Edible mushrooms are used in cooking to add an earthy flavour to foods. Inedible mushrooms are tasteless, unpalatable, or even poisonous, and can sometimes resemble edible mushrooms. Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy way to tell the difference between inedible and edible mushrooms, but here are a few basic characteristics used to differentiate among mushroom species.
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The cap is the top part of the mushroom. Its size, shape, and colour and texture (for example, warty, scaly, slimy, or smooth) all play a part in proper identification.
Stem thickness, shape, texture, colour, and how the stem attaches to the cap are also useful in identifying mushroom species.
The underside of mushroom caps can have gills, or be spongy, veined, smooth, and even spiked. The colour of the underside can be helpful in distinguishing some similar species apart.
When mushrooms are cut into or bruised, the flesh may either stay the same colour, or darken around the knife-cut or bruised area shortly after exposed to air.
Mushrooms reproduce by making tiny spores. The colour of spores can sometimes help determine an edible mushrooms species from a similar-looking inedible one. Spore prints are made by cutting the cap away from the mushroom and setting it for several hours on top of a white or black sheet of paper.
Dangers in mushroom identification
Because there are so many characteristics to consider when identifying mushrooms, differentiating between edible and inedible species can take years to master. Sometimes even the experts cannot tell an edible species from an inedible one without further examination in a lab. Mistakes can have fatal consequences, so if you aren't 100 per cent certain whether a mushroom is edible or not, don't even pick it, let alone eat it.
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