The most expensive mushrooms in the world are rare and hard to cultivate. They are sensitive and not easy to mass-produce, therefore driving prices up for consumers.
If you’re a mushroom lover, you probably already know that they’re edible fungi. If not, the good news is that they’re highly nutritious, delicious, very much a part of haute cuisine. They are also a growing business opportunity for artisanal farmers and entrepreneurs around the world.
Mushrooms grow wild in habitats across the globe, can be cultivated by individuals, and are being produced by enterprising mushroom farmers in urban warehouses, isolated basements, caves, and under trees on forested acreage. The demand for “designer” mushrooms is, well, mushrooming! And some of them fetch very high prices.
Mushrooms are actually the “fruit” of fungi that thrive under certain specific conditions. They are fast-growing and adaptable and have been used in numerous ways by diverse cultures throughout history. Tens of thousands of varieties of fungi have been identified. But a relatively small number of edible mushrooms exist. In some ways, they are a “super” food, and modern science is quick to point out their benefits.
Mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants, minerals, and healthy vitamins. Some have significant amounts of potassium, iron, manganese, Vitamin D, B2, and B6. They are also low in calories and fat, high in fiber and protein.
Table of Contents
- Mushrooms: Interesting Creatures
- Choosing the Best Mushrooms
- Here are the world’s 12 most expensive mushrooms
Mushrooms: Interesting Creatures
In a sense, mushrooms are the ultimate organic foods, in the scientific sense of “living organisms” that interact in the environment with other organisms. Certain species of mushrooms play an essential role in the natural world because fungi and bacteria recycle the nutrients of dead or decaying matter. They “feed” on wood and leaves, and occasionally on insects, speeding the process of decomposition.
It’s a complicated, multi-phase process that requires the interaction of a host of variables. Others enhance plant growth by producing the spores that help perpetuate the fungus that in turn nourishes the soil and promotes plant growth. Light and moisture, temperature, oxygen and nitrogen levels, and other physical conditions must be just right for fungi to do their work.
Fungi exist in diverse forms and can live in water, soil, air, or on plant material. What we call mushrooms are just one step in the fungal lifecycle. Although most people consider mushrooms part of the plant world, scientists believe fungi are actually closely related to animals. In addition to their vital role in the environment, they “behave” differently based on where they exist.
Health Benefits and Medicinal Qualities
There is validity to the claim that mushrooms have health-giving benefits and medicinal value, including alleviating chronic pain and lowering cholesterol. Researchers continue to explore their benefits. Controlled studies confirm that some mushrooms can reduce some symptoms and that they may have an impact on the treatment and/or prevention of certain diseases.
Mushroom allergies are relatively rare, but anyone who is sensitive to mold is advised to approach mushrooms with caution. Symptoms can occur not only from ingestion but also from simple skin contact or by inhaling airborne spores of the fungus. Wild mushrooms have other hazards. Some are highly toxic to humans.
Others contain a substance that produces hallucinogenic or psychotropic effects. Certain strains have been used in religious ceremonies since ancient times. Foraging for mushrooms in the wild is not recommended for anyone who is not thoroughly trained.
Mushrooms are adaptable, readily available, and may be prepared in a wide variety of ways. They add flavor and enhance the taste and the appearance of other foods. Some have a pungent odor; others taste nutty, fruity, woody, or spicy. Most can be consumed raw, steamed, sauteed, fried, baked, stuffed, or grilled. Mushrooms are available commercially in many forms — fresh, dried, canned, frozen, and sometimes preserved in oil.
Choosing the Best Mushrooms
Mushrooms are not the “perfect food,” but they are good — and they’re good for you! An appreciation for mushrooms transcends cultures and borders, but not all mushrooms are equally prized across the globe.
The first commercial mushrooms were introduced in Paris restaurants in the mid-1600s, but it was not until later that actual mushroom cultivation began. It took until the early 20th century before Dutch growers developed highly effective methods of cultivation. Mushroom popularity grew followed, both in Europe and in the United States.
The standard white button mushroom, still known as the “Champignon,” or forest mushroom, is the favorite for gravy and sauces, as well as in stir-fry dishes and casseroles.
Even though they go by different names, the three most common varieties are all the same. The only difference between the well-known White Button and Cremini Mushrooms is the age. Think of the little white ones as babies that turn a darker tan or light brown as they age and grow larger. They are sometimes also called Baby Bellas.
When Cremini Mushrooms are fully grown –they can grow to have a cap that’s five inches or more in diameter — they are known as Portabella Mushrooms. These big ones are typically dark brown with a smooth cap and dark gills on the underside. All have a firm texture, and the older Cremini have a hearty, meaty flavor.
Rare and expensive mushrooms are distinctive. There are some unique varieties and some that are widely known.
