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The Complete Guide to Wine Cap Mushrooms
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The Complete Guide to Wine Cap Mushrooms

Julian Selemin
Julian Selemin
August 28, 2023
9 min

Wine cap mushrooms are, quite possibly, the biggest mushroom we’ve covered so far. With the largest specimens surpassing the size of a human baby, it’s no surprise that these curious (and edible) fungi have drawn the attention of expert mycologists and gourmet chefs alike.

But the story doesn’t end with wine caps being a choice edible—recent research shows these fungi could have significant health benefits. These range from being an antioxidant to boosting the immune system, possibly making them a promising tool for treating certain conditions. Here’s what you need to know.

What are wine cap mushrooms?

Wine cap mushrooms, scientifically known as Stropharia rugosoannulata or S. rugosoannulata, are one of the largest edible fungi species that we’re aware of. Known for their deep burgundy color and delicious taste, wine cap fungi are among the most prized edible mushrooms in the world.

With the biggest specimens weighing up to 2 kg (5 lb), this species has earned nicknames such as:

  • Garden giants
  • Godzilla mushrooms
  • King Stropharia
  • Burgundy mushrooms
  • Wine cap stropharia
  • Wine roundhead mushrooms

Wine cap mushrooms are native to North America—particularly the mid-Atlantic states (including New York and New Jersey) and Massachusetts. Yet, their lax cultivation requirements have allowed them to expand to Europe, Southeast Asia, and Oceania.

In nature, they tend to appear near hardwood forests or among undecomposed wood debris. Experts point out that typical ornamental wood chip mulch is the perfect substrate for wine caps. As such, it’s common to spot these mushrooms even in urban and suburban landscapes (1).

S. rugosoannulata is sometimes classified as a choice edible due to its unique taste and thick (yet fleshy) texture. The flavor is sometimes described as being earthy and nutty but not overwhelming; fully-grown specimens often have a forest-like scent. Famed late chef Antonio Carlucci had pointed out that this species is highly versatile, being able to fit into almost any dish seamlessly (2).

How does Stropharia rugosoannulata look?

Close up shot of a wine cap mushroom

Wine cap mushrooms have a 4–13 cm (1.5–5.5 in) slightly convex cap that’s reddish brown at first, turning pale as the mushroom ages. Older specimens may also show undulations and cracks on the cap surface. The gills are thin and close to each other, ranging from white to purple-black in color.

The stem is relatively large, usually measuring 7–15 cm (2.7–6 in) and contrasting the cap color with a discoloring yellowish white. One of the most distinctive features of wine cap fungi is that the stem has a thick wrinkled ring on the upper part of the stem. The spore print is dark purple-brown to black (3).

When it comes to size, some wine cap specimens exceed these proportions. For example, renowned mycologist Paul Stamets was able to grow a 1.8 kg (4 lb) wine cap that was bigger than an infant (1)!

What are the varieties of wine cap mushrooms?

Unlike most popular edible mushrooms, there aren’t many varieties of wine cap fungi. In fact, there appears to be only one—although the science behind it is a little murky.

Often called “Stropharia rugosoannulata: white form,” the name describes exactly what the variety is known for. Instead of the usual burgundy color, this variety displays a creamy white cap matching the stem, and sometimes a slightly smaller size.

Another key difference of this variety is its foul odor, which could indicate that the mushroom is less edible than its counterpart. As such, we recommend looking for S. rugosoannulata if you want to cook with the species (4).

The curious thing is that this white form doesn’t appear to have an official name. The taxonomic records for the species only describe two varieties: Stropharia rugosoannulata var. rugosoannulata and Stropharia rugosoannulata var. farlowiana (5). 

The first one is, of course, the typical wine cap mushroom. Yet, nothing indicates that the farlowiana variety actually refers to the white form—instead, it could describe an obscure variety that we’re unaware of.

But this doesn’t mean that the white variety doesn’t exist, so keep an eye out for it when you’re out on the field.

History of wine cap mushrooms

Wine cap mushrooms on the ground

There isn’t any literature reviewing ancient cultures’ traditional use of wine cap mushrooms. In fact, we could only find references to the taxonomic and cultivation history of S. rugosoannulata.

The first official scientific description of wine cap mushrooms dates back to 1922, when American botanist William Alphonso Murrill expanded on the works of his colleague William Gilson Farlow. While Farlow was the first to describe the species, his definition wasn’t widely accepted by the scientific community.

Unlike most of the other mushrooms we’ve covered, this first description has remained almost untouched since then. A few other mycologists (such as Machiel Noordeloos) have proposed alternative definitions—but Murrill’s works are still considered the most important (5).

