Enoki mushrooms are an unusual fungus with long skinny white stems and small rounded caps. Enoki mushrooms are choice edible mushrooms that are significantly used in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisine. Naturally low carb, vegan, and gluten free, the enoki mushroom can be added to any number of delicious recipes. Not to mention, their mild flavor and fresh, crunchy texture add a refreshing component to any dish!
These mushrooms are one of the rare species that grow during the winter months, with healthy specimens being found in the wild up until early spring. They can be white to light brown to golden brown in color and grow on rotting stumps, fallen logs, and standing dead or dying trees.
On standing trees, they are usually found growing in layered tiers similar to bracket fungi. However, unlike bracket fungi, enoki mushrooms have slender stems that extend outward from the dead or dying wood.
Wild enoki mushrooms and those commercially cultivated often look so different that it’s easy to think that they are two different species altogether. This is due to the large difference in natural growing environments (which include a lot of sunlight and uninhibited growth patterns) and commercial environments (dark, rich in carbon dioxide, with collars placed around stems to encourage stretching).
Other names for these fungi include:
- winter mushrooms
- golden needle mushrooms
- lily mushrooms
- velvet shank
- velvet foot
Read on to learn more about this delicious, nutritious, and versatile fungus.
Fast Facts about the Enoki Mushroom
- Wild enoki mushrooms are usually more colorful (ranging from white to tan to golden brown) and have varying cap sizes due to the sunshine they receive during the winter months. On the other hand, cultivated enoki mushrooms are grown in dark, controlled environments and have little variety in terms of color or size. Commercially grown enokis, which you’ll usually find in grocery stores, grow in uniformed clusters that are typically white in color with tiny round caps and long, slender stems.
- Caps on standing wood grow in tiers, and because of this, caps will be larger and rounder than those growing in vertical clusters on stumps. As a result, the caps won’t have as much room to expand on stumps or fallen logs and will eventually become crowded, lending to smaller, lopsided, and even squarish caps.
- Their roots are conjoined, with each individual fruiting body growing from the same common base. Unfortunately, this base is still attached when sold in grocery stores and will need to be cut off before cooking.
- Wild enoki mushroom stems are tough, while cultivated enoki mushrooms have tender, tasty stems due to their vastly different growth patterns.
- Enoki mushrooms are widespread in the wild and can be found throughout Britain, Ireland, mainland Europe, North America, Asia, and even North Africa.
- The genus name flammulina comes from the Latin words for “little flames” – referring to wild enoki mushrooms’ orange or amber caps. The epithet velutipes means “with velvet legs.”
How do I Identify Enoki Mushrooms?
Saprotrophic, which means they feed off dead organic matter. Can be found growing on stumps, fallen logs, and even dead or dying standing trees.
Rounded can be white, cream, yellow, brown, or golden brown in color.
The bottom of the stem is dark brown with a velvety texture, becoming lighter as it nears the cap.
Closely spaced white or cream gills that are attached to the stem.
Younger specimens are slimy or sticky when fresh, with older specimens drier but still somewhat sticky.
White. Safest and surest way to positively identify enoki from poisonous lookalikes.
Enoki mushrooms can be found in mid to late autumn and continue growing all the way through the early spring. They are one of the few wild mushrooms that flourish during the winter months.
Enoki mushrooms grow on dead or dying hardwood trees, such as oak, poplar, aspen, and beech.
Similar Species in the Genus Flammulina
This edible mushroom in the genus Flammulina is similar to the enoki mushroom but with slightly larger caps and thicker stems. They can be found on quaking aspen and other poplar trees.
Also edible, the most significant difference between this mushroom and the enoki mushroom is that the wild varieties have a much paler cap. They are found throughout Russia but are otherwise quite rare in the rest of the world.
This widespread edible mushroom grows all throughout the northern hemisphere. The color of their caps can range from pale to bright yellow.
This colorful wild edible mushroom comes with darker caps than standard enokis, ranging from ochre to brown with an orange or pink tinge. In North America, they are primarily restricted to Canada and are widely cultivated on mushroom farms.
