Button mushrooms are probably the most famous fungi in the world. Their small size and pale color make them instantly recognizable, and they’re greatly appreciated for their fantastic nutritional value. Plus, their versatile taste can be the perfect complement to almost any plate.
Yet, not many people know that these fungi have been a food staple of humans since at least the 1600s. Moreover, recent research shows that Agaricus bisporus (the species’ scientific name) has several health benefits. Let’s take a closer look at the history, habitat, and health benefits of these ubiquitous mushrooms.
Also known as white button mushrooms, button mushrooms are the immature state of Agaricus bisporus—the most popular edible fungus in the world. Known for their small size, pale color, and culinary versatility, button mushrooms are a top choice for amateur and expert cooks alike.
The scientific name for button mushrooms is Agaricus bisporus var. albidus (with “var.” meaning variation). This strain’s name refers to its ghostly color—albidus comes from the Latin “albeo,” meaning “to be white.” But these mushrooms have dozens of household nicknames, including:
These mushrooms are so common that some people simply call them “mushrooms.” Experts estimate that Agaricus bisporus generates billions of dollars in revenue yearly, making it the top-selling species among edible fungi.
Button mushrooms grow all around the world but are particularly common in tropical climates in the northern hemisphere. They have a subtle umami taste that’s mixed with gentle earthy flavor. Their odor is very mild and often resembles the earthy aspect of the flavor (1) (2).
Button mushrooms are known for their small size, but there aren’t any definite rules on how long or thick they should be. They usually fall on the shorter side of the typical Agaricus bisporus measurements.
The usual A. bisporus cap measures 2.5–14 cm (1–5.5 in), while its stem is 2–7 cm (0.7–2.7 cm) long. The color of almost the whole mushroom will be a very pale white, with some cream or beige notes.
The spore print of wild-picked mushrooms will be dark brown—but keep in mind that store-bought fungi don’t produce spore prints as easily (1) (2).
There are no varieties among white button mushrooms, as these fungi are a variety themselves. As we’ve already mentioned, they’re scientifically known as Agaricus bisporus var. albideus and are one of the six recognized varieties of the species. The other five are (3):
A variety, sometimes referred to as a “strain,” is a mycology term that describes a specific set of variations among a species. Yet, not everyone agrees that white button mushrooms are a variety per se.
You’ll find many sites online arguing that the different strains of Agaricus bisporus are actually a single variety that’s harvested at different stages of maturity. While this is a reasonable claim, most mycology circles have accepted the six abovementioned varieties as official strains.
But how does this affect you when you’re at the store buying these fungi?
Well, we recommend you keep in mind two varieties instead. The first one is white button mushrooms, encompassing every specimen that’s small in size and white in color. These can be used as toppings or as ingredients in stews and salads. You’ll usually find them labeled as champignons or button mushrooms.
Similar to white buttons are cremini mushrooms (sometimes spelled “crimini”), which are small in size but brown in color. These variations will have almost the same taste and nutritional values but are often labeled as brown mushrooms or baby bellas.
The other variety is the larger A. bisporus, which has a distinctive brown color and meatier texture. These are usually called portabella or portobello mushrooms. They’re also often more expensive than button mushrooms.
White button mushrooms have been a staple of human diets for longer than we can imagine. Most of the species we eat today also existed during prehistoric times when our ancestors depended entirely on natural resources to feed themselves.
We can also find evidence that some ancient civilizations consumed mushrooms. For example, Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks held edible fungi in the highest regard, believing they were the gods’ gift to the noblest beings (4) (5).
While it’s probable that these ancient cultures used button mushrooms, it all comes down to speculation—there aren’t any known records documenting this. The first report on Agaricus species dates back to the 1600s, when farmers observed that these fungi grew in cellars and catacombs underground (5).
The first modern mention of A. bisporus goes back to the 1890s when a group of mycologists became fascinated with a new species growing in Massachusetts. In 1900, Charles Horton Peck named it Agaricus brunnescens—one of the synonyms of what’s now popularly known as A. bisporus.
After 70 years of mass production, Canadian mycologist David Malloch took research a step further by fully describing the species and establishing several synonyms. He also named a few of the varieties that we know of today (6).
