Are we supposed to wash mushrooms or not?

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Mushrooms are the food that most closely behaves like a sponge. If you’ve ever thrown them in a stir-fry, you know they soak up that sauce almost instantly. They behave the same way with water, and thus conventional wisdom cautioned against washing mushrooms before cooking with them, lest they get soggy and waterlogged.


Then came the contrarians. Serious Eats’ J. Kenji Lopez-Alt calculated that the mushrooms he washed and subsequently dried in a salad spinner absorbed only 2 percent of their total weight in water, hardly enough to ruin a recipe. The authors of Cook’s Illustrated’s Kitchen Smarts book also found no discernible difference in texture between mushrooms that had been quickly rinsed and those that had remained dry. They suggest rinsing the mushrooms but not letting them sit more than 15 minutes before adding them to a recipe.

What’s the final word? Rinsing and drying mushrooms and then using them quickly probably won’t ruin a recipe, but brushing them off with a cloth—no water—is adequate to clean them.

“The short answer is you don’t have to and you shouldn’t [wash mushrooms],” Lori Harrison, communications manager for the American Mushroom Institute tells The Takeout. “People think it’s dirt that’s on them, but it’s peat moss, and it’s all pasteurized. You’re not eating dirt if it happens to show up in your pan.”

The American Mushroom Institute’s official guidance says a quick rinse is okay, but you should never soak them.

You should also take into consideration what type of mushroom you’re working with, says chef Giuseppe Tentori of Chicago’s GT Prime, GT Fish & Oyster, and Boka Catering Group. Cultivated mushrooms, he tells me, are fine to cook with as-is, but wild mushrooms might require more cleaning.

“Portobello mushrooms you barely need to brush, but some black-footed mushrooms that are wild and grow in a sandy area... I cannot just brush them, I need to wash them multiple times to ensure the sand is completely rinsed off and is not grainy,” he says.


But for the majority of standard, grocery store-bought Portobellos or button or cremini mushrooms, just give ’em a swipe. That’s the advice I get from Yuli Arroyo of Buona Foods, a family-owned mushroom farm in Landenberg, Pennsylvania.

“What I’ve been hearing since I’ve been in the industry is that it’s easier if you use a wet cloth. The tissue of the mushroom is very delicate, so sometimes it’s easier if you tap off the excess dirt,” Arroyo tells me. “If you rinse them, people think it makes it cleaner but it’s really just absorbing the water and not washing it off.”


So, bottom line for most mushrooms: Drier is better.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.



So you start with the people who actually physically tested it, and then sum up with people citing the “facts” the first group disproved?

The mushrooms “soak up” water in minimal amounts, its mostly clinging to the surface. If this were a factor wild mushrooms would be a no go because they get rained on. And a lot of cultivated mushrooms would be too because they’re routinely misted or otherwise watered. The concern with the mushrooms being sopping wet, or holding too much water is you need to cook off more water to get them to brown. Which takes longer, and can changed the texture.

“The short answer is you don’t have to and you shouldn’t [wash mushrooms],” Lori Harrison, communications manager for the American Mushroom Institute tells The Takeout. “People think it’s dirt that’s on them, but it’s peat moss, and it’s all pasteurized. You’re not eating dirt if it happens to show up in your pan.”

The american Mushroom Institute is sort of selling you a line here. The growth medium isn’t peat moss. Though it may contain it. Its compost. Often made up of almost entirely of manure. Its pretty easy to look up recipes for the different mixes. Either for home growing or commercial mushroom farmers. But it is composted to the point where its basically dirt and pasteurized/sterilized because mushrooms may not grow on it. Or the wrong mushroom may grow on it otherwise. So its entirely safe to eat it by the handful if you want.

But that’s not why we’re washing it off. We’re washing it off because it tastes bad and has a gritty dirty texture because you are putting compost in your food. Stuff can have some sand/grit in it too and you definitely don’t want that in your food. So yes you have to clean them to avoid having that shit in your food. The growth medium used for button/crimini mushrooms (same species, different color) isn’t going to come off with a shake or a tap. Its very fine, tenacious and if it has any moisture at all (which it will if the shrooms are fresh) its going to cling to the shroom. Even a spray of water isn’t going to typically dislodge it all (wet paper towel fixes that).

Mushroom’s aren’t so delicate that they’ll bruise, or see their quality impacted by a spritz of water or a wipe with a wet cloth. If they were that delicate you couldn’t ship them. And the traditional mushroom brush would do terrible things to them.

Grocery store buttons/criminis and portobella mushrooms need to be cleaned if they’ve got medium stuck all over them. As do other cultivated mushrooms grown in soil/soil analogues. Otherwise its not necessary.

Mushrooms like shiitakes, oysters, king oysters, hen of the woods. That grow on wood, or wood chips typically don’t need to be cleaned. Though occasionally wild or grown out doors will have some stuff on them (I’ve grown a few that end up with bird shit on them, they get washed or tossed). Because they’ve got no contact with soil.

Wild mushrooms that grown on the ground need to be cleaned. They’re frequently loaded dirt grit and sand. And anything with exposed gills, or the web like texture of morels aggressively holds onto that grit in a way that’s difficult to dislodge. Even with a mushroom brush. You’re much better off washing some of these if it avoids sand in your teeth, but you might still need the brush. And this is the only thing you might need that brush for.