When you buy mushrooms in the grocery store, theyre typically white or brown. So it may be a surprise to find a brilliant red mushroom, known as the lobster mushroom.
While its color makes it unique among mushrooms, that red hue that resembles a cooked lobster is not what makes it exceptional. In fact, thats not the mushrooms natural color.
What makes this fungus so noteworthy is that the red color is not actually from the mushroom, but from a parasite on the mushroom.
Lets find out more about this special fungus.
The Lobster Mushroom
A lobster is actually a white mushroom with a parasite on it that forms an orange or red crust, covering the mushroom and distorting it. The mushroom that is typically covered by the parasite is the short-stalked russula mushroom, also known as the stubby brittlegill or Russula brevipes.
The parasitic fungus that grows onto and into the mushroom is called Hypomyces lactifluorum. By the time the parasite has coated the mushroom, the russula has completely changed to have a crust that is a yellow-orange to reddish orange, later aging into a magenta or purple color. The internal flesh remains white.
The surface of the mushroom also gets a rough texture because of the fruit bodies from the parasite which get embedded in the crust.
Lobster Mushrooms Are Good To Eat
It may seem strange to think about eating a mushroom with a parasite, but in fact both the parasite and the two possible types of host mushrooms are edible.
In the most common instance where the parasite attaches to a russula, the resulting lobster mushroom is tasty if harvested and eaten when young, with a yellow-to-dark orange color. They should be cooked before eating.
Lobster mushrooms are relatively mild, whereas an uninfected russula mushroom is bland or bitter. A russula is basically inedible until its transformed into a lobster mushroom.
In fact, scientific evidence has shown that the parasite alters the biochemistry of its host to make it edible. The resulting flavor is nutty, with a sweet smell and a distinctive taste. Some even describe it as tasting like lobster or seafood. To cook them, sauté them in butter, ensuring space between the mushrooms so they can get brown and crispy.
Just dont eat these mushrooms once they age and turn purple, get soft, or develop a fishy odor. Some people do get sick from eating young lobster mushrooms, so its best to sample them in moderation at first.
Lobster Mushrooms Are Good For You
As with any mushroom, the lobster is considered a health food. Lobsters are a good source of Vitamin D, iron and calcium, and have a small amount of dietary fiber and protein. As with other mushrooms, the lobster has little sugar or fat which makes it a healthy way to add flavor to dishes.
Lobster mushrooms also likely share the health properties present in other mushrooms, like antioxidants and other disease-fighting properties. They have vitamins A, B-complex and C, and amino acids, all of which help to boost and support the immune system.
Dont be alarmed at the thought of a parasite attacking a mushroom, because lobster mushrooms are appetizing and healthy. The parasite changes the chemistry of an otherwise bitter and inedible mushroom into a tasty addition to soups, stews and other meals.
And combined with a unique color and the health benefits contained in many mushrooms, its time to dare taking a bite of a lobster mushroom.