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Mushroom ... Madness? Get to Know the Elite 8!

Meet My Elite 8 Mushroom Varieties

By: Pam Smith, RDN

With so many varieties of amazing mushrooms, it can feel like you need a bracket just to decide! But, not if you know the differences between the mushroom “teams” and how to use them in your meals. See below for the stats for my Elite 8!

White Button

“White buttons are mild mannered, fit into every crowd, and make things better by being there.”

White buttons are the most common and mildest-tasting mushroom around. Ninety percent of the mushrooms we eat are this variety. Less intensely flavored than many of its more exotic kin, it can be eaten either raw or cooked (the flavor intensifies when cooked).

They work well in soups, sauces and salad, and on pizzas of course!


“Criminis bring a bit of mystery and earthiness to the party, particularly when they’re hot.”

Criminis, which are actually baby portabellas, have a distinctly earthy taste, with a delicate texture and pale brown color. They brown especially well when roasted or sautéed due to their low moisture content.

Sauté or roast in olive oil and spice before tossing into soups, scrambled eggs, sauces, risottos, pastas and salads for an extra boost – or enjoy on their own. The stems can be diced and sautéed then used as a filling for omelets or stuffing – or ground and used in The Blend!


“Portabellas bring their star power to the party — bringing Oscar-winning performance to any role.”

Portabellas are big in size and flavor — rich and meaty.

They are delicious when marinated in olive oil and balsamic or sherry vinegar, then sautéed or charcoal-grilled. The huge caps are popular as hamburger substitutes or sliced as “steak” in fajitas or bowls. To avoid blackening a sauce, scrape out the gills before cooking, and in turn use to darken a gravy.


“Shiitakes bring an exotic and memorable lift to the party — leaves everyone not wanting the good times to end!”

Shiitakes taste smoky and full-bodied, whether fresh or dried, and are nearly impossible to overcook. Caps range from medium brown to almost black.

They are great in vegetable sautés and stir-fries; the flavor is strong enough to hold its own with spices -- and garlic! The stems are too tough to eat, but you can use them to flavor stocks, broths sauces before discarding them.


“Delicate oysters like the party to be a bit chill and shine when treated in that VIP style they deserve.”

Oysters have a delicate, briny flavor and lacelike texture. Most oyster mushrooms are pale ivory, but they can also be yellow, pink, blue or lavender. Word of warning: Oysters deteriorate quickly so they must be used immediately.

The best way to serve oysters is to sauté them briefly in olive oil or butter. They are extremely tender and moist when cooked, and are beautiful with pasta and vegetable sautés. They also taste spectacular raw in salads and on their own.


“Beech are stars of the party, adding a little something special and memorable, especially when in sizzling dress, being roasted or found in a pickle.”

When cooked, beech mushrooms brown-capped clusters are crunchy with a sweet nuttiness. When served raw, however, they taste bitter. To keep the mild, nutty and slightly crunchiness in play, add beech mushrooms as your last ingredient.

Because of their look and texture, I love using beech mushrooms in salads, as a topper for meat dishes or to garnish risottos and pasta.


Maitakes are those earthy, tree hugging friends that bring an interesting element to the dinner party and are super fun when smashed.”

From afar, maitakes can look like a head of cabbage. Cultivated, as well as found in the wild as Hen of the Woods, these mushrooms are often sold in clusters with their soft, feathery caps overlapping. This mushroom has an earthy aroma and a gamey flavor.

The whole cluster can be grilled, roasted or flattened and sautéed — or can be pulled in smaller pieces for versatile deliciousness!

Royal Trumpet

No surprise, these delicious trumpets are larger than life … with a presence at the party not easily forgotten! A repeat guest, for sure!”

Royal trumpet’s flavor is earthy, aromatic, and very savory. This variety of mushroom is known for its intense umami flavor. Some people say they have a subtle flavor of anise on the finish.

Royal trumpet mushrooms are very meaty with a firmer texture than most mushrooms, making this variety a great choice for a meat or scallop substitute – just slice into coins and sauté! You can even shred up and coat in BBQ sauce or a tasty plant-based sandwich.


Join me in some Mushroom March Madness Elite 8 fun on the P.S. Flavor!™ Cooking Club Facebook group!

Photo credit: Mushroom Council

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