
Why Dried Mushrooms?
The simplest answer to this question is that in most regions of the world, edible mushrooms just don’t grow year round. Mushrooms typically fruit or flush in spring and autumn, meaning that during the summer and winter, if you want fresh mushrooms, you’re severely limited on choice. If you get a glut of mushrooms in season and can’t use them all before they spoil, drying mushrooms gives you a chance to use them before they spoil.
There are other reasons to dry mushrooms as well. Some mushrooms have more concentrated flavor (and even more concentrated amounts of some nutrients!) than fresh mushrooms, making them ideal for some culinary applications. Some mushrooms are best used in powder form, such as Reishi mushrooms, and they must be dried before they can be ground into a powder.
How Long do Dried Mushrooms Keep?
If stored properly, dried mushrooms can last indefinitely, though they may experience some degradation of flavor the longer they’re stored.
Dry mushrooms must be stored in a dry place in an airtight container to prevent moisture from spoiling the mushrooms. Light can also damage the mushrooms, so it’s best they’re kept in the dark. Think at the back of your pantry, rather than in a clear jar on your countertop.
Keeping dried mushrooms cool is also important, but unless you live in a hot climate, cool room temperature should be fine. If your indoor temperature gets above around eighty degrees, you may want to stash them in the fridge or freezer.
Dried mushrooms stored properly, in a dark, cool place in an airtight container, can last for two or three years without significantly impacting the quality of the mushrooms.
Which Dried Mushrooms Are Best?
Some kinds of mushrooms dry better than others. Here are some varieties of mushrooms that are particularly good dried.
Shiitake is thought to be the oldest cultivated mushroom, and has been preserved by drying for centuries. Shiitake are known for their rich, savory flavor (they lend umami to countless Asian dishes) and for their meaty texture. Shiitakes are a mushroom whose flavor becomes concentrated when they’re dried, and their firm flesh makes them robust enough to come through the dehydration process well.
Shiitakes can be dried sliced or whole.
Porcini mushrooms are another type of mushroom that concentrates its flavor when dried. These are an Italian mushroom and are prized for their deep and complex flavor. They have an earthiness that complements pork and chicken dishes particularly well.
Foragers may refer to porcini mushrooms as king boletes. Their primary season is in the fall, but some types of king boletes will appear in the spring, known as “spring kings.”
With their wide stems (stipes) and broad caps, porcini are another mushroom that dries well. Porcini mushroom powder, ground from dried porcini mushrooms, is a prized culinary ingredient.
Chanterelle mushrooms are one of the most popular wild foraged mushrooms in the United States, and for good reason. They have a combination of earthy and fruity flavors that are preserved well when dried. Chanterelles primarily flush in the fall, but some varieties fruit in spring as well.
While chanterelles that are dried and reconstituted have a pleasantly chewy texture, their stems can be a bit woody and should be trimmed.
Chanterelles are typically dried whole or broken into pieces.
Morels are another extremely popular wild foraged mushroom, with a nutty, slightly smoky flavor. Morels flush in the spring. Because these mushrooms are thin-fleshed, dehydration is a particularly good way to preserve them; they dry quickly and well.
Because the honeycombed cap of the morel can harbor dirt, it is recommended that you rinse them well before reconstituting, and if using the soaking liquid in cooking, strain it well through a fine mesh or several layers of cheesecloth to eliminate any remaining grit.
Red Reishi mushrooms are a special mushroom that are typically used in their dehydrated form (here’s how to dry your own reishi mushrooms!). Reishi mushrooms have been used medicinally for centuries. Because they’re quite hard and a bit woody, they’re typically consumed as a tea or tincture, which allows users to extract the nutritional benefits without eating the mushroom itself. Typically, these preparations are done with dried Reishi mushrooms.
Are Dried Mushrooms as Good as Fresh?
Dried mushrooms are as good as fresh, depending on how they’re used. Mushrooms like shiitake concentrate their flavor, and once reconstituted have an even meatier texture than fresh mushrooms. Dried morels are almost interchangeable with fresh morels.
While reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms may lose their lovely, buttery texture, they yield a soaking liquid that is richly flavored and a beautiful addition to soups and sauces.
Reconstituted dried mushrooms have the structure to stand up to long-cooking applications, like soups and stews. Since they’ve had their excess water removed, they add extra concentrated flavor to these dishes. Dried mushrooms may also be better for special applications, like morel compound butter, because they have so little water.
Dried mushrooms are not the same as fresh, though. While they may be better for soups, stews, and sauces, they’re often less well-suited to sautees because of how the texture of the mushroom changes during the dehydration process.
Using Dried Mushrooms
To use your dried mushrooms in recipes, usually you’ll reconstitute them. This means rehydrating them, typically in hot water or broth. You can do this by heating water on the stove and pouring it over the mushrooms, or microwaving the mushrooms and liquid together in the microwave. How long it takes to reconstitute mushrooms depends on the type of mushroom and the size of the pieces that they’ve been sliced or broken into. Usually reconstituting dried mushrooms takes between 10 and 30 minutes.
When the mushrooms are reconstituted, they’ll soften and will have a texture closer to a cooked mushroom than a fresh one. The mushrooms are now ready to use in your recipe. Reserve the soaking liquid, because it can add a lot of mushroom flavor to your dish, especially in soups, stews, and sauces. Mushroom soaking liquid also adds deep flavor and some nutrients to vegetable broths!
You can also grind dried mushrooms into a powder to mix into dishes. This is an especially popular way to use dried porcini mushrooms.
How to Tell if Dried Mushrooms Have Gone Bad
There are a few ways in which dried mushrooms go bad. One of the big culprits is moisture infiltration. If your dried mushrooms get too damp, they can develop moldy patches. These may just look like lighter patches on a dark mushroom at first. Discard any moldy mushrooms without delay.
Mushrooms aren’t just a desirable food source for us; insects love them too. This can include tiny beetles and even pantry moths. Insects should only have access to your mushrooms if they’ve been improperly stored. An airtight container will be enough to keep bugs out. If you suspect insect infestation, put your dried mushrooms on a paper towel and you should be able to see any bugs moving around. Discard bug-infested mushrooms.
Exposure to sun can cause your mushrooms to lighten in color, and they won’t have as much flavor. If you noticed your mushrooms have lightened where light touches them, discard them. Store your mushrooms in a dark place to avoid this.
While mushrooms can last almost indefinitely when stored correctly, they’ll be at their best within the first year.