The morel mushroom is a highly prized species of edible mushrooms commonly found in North America. Each year, mushroom hunters wait in suspense for the first sighting of the elusive morel mushroom.
Morels are known for their rich taste, elusive nature, and high price! For this reason, many hunters scavenge the forest floors during the spring months solely for the purpose of stumbling upon a gold-mine of morels.
This article will serve as a complete guide to morel mushrooms; covering topics such as taxonomy, identification, common environments and seasons, growing tips, delicious recipes, and places to buy this beautiful mushroom from!
The scientific term for morels is Morchella. Morchella is a genus of edible sac fungi with a distinct honeycomb type appearance.
There is continual disagreement among taxonomists specifically on the number of varying species within the Morchella genus. Some scientist only recognize 3 different species of morels while others will claim there are over seventy!
The disagreement stems from the wide range of environments true morels reside in. Different forms of the morchella genus continual to be discovered in various parts of the world. The variable nature of morchella adds to the confusion among the scientific community.
One thing we can agree on, is there seems to be many different species of morels which can be found all around the world. This is great news for mushroom fanatics!
In order to identify true morels from false morel mushrooms we must first understand the common features and main categories of morchella.
As the name suggests, this form of morchella has a yellow tinged cap. This species is also known as ‘common morels’ due to being one of the most common forms you will stumble upon.
Once again, as the name suggest, these mushrooms have a dark tinged cap that is blackish-brown. The have a similar shape to that of the yellow morel but tend to reside in different locations. Black morels are commonly found in areas with decaying or burnt plant matter.
The cap of the half-free morel is much higher on the stem and is much smaller than its counterparts. This species generally has a pale yellow color and its cap has more shallow ridges.
This morel species is gray in color and has shallow ridges on its cap. The defining feature of the gray morel is the small hairs at the base of their stems, which explains its alternative name, the fuzzy footed morel.
The above 4 species are only a taste of the diversity of morel mushrooms. However, these are the most likely species you will come across if you reside in North America.
For the most part, morels tend to be secluded from other mushrooms. However, there are several species of false morel mushrooms that can be poisonous if misidentified and consumed!
How To Spot Fake Morels
The following list contains some general characteristics to look for to distinguish a true morel from a morel look-alike. Remember, there is always a risk when eating any wild mushroom! When in doubt, chuck it out.
Features to look for
- If the caps of the mushroom are excessively wavy and or lumped this could be a sign of a fake species of morels
- The cap of the mushroom seems to be irregular and smushed
- There is a gap between the cap and the stem; meaning the two are not attached
- If the inside is not hollow and has hair-like fibers
These are the main qualities to look for when identifying true morels. Click the following link to get a more in-depth article of the false morel mushroom species.
As stated earlier, there is a wide range of environments the morchella genus can exist. In this section we’ll look at the common areas where morels are spotted.
Generally, morel mushrooms exists in moist areas. For this reason, they tend to grow in mild climates in the mid to northern areas of the globe. It is unlikely you will find morels growing in a arid location such as Arizona, for instance.
The growing season for the most common morels tends to be in early spring time when the weather is moist and moderate in temperature. Yet, the morchella species has been known to grow in summer, autumn, and even winter in some areas!
Seasoned morel mushroom hunters know a few specific areas to look for where morel tend to thrive. Always be on the look-out for areas where the ground is overturned and disrupted. This happens often around fallen trees and river beds. Secondly, they enjoy growing in more large grain soils.
Morchella genus have a symbiotic relationship with trees and are commonly found growing on or at the base of apple trees, tulip, oak, and pine trees.
Lastly, make sure to explore areas that have recently experienced forest fires as these locations will contains tons of burnt plant matter that the morel species thrive on!
Growing Morel Mushrooms
Growing any form of morchella species is no easy feat! Many people have tried and failed miserably due to the elusive nature of this mushroom.
Yet, it isn’t always a possibility to find morels nor is it always reasonable to buy morels due to their high price. For those mushroom die-hards, you may have to resort to growing your own either indoors or outdoors.
There are plenty of kits you can buy online for growing morel mushrooms. However, these mushrooms are very fickle and you should not expect to see too much results in under a year’s time.
Once a flower bed has been inoculated with spores, the spores begin to spread underground and multiply. Your harvest will increase over the years as the spores continue to compound.
There are several people who have experienced massive success growing their own morel mushrooms and I highly suggest you follow the previous link to dive into their strategies further.
Recipes that Use Morel Mushrooms
Any recipe that includes mushrooms will benefit from using morels. As mentioned, this genus is absolutely rich in flavor!
You will often see people sauteing morel mushrooms in a butter and vegetable based sauce. Often times, people will cover the mushrooms with breadcrumbs and proceed to place them in a deep fryer.
There are tons of morel mushroom recipes online for you to check out. I suggest you first start with the basics and proceed to make more complex meals.
Where to Buy True Morels?
Finding a reliable place to buy morels from can often times be tricky. Depending on where you reside, there may be farmers markets that sell these. You can also look in the local supermarkets and or whole foods. It will take some trial and error to find a physical location that sells these.
Your second option is to contact hunters in your area. Use the power of social media! Look for groups, forums, Facebook pages, meetups in your area with mushroom fanatics.
If all else fails, you can buy morel mushrooms online either on amazon or from eCommerce stores. We suggest you check out http://www.earthy.com/Fresh-Wild-Morel-Mushrooms-from-Earthy-Delights.aspx for quality mushroom products
No matter which way you decide to buy morels, make sure that the seller has a forager’s license and has liability insurance.
We have just skimmed the surface of this renown mushroom genus. There is much more to learn for us as hunters and consumers as well as the scientific community. I highly suggest you check out the other articles in the morel category of this site to get more in-depth explanations. I hope everyone found this article to be useful and would love to hear any comments you guys might have in the comment section below!