While the taxonomical history of Agaricus bisporus hasn’t changed much since then, newer research is starting to discover the potential health benefits of this species. After such a long history, it was hard to believe these fungi were only meant to be used as pizza toppings!
Like most other fungi, white button mushrooms provide a unique nutritional balance, making them the perfect addition to any diet. Experts estimate that the average A. bisporus contains 3 grams of protein, 3.2 of carbohydrates, and 0.3 of fat.
While these numbers may sound very low, remember that fresh mushrooms are composed of about 90% water. Button fungi also contain several essential micronutrients, including (7):
However, the benefits of white button mushrooms don’t stop there. This species has been widely overlooked as a therapeutic tool for centuries, but recent research may be on the verge of changing that.
For example, a 2013 study suggests that Agaricus bisporus contains a compound known as “fucogalactan.” This polysaccharide has anti-sepsis, antinociceptive, and anti-inflammatory properties, which could make it useful for treating tissue damage (8).
A more recent 2020 paper also points at two proteins (ABL and Abmb) found in white mushrooms as potentially useful. These two compounds may stimulate and modulate the immune system, which could in turn slow down cancer growth (9).
Some more experimental research done in mice and rats indicates that button fungi could reduce blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Similarly, it could potentially reduce age-related brain function decline (10) (11).
Still, more research is needed to fully confirm these benefits.
White button mushrooms have been cultivated since at least the 1600s, when farmers discovered that mycelium could act as “seeds” for mushrooms. However, and much to our surprise, there isn’t much information online about where this mushroom grows in nature (5).
Experts point out that Agaricus bisporus fruits from late spring to early autumn. It grows in all parts of the world, with a slight preference for tropical climates in the northern hemisphere. Button mushrooms are usually found in manured soil, compost piles, and other enriched spawns (1) (2).
It’s one of the easiest mushrooms to cultivate, so it might be a good place to start if you want to start growing your own mushrooms.
Ethical wildcrafting refers to harvesting natural resources following a series of guidelines to reduce environmental damage. The term “wildcrafting” is often confused with foraging—the key difference is that the first refers to harvesting for medicinal purposes and the latter for eating.
Ethical wildcrafting is a fantastic way to ensure your local fungi populations stay healthy. If you’re new to harvesting mushrooms, try to adhere to the following guidelines:
If you’re new to mushroom picking, we recommend finding local harvesting groups for your first wildcrafting sessions. Most expert and veteran fungi enthusiasts will gladly show you how to harvest mushrooms without damaging the environment.
It’s never 100% safe to eat wild mushrooms. White buttons have several lookalikes, some of which can be hard on the stomach or even be toxic. The most famous example is the white variations of the Amanita species, which are extremely poisonous to humans.
Even if you picked the right species, there’s always the risk of external pathogens. Wild mushrooms often carry toxins from the environment, which could lead to severe indigestion. As such, make sure to only consume wild fungi under the supervision and approval of a professional.
Button mushrooms are a staple among professional, amateur, and home cooks worldwide. Their versatility and mild flavor make them one of the most popular mushrooms to implement in any diet, and there are thousands of button mushroom recipes to try out.
Some people choose to use them as a side dish to Italian meals, while others may serve them as appetizers along with a delicious glass of white wine. But the combinations are truly endless—you can add them to salads, soups, stews, or whatever else you imagine.
As for cooking them, sautéed mushrooms are a top pick among most mushroom lovers. However, you can also try to stir-fry, roast, boil, or simmer them to explore all the possibilities of these delicious fungi.
Implementing button mushrooms can be as simple as sprinkling them over some pasta with a touch of olive oil and parmesan.
Some people eat raw button mushrooms but remember never to try this with wild-picked fungi. Instead, only use specimens bought from grocery stores to avoid any possible contaminants.
Button mushrooms are the same as white mushrooms or champignons. Essentially, they’re the immature version of Agaricus bisporus, which also encompasses portobellos and cremini mushrooms. They grow all over the world, and are the perfect starting point for anyone looking to implement fungi into their diet.
If you want to find out about other types of mushrooms, keep up on shroomer. Here, you’ll find all the details you need about psychedelic and functional fungi from all over the world, along with the latest news on medicinal research on edible mushrooms.