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There are many different parts to a mushroom, including the cap, stalk, hyphae, and gills. If all parts of the mushroom are edible, you might be wondering what to avoid in their cooking. Some chefs prefer to scrape out the gills from their mushrooms while cooking, but are the gills of a mushroom edible? Here’s the answer, according to nutritionists:
You can eat the gills of any edible mushroom without concern for your health or safety, but many chefs prefer to scrape out the gills from the mushroom cap before cooking because they can turn your food an unappetizing dark color. Eating the gills of a mushroom is a matter of personal preference.
Because it is a common practice at many restaurants and among seasoned cooks to scrape out the gills of a mushroom, many wonder if this is a practice they should adopt themselves and if a failure to do so poses some sort of risk to their health. Here is some more in-depth information on mushrooms and mushroom gills that can help you decide whether or not you should include them in your cooking:
Parts of the Mushroom
There are many small parts that make up a mushroom, but the main parts of a mushroom include the cap, the stalk or stem (also called a stipe), the hyphae (these often look like roots made out of spider webs), and the gills, which are located under the cap and sort of hidden from view unless turned upside down or until the cap is removed from the stem. The gills are the linear, papery rib structures on the mushroom, usually located on the underside of the cap.
Although most of the ones you’ll find at the store do, not all mushrooms have gills. Instead, some mushrooms, like porcini mushrooms, have pores that resemble sponges, while others, such as lion’s mane, have teeth or needles.
Here’s a photo of the spongy pores of a porcini mushroom:
What are the Functions of a Mushroom’s Gills?
The gills of a mushroom have two main functions, one being to maximize the surface area where the spores of the mushroom are produced, which allows the mushroom to produce an increased number of spores. Spores are the tiny reproductive cells of the mushroom that allow it to grow and repopulate. The spores are dropped from the gills and spread by wind currents and animals. The second purpose of the gills is structural: to help hold up the cap of the mushroom. Not all mushrooms have gills, but where present, these little ribs serve an important function in the growth and development of a mushroom.
Are the Gills of a Mushroom Poisonous?
The gills are not poisonous in any mushroom that is not a poisonous mushroom. In other words, the gills are not an inherently poisonous feature of the body of a mushroom and do not make a mushroom poisonous. They are, however, often a means of visually identifying a mushroom that is poisonous in the wild. When identifying mushrooms in the wild, most field guides will tell you to examine the gills as a way of identifying the mushroom type.
When dealing with mushrooms in the wild, people often identify a poisonous mushroom from an edible mushroom by checking the color of the gills. If a mushroom has white gills, it is likely that it is not one that is safe to eat. This is not true in all cases, however, as oyster mushrooms have white gills but are a type of edible mushroom. It is more so a general rule, as are most “rules” of identification when it comes to distinguishing poisonous mushrooms from edible ones. There is almost always an exception to every “rule” when it comes to mushroom identification.
Even so, this method of mushroom identification by checking the gills has unfortunately in some circles become conflated with the idea that the gills of a mushroom is poisonous in general, or the idea that a mushroom has gills means that it’s poisonous, neither of which are accurate.
Why Do Some Chefs Remove the Gills from Mushrooms?
Now that we’ve established that the gills are edible (given that the mushroom is safe to eat in the first place), you might be wondering why many chefs prefer to remove them from the mushroom when cooking. This is a personal preference that many choose simply for aesthetic reasons. Most edible mushrooms have gills that are brown or tan, and as a result, they can turn the rest of the food the same murky, dark color when used in cooking. Some people advise against using them because they will turn any stuffings, sauces, or salad dressings used with the mushrooms in the recipe black. Many find this discoloration unsightly and unappetizing and prefer to remove them from the rest of the mushroom for this reason.
Some chefs also remove the gills from their mushrooms as part of the cleaning process. Sometimes sand can hide in the tiny little spaces between the gills, so some choose to scrape them out in order to remove the possibility of any potential grittiness in their dish. Depending on the type of mushroom, it can be rather easy to clean out the gills or near impossible.
So, you can choose to remove the gills as part of the cleaning process, but as long as you are thoroughly cleaning the mushrooms (assuming it is possible), and don’t mind any potential discoloration of your food, it is completely safe to keep the gills attached to your mushrooms.
Some chefs will also remove the gills for a specific recipe because it makes the process easier in the end. For example, if you’re making stuffed portabello mushrooms, the gills will take up a little more space in the cap, so removing them is best if you want to have the maximum amount of space to fill them with other ingredients. When making stuffed mushrooms, many cooks will include removing the gills as part of the cleaning process.
