Porcini mushrooms are one of the top choices among gourmet chefs worldwide. Their nutty flavor, meaty texture, and versatility make them one of the best additions to almost any plate. However, there’s much more under the surface.
Porcinis are currently being researched for several possible health benefits, including antioxidant, antitumor, and antibacterial properties. On top of that, their taxonomy is a complex rabbit hole that’s sure to puzzle even an experienced mycologist. Here’s what you need to know about these fascinating fungi.
Porcini mushrooms, scientifically known as Boletus edulis, are one of the most appreciated gourmet edible fungi. Often described as the tastiest and most rewarding of all wild mushrooms, B. edulis is a top choice among the world’s leading chefs.
Porcini fungi are widely distributed in North America, Europe, and Asia, and there are rare reports of them growing in the Southern Hemisphere. However, they seem to be most common in Norway, Italy, New Zealand, and Australia.
They have several common names, including:
Expert mycologists consider Boletus edulis the “type species” for the Boletus genus, which comprises over 100 species. The type species is the mushroom that’s supposed to best represent the genus. However, the taxonomy of the porcini mushrooms is not without its caveats.
There’s a rather hot debate among botanists and mycologists regarding the actual scope of the B. edulis species. Many claim that North American porcinis aren’t “true” B. edulis but instead a series of closely related species. Still, most of these species are edible—though they may not taste exactly like B. edulis. (2)
According to renowned chef Antonio Carlucci, porcini mushrooms have a delicate and musty aroma contrasting their intense taste. The earthy flavor is described as being sweet and nutty, with its flesh being tender, becoming more fibrous as the mushroom ages (1) (2).
The type B. edulis has a convex brown cap that measures 8–20 centimeters (3–8 inches) and flattens out as the mushroom matures. The color can vary from pale to dark reddish-brown, with the pore surfaces often showing a greenish-yellow or yellow-brown hue.
The stipe or stem measures 8–25 centimeters (3–10 inches), usually growing in a club-like shape that’s broader at the base. Older fruit bodies may grow their stem larger than the cap—this makes them prone to becoming infested by maggots, so younger specimens are preferred for cooking. The spore print shows a particular olive-brown color (1).
As mentioned above, there’s a lot of debate regarding the varieties, subspecies, and related species of B. edulis. We’ve done our best to compile the basics of the taxonomy of porcini mushrooms, but we have to warn you—this is a complicated one.
MycoCosm, one of the most important pages concerning fungal genomics, defines B. edulis as a “species complex” rather than a species. This means that B. edulis is actually made up of several other very similar species. However, their lack of defined boundaries makes it easier to group them under a single name (3).
As such, several varieties can be considered to be B. edulis. And by several, we actually mean a lot.
Just to give you an idea, there are at least 14 edulis-like species in North America. These all meet the description used for the type B. edulis, and they all seem equally edible (although you should only eat them under the supervision of a professional). However, they may differ slightly in shape, color, and other features.
Some of the most common B. edulis-related species (or varieties) are (2):
However, there’s one variety that stands out among all others. B. edulis var grandedulis was first described in 2008 by Arora and Simonini, becoming one of the few B. edulis varieties to be recognized as such. While there isn’t much difference with the type species, var. grandedulis has a larger cap and mainly grows in California (4).
Porcini mushrooms are one of our oldest companions when it comes to the world of fungi. Evidence suggests that both Ancient Greeks and Romans were aware of this mushroom—although we don’t know how popular they were at the time.
While the Greeks weren’t very fond of anything related to mushrooms, some references in their literature could refer to B. edulis. These mentions are scarce, but they definitely show that ancient botanists saw porcinis as a potentially valuable ingredient.
Later, the Romans started experimenting more with the genus Boletus. Unlike the Greeks, the Romans were all about fungi—so they took delight in eating B. edulis in all its forms. In fact, they were the first to use the name “Boletus,” which derives from an ancient word in Greek meaning “clod of earth.” (5)
However, the first scientific description of porcini mushrooms that we know of came much later. Renowned French botanist Pierre Bulliard first mentioned the species in 1782, giving it its current name and describing its key characteristics.
Curiously, there was a bit of a debate regarding which of the top mycologists at the time was the first to describe porcinis. Bulliard, Fries, and Linnaeis all mentioned it in their pivotal works. But priority was given to Bulliard, as he seemed to have the earliest record of B. edulis (6).
Since then, thousands of mycologists have added, removed, and reclassified several varieties, subspecies, and related species. And things got even spicier when DNA-based analysis came into the picture, as scientists were able to take a deeper look into these fungi.
While one could think that DNA analysis would make things much easier, it often leads to endless reclassifications and transfers of species and varieties. This is even more true for widespread, popular fungi such as porcinis—making the modern taxonomy very hard to follow. (2)
Like many of the mushrooms we’ve covered so far, porcini fungi are considered “functional mushrooms”—species with notable nutritional and health benefits. This makes them a top choice among people who want to enjoy all the properties of mushrooms while adding a gourmet touch to their meals.