As for its cultivation in artificial sawdust spawn, the first experiments were performed by Joachim Puschel in 1969. He was the first to discover the lax growth requirements of the species, allowing it to spread to Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary during the next few years (6).

Since then, the species has been distributed to the rest of Europe, Oceania, and Southeastern Asia. Reports of it growing in Africa and the rest of America and Asia exist—but they’re few and far between.

Health benefits of wine cap mushrooms

Wine cap mushrooms are part of what’s known as “functional fungi”—species with significant nutritional and health benefits. However, there’s not much information available to the general public regarding S. rugosoannulata.

Nutritionally, wine cap mushrooms are composed of about 64% fiber and carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 3% fat. The leftover mainly comprises ash, bioactive compounds, and micronutrients such as:

  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Copper

The bioactive elements present in S. rugosoannulata are the main actors when it comes to the health benefits of the species. These compounds include monosaccharides, polysaccharides, sterols, lectins, flavonoids, and phenols—some of which have antioxidant, antibacterial, antitumor, and antidiabetic effects (7).

Research shows, for example, that polysaccharides have significant antioxidant effects, which could help manage conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes. While more research is needed, experts are already suggesting the possibility of using S. rugosoannulata with other medications to treat these conditions (8).

Similarly, those same polysaccharides showed promising results in treating liver fat accumulation. This stems not only from the antioxidant activities of these compounds but also from their hypolipidemic effects (9).

Another key benefit of the bioactive compounds present in the species (most notably lectins and polysaccharides) is their immunoregulatory properties. A 2020 study reviewed several mushrooms and found that most of them (including wine caps) could significantly boost human immune function while partially inhibiting tumor growth (10).

Although the future looks promising for our giant friends, it’s important to remember that research is still in its early stages. If you want to use wine cap mushrooms for medicinal purposes, check with a doctor.

Where do wine cap mushrooms grow?

Wine caps mushrooms are widespread in the mid-Atlantic states of the U.S., but they’ve expanded to other regions with temperate climates along the rest of North America, Oceania, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Reports of them growing in Africa, South America, and the rest of Asia also exist, but they’re rare.

In nature, wine cap fungi tend to grow near forests where hardwoods (such as maples, beeches, and willows) abound. They may also grow out on the field near undecomposed woody debris—they seem to be particularly fond of the wood chip mulch used in garden beds.

Growing wine cap mushrooms in your garden is surprisingly easy. Experts recommend mixing some hardwood chip mulch with some leafy matter, spreading it over a few square feet, and inoculating it with the spores (1). 

You can also buy ready-made wine cap mushroom spawn online, which may come in handy if you’re new to mushroom cultivation. Just make sure you water the mushroom bed accordingly after you spread it in your garden.

After a few months, the mycelium will have settled in—and the fruiting bodies will appear!

What is ethical wildcrafting?

Mushrooms in a basket

Ethical wildcrafting refers to responsibly and sustainably harvesting resources from your local ecosystem. The goal of ethical wildcrafting is to ensure the conservation and protection of the ecology by following a simple series of guidelines.

Many people confuse wildcrafting with foraging. While the two are similar, wildcrafting refers to harvesting for medicinal purposes and foraging for eating. However, the ethical guidelines remain the same for both options:

  • Research the species before heading out on the field, taking note of any possible poisonous or endangered lookalikes you may come across.
  • Carry a mushroom field guide—these handy manuals can help you distinguish lookalikes and teach you some tips to find your desired species.
  • Don’t overharvest. Avoid taking more mushrooms than you need, and don’t share patch locations with others.
  • Pick the fruiting bodies gently, and only use scissors and knives when absolutely necessary.
  • Make sure you aren’t breaking any laws by checking local regulations regarding wildcrafting on public land (or ask permission from the owner if you’re on private land).

If it’s your first time mushroom hunting, we recommend looking for harvesting groups in your area. Expert and veteran mushroom lovers will usually be more than glad to show you how to pick fungi ethically while keeping you away from dangerous lookalikes.

Is it safe to wildcraft for Stropharia rugosoannulata?

Eating wild mushrooms is never 100% safe, as there’s always the risk of coming across a poisonous lookalike. In the case of S. rugosoannulata, the most similar species is probably Stropharia hornemannii, which is non-edible and possibly toxic.

Even if you’re sure you’ve picked the right species, wild fungi often carry toxins from the environment. These may cause gastrointestinal issues like indigestion, so make sure you only eat wild-picked wine caps under the supervision of a professional.

How do you take wine cap mushrooms?

