If you’re a big mushroom fan, chances are you’ve heard of the strange, beautiful, and tasty oyster mushroom. With so many types of mushrooms out there, you may be wondering what makes these fungi friends stand out from your traditional button mushrooms. We’ll break down the characteristics of oyster mushrooms in case you want to try them out the next time you see them at your local grocery store.
Oyster mushrooms, scientifically known as Pleurotus ostreatus, are a type of edible mushroom native to Europe, Asia, and Africa (although you can find them growing in many places in the United States Pacific Northwest).
While you may associate mushroom anatomy with a smooth cap atop a long stem, oyster mushrooms have “gills” that extend and cover their stem. This wavy texture gives them a similar appearance to oysters – hence their name.
Oyster mushrooms come in various colors and have a fan-like or ear-like shape. Formal cultivation of the oyster mushroom began in the early 1900s and was used by German soldiers as food during WW1.
Oyster mushrooms are saprotrophs, which means they get their nutrients, or “food,” from dead and decaying matter. For this reason, wild oyster mushrooms primarily grow on rotting wood and trees.
Because of their meaty flavor and chewy texture, oyster mushrooms are commonly used in cooking as meat replacements and additions to recipes like stir-fry, stews, and pasta. They are also often described as having a seafood-like flavor with a rich “briny” depth, which is why they are a popular cooking ingredient.
Each type of oyster mushroom has its unique flavor and is a must-try for all mushroom lovers!
Oyster mushrooms are considered functional mushrooms because of their incredible health benefits. Taking these mushrooms as supplements has even been associated with lowering cholesterol and regulating blood sugar.
There are so many different types of oyster mushrooms, each with a unique coloring, taste, and uses! Here are some of the most common ones that you’ll find.
There are a variety of mushrooms that are commonly confused with oyster mushrooms. While not all of these are poisonous, if you’re foraging for wild mushrooms, it’s still a good idea to make sure you identify the correct type of oyster mushroom before consuming!
While these mushrooms aren’t poisonous, they have a much blander taste than real oyster mushrooms. You can tell them apart from oyster mushrooms by their gills, which only extend to the bottom of the cap. Real oyster mushroom gills extend all the way to the bottom of the stem and often appear to not even have a stem at all.
These poisonous mushrooms are bioluminescent, which means they glow in the dark! This trait gives them an obvious giveaway to tell them apart from oyster mushrooms (although you have to wait until night to see for yourself!)
These mushrooms are poisonous and can leave you with a very disruptive stomach ache and diarrhea if consumed. You can distinguish these from oyster mushrooms by their color, which is a bright orange (oyster mushrooms only come in yellow!)
Like the Elm Oyster, this poisonous lookalike can be distinguished because its gills are only on the cap. If you see a stem exposed, it is likely not a true oyster mushroom!
Oyster mushrooms are an excellent option for beginner mycologists because they are hardy and have a wide range of growing conditions. They also come in various beautiful colors, are great for cooking, and are relatively inexpensive to start growing.
If you want to explore growing your own, here are the high-quality kits we recommend:
Oyster mushrooms are great to use as a meat substitute or savory addition to any recipe. Here are a few of our favorite oyster mushroom recipes:
Here are our 15 favorite pink mushroom recipes from around the web. With such a variety of fun colors, shapes, and flavors, it’s no secret why we recommend oyster mushrooms to mushroom newbies and experts alike.
Want to read more about other mushrooms that are great for your health and taste buds? Check out our complete guide to functional mushrooms.