A 100-gram serving of dry porcinis contains about 64% carbohydrates, 29% protein, and 3% fat. The remainder is mainly composed of ash. Their low energy value (372 calories per 100 grams) makes them ideal for many dieting plans. Porcini mushrooms also provide the following micronutrients (among others):
As for health benefits, maybe the most important one is B. edulis’s antioxidant activities. The polysaccharides and phenolic compounds in the species can help manage oxidative damage caused by cancers, inflammatory and heart diseases, and diabetes.
Some of the same compounds also have antitumor benefits, as shown by experimental trials done in mice. Experts found that B. edulis extracts can inhibit certain types of tumors, such as the ones caused by breast cancer. Furthermore, the species has a general antiproliferative activity that may discourage the growth of malignant cells.
Like most other functional mushrooms, porcini fungi also have significant anti-inflammatory activities. These may help manage diseases such as asthma—although more research is needed to fully confirm these benefits.
Other beneficial properties of B. edulis include antibacterial and antiviral activities. These have shown to be particularly effective in inhibiting the growth of common pathogens, such as E. coli. B. edulis has also shown promising results in partly suppressing HIV-1 immunodeficiency. (7)
Still, it’s important to remember that research is in its early stages. If you’re considering using B. edulis for medicinal purposes, check with a doctor first!
Porcini mushrooms are widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, and it’s common to find them all over North America, Europe, and Asia. Seeing them in the Southern Hemisphere is also possible, although it’s much less common. They mostly appear from late spring through the start of fall.
Porcinis are mycorrhizal fungi—meaning they form a symbiotic relationship (mutually beneficial) with a host tree, usually with conifers. Experts point out they help the tree absorb nutrients while also receiving sugars for their own benefit.
As such, you can often find them in forests or gardens where conifers abound. However, porcini mushrooms can sometimes be hard to see, as the caps of small specimens barely poke through the soil. (8)
Ethical wildcrafting refers to a series of guidelines designed to help you harvest mushrooms without damaging the ecology. The damage caused by wildcrafting (harvesting for medicine) and foraging (harvesting for eating) is often overlooked, leading to disturbances in the local animal, mushroom, and tree populations.
But don’t worry! Avoiding harvesting-related damage is surprisingly easy if you’re willing to remember a few rules of thumb. Here are some of the basics of ethical wildcrafting:
If you’re new to harvesting, try looking for wildcrafting or foraging groups in your area. Veteran amateur mycologists are usually more than happy to show newcomers how to harvest resources while keeping fungi populations healthy.
Unfortunately, eating wild mushrooms is never 100% safe, as there’s always the possibility of coming across an inedible or poisonous lookalike. In the case of B. edulis, the two most common toxic lookalikes are the devil’s bolete (Rubroboletus satanas) and Boletus huronensis. While they aren’t exactly the same as B. edulis, they can grow to be the same shape and size.
Even if you’re absolutely sure you’ve picked the right mushrooms, wild fungi often carry toxins from the environment. As such, make sure you only eat wild porcinis under the close supervision of a professional.
There isn’t a specific way to eat porcini mushrooms. Their umami nutty flavor makes them a versatile choice that can be used in almost any way you can imagine. From Italian dishes like risotto to simple recipes like mushroom stew, porcini fungi can find their way into virtually any plate.
Unlike many of the other mushrooms we’ve covered, porcini fungi are one of the few types that are usually found in dried form. You can rehydrate dried porcini mushrooms or use their dried version to add flavor to your sauces.
If you’re new to cooking with mushrooms, porcinis are ideal for culinary experimentation—they’re notably forgiving and go well with pretty much any ingredient. Here are a few recipes you can try out to get started:
Bavarian mushroom soup: Cut some fresh porcini mushrooms into small slices. In a large skillet, sautée some chopped shallots in olive oil (or butter) until they’re translucent. Then add the mushrooms along with some rosemary and parsley. Add flour, salt, and water to taste and let the mixture simmer for at least 15 minutes.
Pasta al porcini: In a medium to large pan, sauté some chopped porcini mushrooms in butter until they turn hazel. Add lemon juice, cream, salt, and pepper, and cook over a low flame for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, prepare some noodles, such as tagliarini. Combine the cooked noodles and porcini sauce in a serving bowl. Add grated cheese and extra virgin olive oil to get even more flavor!
While these two recipes may sound somewhat basic, they are fantastic for people new to the mushroom world. And what better place to start than porcinis?
Once you get some experience cooking fungi, try branching out into other species. Morels, portobellos, and shiitake mushrooms may be the perfect additions to a porcini mushroom risotto, or a tasty and hearty base for a mixed mushroom soup.
Porcini mushrooms are among the best choices to add to your culinary arsenal. Their versatile nutty flavor and tender texture make them the perfect companion to almost any ingredient. Plus, almost any cooking method works, from simmering to roasting—so don’t be afraid to experiment!
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.