Wine cap mushrooms are highly versatile, making them the perfect choice for foodies who are new to the fungi world. They can be used both as an ingredient in more complicated recipes or as the main dish accompanied by a simple side such as a salad.

If it’s your first time cooking wine caps, sauté them in butter or olive oil and add them to a portion of pasta to get an idea of how they taste. If you’re looking for more sophisticated dishes, below are some wine cap mushroom recipes for you to try out.

Spiced wine caps

Heat oil on a medium sauté pan, throw in the chopped wine caps (make sure you wash them first), and add salt and spices. Cook while stirring for about five minutes and deglaze with red wine. Remove from the heat and serve with pork chops or your protein of choice. You can also use other mushrooms, such as morels and shiitake, to add even more flavor.

Wine cap mushroom soup

Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter or olive oil in a stock pot, adding onion, leek, and garlic to taste. Sauté for five minutes and add the wine caps, salt, paprika, and dill. Bring to a slow simmer and cook for 10–20 minutes. Finally, add lemon juice, stock, and flour (to thicken the mixture), and cook for about 15 more minutes while stirring frequently. Garnish the final plate with the leftover dill for some extra gourmet points!

As always, don’t be afraid to experiment. Wine caps are extremely versatile mushrooms, and you can cook them in almost any way you can imagine, from roasting to grilling.

Wine cap mushrooms: Mycological merlot

Wine cap mushrooms are famous for their enormous size, versatile taste, and sophisticated burgundy color. Recent research shows that these wonderful fungi go way beyond being a choice edible, as they may have significant health benefits. Delicious, plentiful, and beneficial—could we ask for more?

To learn more about other types of mushrooms, keep up with on shroomer. Here, you’ll uncover what you need to know about psychedelic and functional fungi from around the world, along with the latest news on edible mushrooms.

References

  1. Paul Stamets, “The King Stropharia of the Genus Stropharia” in Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms (1993), 335–342.
  2. Antonio Carlucci. “Stropharia Rugosoannulata” in Complete Mushroom Book: The Quiet Hunt (2003), 91.
  3. Michael Kuo, Andrew Methven. “Stropharia Rugosoannulata” in Mushrooms of the Midwest (2014), 364.
  4. Michael Kuo. “Stropharia rugosoannulata: white form.” MushroomExpert.com (2016). https://www.mushroomexpert.com/stropharia_rugosoannulata_white.html
  5. Mycobank. “Stropharia rugosoannulata.” (No date). https://www.mycobank.org/page/Name%20details%20page/26574
  6. S. T. Chang, W. A. Hayes. “Stropharia rugosoannulata.” in The Biology and Cultivation of Edible Mushrooms (2013), 559–560.
  7. Yuwei Hu, Pattana Kakumyan, Asanka R. Bandara, Peter Edward Mortimer. “The nutrition, cultivation and biotechnology of Stropharia rugosoannulata.” Fungal Biotec 1(1) (2021): 13–25. http://dx.doi.org/10.5943/FunBiotec/1/1/2
  8. Ying Liu, Chao-Fan Hu, Xi Feng, Lei Cheng, Salam A. Ibrahim, Cheng-Tao Wang, Wen Huang. “Isolation, characterization and antioxidant of polysaccharides from Stropharia rugosoannulata.” International Journal of Biological Macromolecules 155 (2020): 883–889. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2019.11.045
  9. Yinlu Gao, Gulijiannaiti Abuduaini, Chenhe Yang, Shanshan Zhang, Yanrong Zhang, Hongxiu Fan, Xu Teng, Chenligen Bao, Hongcheng Liu, Dawei Wang, Tingting Liu. “Isolation, purification, and structural elucidation of Stropharia rugosoannulata polysaccharides with hypolipidemic effect.” Frontiers in Nutrition 9 (2021): 1092582. https://doi.org/10.3389%2Ffnut.2022.1092582
  10. Shuang Zhao, Qi Gao, Chengbo Rong, Shouxian Wang, Zhekun Zhao, Yu Liu, Jianping Xu. “Immunomodulatory Effects of Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms and Their Bioactive Immunoregulatory Products.” Journal of Fungi 6(4) (2020): 269. https://doi.org/10.3390%2Fjof6040269

Fact Checked: Mar Yvette


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ShroomWiki
Julian Selemin

Julian Selemin

Content Writer

Table Of Contents

1
What are wine cap mushrooms?
2
What are the varieties of wine cap mushrooms?
3
History of wine cap mushrooms
4
Health benefits of wine cap mushrooms
5
Where do wine cap mushrooms grow?
6
How do you take wine cap mushrooms?
7
Wine cap mushrooms: Mycological merlot

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