Anyone who has experimented with fungi has come across the famous chanterelle mushrooms at one point or another. Chanterelles are known for their versatility, mild peppery taste, and numerous health benefits, and they’re among the best-selling mushrooms in the world.
However, finding detailed information about them is no easy task, as “chanterelle” is an umbrella term encompassing more than a dozen species worldwide. So keep reading to learn everything you need to know about these delicious fungi.
Chanterelle fungi are edible mushrooms that grow all over the world. The term encompasses over a dozen species, but it’s usually used to refer to one: Cantharellus cibarius (C. cibarius).
C. cibarius, also known as girolle or true chanterelles, is considered the “type species” of chanterelle mushrooms. A type species refers to a single species that best exemplifies the characteristics of the group. As such, we will focus most of this article on C. cibarius.
Found in North America, Europe, and North Africa, C. cibarius is one of the most popular edible fungi in the world. It has several health benefits that range from being a rich antioxidant to promoting bone health. Plus, like most other mushrooms, it has an exceptional nutritional profile, making it the perfect addition to any diet.
Experts point out this species is among the top three mushrooms sold worldwide. Its fruity odor and peppery taste make it a versatile option in any cuisine. But its popularity has also led to a confusing taxonomical history that could puzzle even the most experienced mycologist (1).
C. cibarius is a medium-to-large-sized mushroom that varies greatly depending on its habitat. Most descriptions detail its cap as being 3-6 cm (1.1-2.3 in), usually flaring out in a distinct funnel shape with wavy edges. Its color is one of its most notable characteristics, varying between an intense yellow and orange.
The stipe is paler in color and measures 2.5-5 cm (1-2 in) long. The gills are thick and well-spaced, often displaying the same color as the cap. A key feature of C. cibarius is that red bruises usually appear on the cap if the mushroom is damaged (1) (2).
As the type species for all other chanterelle mushrooms, you can apply the general description of C. cibarius to other species. However, it’s important to know that certain factors (such as the color or the bruising) may vary between the different chanterelle fungi (3).
Over 30 recognized varieties of C. cibarius are currently accepted in mycology circles. It’s hard to find precise descriptions of most of these varieties, as chanterelle mushrooms have a complicated taxonomical history. Here are some of the most common ones (4):
Chanterelle mushrooms are no simple fungi. Yet, no evidence suggests that different varieties or species don’t share the benefits of the traditional C. cibarius.
But more important than the different varieties of C. cibarius are the other species that are considered chanterelles. These can vary a lot in appearance—so let’s take a look at three of the most popular chanterelle species that aren’t C. cibarius.
Cantharellus lateritus, also known as the “smooth chanterelle,” is a smaller version of C. cibarius. As its name indicates, it’s known for having a smooth hymenophore (the underside of the cap). It’s mostly found in the United States, Africa, and Malaysia (5).
Craterellus cornucopioides is a perfect example of how not all chanterelle mushrooms belong to the Cantharellus genus. This European species is often called the “black trumpet” due to its dark gray color and decaying appearance. However, despite this variance in color, the taste and odor don’t differ much from the traditional chanterelle (6).
Cantharellus formosus, also known as “golden chanterelle,” grows in the Pacific Northwest and looks different from the European C. cibarius. It mostly differs in that the stem is longer and the cap has tiny dark scales. Moreover, its colors are usually paler, with a slight pinkish hue in the gills (7).
The history of chanterelle mushrooms may be one of the most complicated timelines of mycology. There have been hundreds of reclassifications, corrections, and discussions over the years, making the records very hard to follow.
Still, current research has found no evidence to support ancient cultures’ use of chanterelle mushrooms. So while some civilizations, like Ancient Egyptians or Native Americans, may’ve used these fungi, it all comes down to speculation (8) (9).
The first known mention of the word “chanterelle” dates back to 1651, closely followed by two other references in 1763 and 1789. The term was later officially acknowledged by Elias Magnus Fries in 1821, who first described and classified the species.
Since then, dozens, if not hundreds, of different variations, subspecies, and species have been recorded by mycologists all over the globe. As any mushroom lover knows, this usually ends in several instances of seemingly endless reclassifications and give-and-takes.
