What Are Charcoal Burner Mushrooms (Russula cyanoxantha)?


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Charcoal burners are a very common species of mushroom that can be found around the world, but how do you identify Russula cyanoxantha, and is it edible?

Yes, the charcoal burner mushroom is edible, and it can be identified by its appearance, spore print, taste, and location.

Let’s dive into what makes the charcoal burner unique and some of the popular ways it is used in cooking.

How Does The Charcoal Burner Get Its Name?

The currently accepted scientific name for charcoal burner is Russula cyanoxantha. Russula’s genus roughly translates to red, commonly known as the brittlegill mushroom family. The species name comes from the Latin words for blue (cyan) and yellow (xantha). This name references some of the many colours that the charcoal burner can be.

The charcoal burner scientific name can be confusing sometimes because it is synonymous with other names such as Russula furcata and Russula cutefracta, among many others.

What Does The Charcoal Burner Mushroom Look Like?

Russula cyanoxantha has distinct characteristics that differentiate this widely distributed mushroom from others.


The cap is a typical convex shape, with a slight central depression at the top. The cap color can vary considerably with hues that include purple, green, brown, gray, or yellow. Many brittle gills have red caps, which makes this one easy to discern.

If you happen to stumble upon this mushroom during a rainstorm it will have an oily or greasy shine to it.


The white gills differ from most other Russula species in that the gills simply bend instead of break when you run your finger gently along with them. Normally, Russula spp. can be found in the wild with broken gill fragments.


The round stem is generally firm to the touch. Most of the time it appears white, but it can appear purple, among other colors. Iron salts can be used to discern the charcoal burner from other Russulas by rubbing them on the stem. Most Russula spp. will turn salmon colored while Russula cyanoxantha will turn green.


The caps of immature specimens are usually closer to 5cm in diameter, though they can grow up to 15cm across. The stem can range from 1.5-3cm wide and 5-10cm tall.


The flesh is white throughout the mushroom, except for underneath the cap skin where it can appear a purple or reddish color.

Other Ways To Identify Charcoal Burners

Though the majority of the characteristics that distinguish Russula cyanoxantha from others can be seen with the naked eye, they are not the only way to confirm the identity of this mushroom.

Check The Spores

If you happen to have a microscope handy, you can examine the spores to ensure that you indeed have Russula cyanoxantha in your possession. The spores will look oval shaped with tiny bumps along the surface.

Don’t have a microscope handy? You can still examine the spores by placing a cap on a dark piece of paper or foil overnight, yo; you notice that it leaves behind a white spore print.

Give It A Taste

Russula cyanoxantha has a somewhat nutty taste that can be easily added to enhance most recipes, though you should be careful when tasting a wild specimen unless you have an expert with you. This mild taste and crumbly texture is what makes it so popular to eat.

Finding Charcoal Burners

With such wide distribution over so many continents, it can be hard to narrow down where exactly charcoal burners like to grow. Luckily, they prefer certain habitats that will let you know whether or not they are present.


Russula cyanoxantha thrives in broadleaf woodland areas of deciduous trees such as beech and oak. Sometimes it can also be found in coniferous forests near spruce trees.

Best Season To Hunt

These fungi are usually present from the late spring into mid-fall, between May and November, but their numbers usually peak in the summer. July through September is the optimal time to find these mushrooms.

Common Look Alikes

There are many types of similar species out there and some bear a resemblance to the charcoal burner that can taste quite different. Some look alikes can even be poisonous.

Russula xerampelina

Also known as shrimp mushrooms or crab brittle gills, this similar fungus grows in many of the same places as Russula cyanoxantha. The range of cap colors and sizes coincides with that of the charcoal burner, but a dead giveaway between the two is their smell.

If you haven’t already guessed, shrimp mushrooms have a distinctive fishy odor and a taste test will confirm the same. Though the shrimp mushroom isn’t dangerous to eat, it will provide a much different flavor than the charcoal burner if you plan on cooking or eating it.

Amanita phalloides

This mushroom is known as the death cap, and rightfully so. It is a part of the Amanita family which is toxic, causing hallucinations and even death. A particularly green or yellow hued charcoal burner can resemble this toxic species which should under no means be consumed.

If you are unsure about the type of mushroom, err on the side of caution and contact a mycological expert before you consider eating them.

Popular Recipes

The charcoal burner is one of the most popular culinary mushrooms in the US and Europe, and it is used in a wide variety of different recipes for its nutty taste and crumbly texture. The caps, gills, and stems are all used in cooking.

In Europe they are traditionally fried and then combined with meat dishes and pasta. In the US they are typically grilled and then added to meat dishes with sauces like bleu cheese.


The charcoal burner is a fascinating fungus with many distinctive characteristics and is undeniably popular to hunt and eat. Now you can accurately identify and add them to your favorite recipe to add some flavor to your next meal.