Why Do Some Chefs Keep the Gills in the Mushroom When Cooking?
On the other hand, at the other end of the spectrum are the cooks who prefer to keep the gills in their recipes. These cooks believe that much of the delicious flavor of the mushroom is provided by the gills, so they wouldn’t dream of removing them as part of the preparation process. Many chefs also opt to leave the gills simply because they prefer to use every edible part of any fruit, vegetable, or mushroom and don’t want any part of it to go to waste.
Should I Remove the Gills from My Mushrooms When Cooking?
With all this information in mind, removing the gills from your cooking mushrooms is ultimately a matter of personal preference. If you do not want discolored, potentially unappetizing-looking food, then it would probably be best to remove the mushroom caps before adding them to your recipes.
If you are not concerned about the gills turning your food brown or black, the possibility of sand making an appearance in your dish, or if you just prefer to use every part of the mushroom in your cooking, you can opt to keep the gills. Remember that although it is common practice in many settings to remove the gills, it is still not uncommon in the slightest to eat the gills of a mushroom, and this part of the mushroom is just as edible as the rest of the fruiting body. So don’t worry about looking like a crazy person if you don’t care to remove the gills from your mushrooms. Either option is the right option. It ultimately just depends on what you want for your cooking!
How Do I Clean My Mushrooms?
Just like any product, mushrooms should be washed and cleaned before cooking and consuming them. You can clean your mushrooms by using a damp paper towel, or a mushroom brush (you can find one of these at the store) to wipe each mushroom one at a time, removing any dirt. If you don’t have time to individually wipe each one, you can lightly rinse the mushrooms with cool water and then pat them dry with a paper towel or a clean towel. It is best not to soak your mushrooms, this is because they are like little sponges and absorb water very easily, and mushrooms won’t brown nicely when cooked if they are full of water.
For mushrooms that come already sliced when you buy them, they will often say they’ve been washed already at the store, but if you see any dirt you may want to wash them again just to be safe. To clean pre-sliced mushrooms, you can put them in a colander and rinse them with cool water, and then pat them dry with paper towels or a clean towel.
Do Store-Bought Mushrooms Come with Gills?
Many store-bought mushrooms come with gills. The most common types of mushrooms bought in stores are white, cremini, portabello, and shiitake. White mushrooms usually have a small number of gills that are not normally removed, same with cremini mushrooms, which are a more mature form of white mushrooms. Portabello mushrooms are usually bigger and are more likely to have their gills removed when cooking with them, and many (but not all) recipes that call for portabello mushrooms will advise you to remove the gills. It is necessary to remove the stems from shiitake mushrooms, but the gills are usually left untouched in most recipes that call for them.
Keeping in mind the different types of mushrooms and the ways in which they are traditionally prepared for a dish, some recipes that call for a specific type of mushroom are more likely to call for gill-less mushrooms than others. Just remember that despite whatever the recipe says about mushroom gills and their removal, you can always leave them if that’s what you’d prefer.
How Do I Remove the Gills from a Mushroom?
Removing the gills from a mushroom is fairly simple, so don’t be intimidated if you’ve never done it before. In order to remove the gills from a mushroom, you should first trim out the stem using a paring knife. Once the stem is removed, you can gently scrape out the gills using the edge of a spoon. The gills should be fairly easy to remove without you having to use too much pressure.
Here’s a short video clip that shows exactly how the process of removing the gills should look:
Can I Still Use the Gills Once Removed from the Cap?
At this point, you might be wondering if you can still use your removed mushroom gills for something instead of tossing them in the trash. The answer is yes! If you are concerned about the gills of your portabello or another type of mushroom with dark gills turning your food brown but don’t like the idea of wasting food, have no fear–you can still use them for a separate purpose without them going to waste. After gently scraping them out of the cap, you can set them aside and use them to make a brown mushroom gravy. They can also be used along with any removed stems to make a stock for future recipes.
Mushrooms are a delicious and versatile food to use in the kitchen and have even become a popular meat substitute for many vegetarians/vegans. Mushrooms are also a nutritious food that can help keep you happy and healthy when implemented into your diet, as this healthy fungus contains antioxidants and vitamin D, among other benefits. It’s great knowing that you can use every part of the mushroom in your cooking if desired–so many delicious mushroom recipes await you! Will your dishes include gills or leave them out?