But in 2000, a breakthrough would attempt to settle this discussion. With the aid of molecular data, Matias Dahlman was able to identify unique characteristics that are crucial to distinguish chanterelle mushrooms (10).
Yet, the taxonomy of chanterelle mushrooms is still a work in progress—but we’re sure that it won’t stop anyone from enjoying these delicious fungi in the meantime.
Several reasons make chanterelle mushrooms the perfect addition to any diet. First, their nutritional values are considerably high in protein (over 50%) and moderate in carbohydrates (30%). Plus, they’re low in fat and provide several essential vitamins and minerals.
Most notably, fresh fruiting bodies contain a significant amount of vitamins D and E. Similarly, they provide several B vitamins, making them the perfect choice for replacing meat in vegetarian diets (11).
But the unique nutritional balance isn’t all there is to chanterelle mushrooms. Research shows that C. cibarius (and its related species) has several health benefits that set it apart from other mushrooms.
For example, a 2015 study shows that C. cibarius contains several compounds with antioxidant activity. The authors suggest that these could be useful for developing treatments for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative conditions, among others. A 2018 paper further supports the neuroprotective properties of this species (12) (13).
Another benefit of chanterelle mushrooms is their anti-angiogenic activity. Fundamentally, this means they can reduce the creation of new blood vessels—an essential method to stop tumors from growing (14).
Finally, a 2017 study shows that C. cibarius has strong bactericidal and anti-inflammatory effects. As such, this species shows promise as a future treatment for all kinds of wounds. In addition, the authors theorize that C. cibarius stimulates collagen production, accelerating skin repair (15).
Chanterelle mushrooms grow in several parts of the world. The number of species classified under this term makes it almost impossible to set strict guidelines on the preferred habitat. For example, chanterelles are associated with cool weather in Western North America. In Eastern North America, instead, they appear during the warmer months.
However, most experts agree that chanterelles are mostly present in North America, Europe, and North Africa. They prefer to grow on the ground in clusters that vary greatly in size and number of specimens. Usually, these appear near oak or conifer forests (1).
Mushroom foragers and wildcrafters often advocate for a practice known as “ethical wildcrafting.” This system allows you to harvest your favorite fungi species without damaging the environment—a crucial aspect of keeping your local wild mushroom populations healthy.
If you’re a beginner harvester, you may wonder about the difference between mushroom foraging and wildcrafting. The key distinction is that the former refers to harvesting for eating, while the latter uses the mushrooms for medicinal purposes.
Whether you want to go mushrooms foraging or wildcrafting, it’s best to follow these ethical guidelines:
It’s never entirely safe to wildcraft for wild edible mushrooms. C. cibarius is no exception, as several look-alikes may be poisonous to humans. A good example is the jack-o-lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olearius)—a toxic fungus almost identical to C. cibarius except for the gills (16).
Plus, wild mushrooms often carry toxins from the environment. This may lead to severe gastric discomfort or even food poisoning. As such, always wash and cook wild mushrooms thoroughly before eating them.
There isn’t a specific way to cook chanterelle mushrooms—these fungi are known to be incredibly versatile. They go particularly well with Italian dishes, such as risotto or pasta, but you may add them to any plate you like.
Marinated chanterelles, for example, make for a fantastic appetizer at just about any dinner. Many people also use them to add an extra touch to salads or meats, as the mild peppery taste harmonizes well with other ingredients.
Any cooking method will do: you can sauté, bake, simmer, or roast them, but the possibilities are endless. The stem is edible, so you can eat all parts of the mushroom. You can even combine them with other fungi, such as oyster mushrooms, porcinis, morels, and trumpet mushrooms.
However, remember to wash and cook our funnel-shaped friends thoroughly before eating them. Eating raw chanterelles may lead to nausea and vomiting—and even if you can tolerate them, the taste will be too peppery to properly enjoy them.
Chanterelle mushrooms encompass several species of edible fungi found in various parts of the world. From North Africa to North America, these mushrooms have become a staple of every fungi-loving cook. Besides their versatility, they are highly sought after due to their many health benefits.
If you want to learn more 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.