Here are the world’s 12 most expensive mushrooms
Let’s take a look at the most expensive mushrooms and how they are produced around the world. We’ve included truffles in the list as they are mostly the same, the main differences being the size and where they grow.
1. Yartsa Gunbu
The story behind these mushrooms is not very appetizing, but Tibetan men believe ancient texts which identify the fungus as an aphrodesiac. Being able to afford it, and to eat it even in very small amounts, is considered a status symbol.
Price: The equivalent of about $2,000 an ounce!
This mushroom forms under the soil, and is long and skinny, with an appearance something like a knobby carrot. The parasitic fungus infects the bodies of ghost moth caterpillars and, in effect, eats its host. The caterpillars die slowly, “standing” upright in the dirt.
The living fungus pokes through the host caterpillar head in the spring to reach the surface. Throughout the Himalayas, in altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 meters (about 9,000 to 16,000 feet), the mushrooms can then easily be harvested. Enough said!
2. European White Truffle
Truffles grow underground, usually near the base of oak trees, and are relatively commonplace throughout Europe. Still, they are challenging to harvest, even with the help of truffle-sniffing female pigs or trained truffle dogs. The animals can detect the strong odor of the ripe mushroom.
Price: Usually $1,500 to $4,000 per pound, depending on the harvest, and the market.
Truffles have traditionally been prized in Europe and are among the rarest food products on earth. The white truffle has so far resisted efforts at cultivation, and that’s why the price is consistently high. Interestingly, though, prices for all truffles are lower than they were even two years ago, partially because other European countries are harvesting them in greater numbers.
In addition, the more familiar black truffle is being cultivated in more locations and is more readily available to chefs and mushroom lovers in other countries. The Italian white Alba, or tuber magnatum pico, still holds the crown for the most expensive well-known mushroom.
3. Matsutake Mushrooms
The Japanese Matsutake is an easily-recognizable smallish, pale mushroom, with a well-formed cap and short stem. It has distinctive gills on the underside of the cap, and it’s appreciated for its spicy, slightly fruity flavor and aroma.
Price: $1,000 to $2,000 per pound
The Matsutake Mushroom has a spicy, somewhat fruity flavor and aroma. Typically it grows under red pine trees in the Tamba region of Japan, near Kyoto. It has traditionally been associated with the beginning of autumn and is considered a Japanese delicacy. However, its habitat is shrinking because red pine forests have been devastated by insects. Cultivation methods have not proved successful for this mushroom. Currently, it is considered to be an endangered species. Because of its rarity, the price is extremely high.
4. Black Truffles
Because they are so highly prized in Europe, and because they are challenging to harvest, a kind of “black market” for truffles continues to exist in some areas. Trained dogs have largely replaced the female pigs traditionally used to root out truffles. It seems the pigs devoured too many of the pricey mushrooms when digging them up!
Price: Wholesale prices vary from $800 to $900 a pound.
The French Black Perigord, tuber melanosporum, is still primarily a European product, harvested in the traditional way with the help of trained animals. However, because of high demand and long shipping delays, commercial cultivation has been initiated in Australia and the United States.
Tennessee, Kentucky, California, and Oregon producers have met with some success, but it is a costly business. In 2017, more than 425 tons of truffles, fresh, dried, and canned, were imported in the United States, an increase of 75% from just seven years earlier, according to USDA statistics.
The primary market is for chefs and restaurants. Still, truffles are occasionally available at local markets in the states where they are harvested, just as they are in Europe during the season. New hot markets include Slovenia and Croatia, where truffles and truffle products are highly popular.
These expensive mushrooms almost like little trolls standing at attention on a forest floor. With a sturdy stem and a ruffled, conical “head,” they also can look slightly comical, even when cooked and served with other foods.
Price: $254 a pound dried; between $30 and 90 a pound fresh.
Dried Morels actually fetch more per pound than they command when fresh. The dried ones are much lighter. The ruffled cone-shaped head of the Morel is spongy. The mushroom is found in the wild only from March through May. With a nutty flavor that is similar to Shiitake Mushrooms, they have a more intense, unique taste. Because they are typically small, they are served as a sort of garnish, or with an accompanying sauce.
Fresh Morels are not easily cultivated and are not readily available fresh. They can easily be foraged because of their distinctive appearance, but a better alternative is to buy dried Morels for home use.
A golden Chanterelle almost looks flower-like when it’s spotted on a mossy forest floor. They grow in clusters during hot, humid days following heavy rainfall. Unlike other mushrooms, they can make people sick if not fully cooked.
Price: About $225 a pound, dried.
Chanterelles are easy to identify, with smooth caps and ridges that run down each stem. They are typically found in central Europe and Ukraine, where beech trees coexist with pines. Chanterelles have a light, fruity scent, with an almost spicy flavor. The golden variety is highly sought, but other colors are equally tasty. They range from orange and yellow to white.