There is some debate whether commercially grown enoki mushrooms are actually Flammulina velutipes. Some scientists believe that the enoki mushrooms found in grocery stores are, in fact, Flammulina filiformus.
Enoki Mushroom Lookalikes
One of the trickiest aspects of foraging for wild enoki mushrooms is that they bear a striking and almost identical resemblance to the poisonous species in the genus galerina.
Wild enoki mushrooms are among one of the many species known as LBMs – which stand for “little brown mushrooms.” Unfortunately, many LBMs are poisonous, which means any improper identification could have fatal consequences.
Deadly Galerina (Galerina marginata)
This poisonous mushroom appears almost identical to the edible enoki mushroom, so foraging wild enokis can be difficult.
Most mushrooms in the genus galerina are saprotrophic, feeding off dead or dying wood. Therefore, they grow during the same months and in the same environments as enoki mushrooms.
The deadly galerina mushroom grows either singularly or in clusters on dead wood. Unlike enoki mushrooms, they can sometimes be found growing from conifers – though they are more commonly found on dead hardwood trees.
While deadly galerina mushrooms have a similarly colored cap as enoki mushrooms, they aren’t as sticky or slimy in texture. The gills are yellowish brown to rusty brown, differing greatly from the white or cream gills of the enoki mushroom. A deadly galerina stem is not velvety, and typically has a ring near the stem’s apex.
The deadly galerina has a rusty brown spore print, which is the best way to identify it from the enoki if you aren’t one hundred percent sure.
Where can I Find Enoki Mushrooms?
Because of their popularity in Asian cuisine and their plethora of health benefits, you can typically find enoki mushrooms in Asian grocery stores and health food stores.
You will usually find these fungi on dead deciduous hardwood trees such as elm, beech, aspen, and oak in the wild.
Can I Cultivate Enoki Mushrooms?
Because of their popularity in cooking, enoki mushrooms are commercially cultivated throughout the world, mainly in Japan and North America.
Enoki Mushroom Health Benefits
Enoki mushrooms are high in nutrients, fat-free, low carb, and gluten-free. They are also a great source of fiber and high in vitamins such as niacin, thiamine, and pantothenic acid.
Like many edible mushrooms, enoki mushrooms are a great source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that help neutralize harmful free radicals, helping prevent cell damage and chronic conditions, such as cancer and heart disease.
While more research is needed, enoki mushrooms are believed to help slow cancer cell growth. Test tube studies have shown strong evidence, though these studies have not yet been conducted on humans.
How to Cook Enoki Mushrooms
Due to their mild, fruity flavor and crunchy texture, fresh enoki mushrooms are often used in soups, stir fries, hot pots, pasta, salads, and other dishes. In addition, they pair well with fresh ingredients.
Because of the versatility of this fungus, it can be difficult to choose the right recipe to showcase all its amazing flavors.
Enoki mushrooms are a great ingredient in meatless or vegan dishes. Their individual strands resemble noodles and offer a delicious, low carb, and gluten free alternative to ramen or soba. You could even bake them and add them to rice or even pasta dishes for a unique twist on Asian cuisine. They can be added as a garnish on soup, baked as an appetizer, and incorporated with tofu in meatless soups and dishes.
Another great way to use enoki mushrooms is to add them raw to soup, ramen, or hot pot and let the boiling broth cook them.
Enoki Mushroom Recipes
To cook evenly, enoki mushrooms only need to be cooked in a skillet over medium heat for about 2 minutes due to their thin and delicate fruit bodies.
Their savory flavor makes for a delicious side dish. Sauté in garlic and cook in a pan over medium high heat. Instead of garlic, you could also use peanut, canola, or sesame oil. Cook for 30 seconds, then add soy sauce and serve from a bowl or serving plate. Consider garnishing with sesame seeds and chopped green onions for an extra element.
Fresh enoki mushrooms are usually sold in plastic packaging, which is an objectively bad way to store mushrooms. Plastic packaging traps in moisture and speeds up decomposition and spoilage. Even if not cooking right away, remove the enoki mushrooms from their plastic packaging right away and store them in a paper bag in the refrigerator.