Prized for their rarity and forest-fresh flavor, the coveted matsutake mushroom represents the taste of the fall season in Japan.

What are matsutake mushrooms? 

Sometimes known as pine mushroom, matsutake is an edible mushroom that typically grows on forest floors underneath trees. It can be found in forests throughout North America, Europe, and East Asia, but is most widely recognized for its use in Japanese cuisine.

Due to the highly specific growing conditions of the mushrooms and the spread of pine-killing nematodes in Japanese forests, the price of matsutake has increased dramatically in the last 50 years. But this hasn’t brought down the popularity of the mushroom in Japan, where it remains a coveted delicacy and a must-have in the fall season.

Image Credit: Flickr user eekim ( CC BY 2.0 )

What do matsutake mushrooms taste like? 

Matsutake mushrooms are quite a divisive ingredient due to their powerful woodsy taste and aroma. The mushrooms have a distinct earthy flavor with a hint of spiciness and notes of pine. Their taste is further intensified by their heady scent, which is reminiscent of warm cinnamon and fresh cypress.

How to use matsutake mushrooms in your cooking

The rule of thumb when working with matsutake mushrooms is to take a light-handed approach as the mushrooms’ earthy flavor and spicy aroma can easily overpower other elements in a dish.

In Japan, matsutake mushrooms are often marinated in a simple combination of soy sauce, mirin, and sake then grilled or broiled. They can also be incorporated in chawanmushi, a savory egg custard. Another popular option is matsutake suimono, a seasonal soup of matsutake in dashi broth.

The mushrooms pair well with delicate meaty flavors such as chicken, fish, or seafood. You can serve matsutake mushrooms as a side dish to these proteins or incorporate them into your matsutake dish. For example, add the chopped mushrooms to a simple chicken soup or infuse your matsutake with seafood stock before cooking.

Bright grassy flavors are a great way to balance the earthiness of matsutake. Japanese matsutake dishes are typically garnished with green onions or mitsuba, a fresh-tasting Japanese herb. You can get a similar effect with parsley or cilantro.

Feature Image: Flickr user bkajino ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

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