They appear in late spring, but only develop under sauna-like conditions, so are available only until early autumn.
7. Enoki Mushrooms
With long stems and tiny caps, these little clumps of fungi “fruit” are among the most interesting edible mushrooms. They are fun to use in many dishes and have a mild flavor, somewhat reminiscent of fresh white grape or mild radish.
Price: $108.00 a pound or 25-pound packages for $388.75 by mail order.
One of the more distinctive varieties, Enoki Mushrooms call to mind visions of miniature cauliflower, or glossy bean sprouts with little white button ends. They have significant nutritional content, with high percentages of niacin and folate, as well as thiamin, potassium, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, and riboflavin.
Enoki are easy to use in stir-fry dishes and soups; the attached ends should be cut off to separate individual strands. Common in Asian cooking, they typically retain their crunch, even when cooked.
8. Porcini Mushrooms
The highly prized Boletus Edulis, or “King Bolete,” is found in hardwood forests, typically on the ground among hemlock, spruce chestnut, and pine trees. The Italian word for them translates to “piglets.”
Price: Between $55 and $70 a pound, sliced and dried.
Porcinis — there are several different species — they are not easily cultivated, and they don’t live everywhere, so they are sometimes difficult to find. Known for their oversized caps, sometimes up to 10 inches in diameter, they also have sturdy, fat stems, and they look heavy. When mature, they can weigh up to a few pounds.
They also have a hearty, nutty flavor that is distinctive and can be used in many different dishes. Famously found in Italy, they also grow in other parts of Europe, North America, and in some other countries.
9. Lion’s Mane
Although it has a sprawling, undefined shape with no cap and no stem, Lion’s Mane has the look of a round balloon with long, shaggy “hair” or spines. It is sometimes known as a pompon or Bearded Tooth Mushroom.
Price: Varies widely, from about $8 to $36 a pound.
One of the most other-worldly edible mushrooms, the Lion’s Mane, Hericium erinaceusm, has characteristic shaggy spines that give it a furry appearance. It’s found from late summer to early fall in North America, Europe, and Asia on dead or dying logs. It also is cultivated fairly easily in controlled environments. When young, it is white, but can age to a yellow or tan hue.
Lion’s mane was known for its medicinal qualities before it was identified as a particularly interesting edible mushroom. The antioxidant content is exceptionally high, and It is currently studied for its possible ability to regenerate nerve tissue. The flavor and texture are compared to crab or lobster.
10. Shiitake Mushrooms
Considered a specialty variety, these are a staple of Asian cooking, but their popularity has now spread to Western countries. They are tan or brown, with caps that are typically from two to four inches in size.
Price: From $12 to about $24 per pound, depending on location.
There are several different varieties of Shiitake, and each has a slightly different texture and taste. The shiitake is sometimes considered a medicinal mushroom, and it is used both fresh and dried in traditional Japanese and Chinese cuisine, and throughout East Asia. Touted for antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties,
Shiitake Mushrooms have a meaty, chewy texture and a pleasing taste that goes well with other ingredients. It is a staple of traditional Japanese cuisine. It is available fresh or dried in many parts of the world.
11. Oyster Mushrooms
Typically large, pale grey or pearl white, Oyster Mushrooms are also sometimes called Abalone Mushrooms. They have fluted gills on the underside and a firm fairly short stem. Also available in blue, pink, elm and gold, they have an oddly alien look.
Price: Retail prices range from about $5 to $15 a pound
Oyster Mushrooms have been sprouting up at Farmer’s Markets throughout the nation, and are used in recipes by innovative chefs, particularly in their exotic colors. They are best when used almost immediately after harvesting, but they will last several days, and they are easily dried. Easy to cultivate, they are one of the best mushroom varieties for novices, and kits for home sprouting are available in large cities or through mail-order companies.
Oyster Mushrooms have a delicate, if alien appearance, with a meaty texture and interesting flavor. Traditional in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cooking, they are native to forest habitats in Siberian Asia, Northern Europe, and in much of the United States.
12. Kalahari Truffles
Grown in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia, and known locally as African potatoes, these are actually quite cheap, but they still have some of the mystique of their higher-priced “cousins.”
Price: Only about $4 for a pound
These truffles are lighter brown and have a milder scent and taste than either black or white truffles. In addition, they flourish in the sandy landscape and are easily discovered just by looking for cracks in the sand. There’s no need for pigs or dogs; just a stick to pry them out of the ground in the vicinity of Camelthorn trees. They can be eaten raw, boiled with spices as a side dish, or used in creative ways to flavor meats and vegetables.
During the season, they are widely available at roadside stands and open markets as well as on restaurant menus. Truffle butter is full of distinctive flavor, and there is one restaurant in the country’s capital city that features Kalahari Truffle ice cream!