A Study of Cultural Bias in Field Guide Determinations of Mushroom Edibility Using the Iconic Mushroom, Amanita muscaria , as an Example. Mushroom field guides teach identification skills as well as provide information on the edible or toxic qualities of each species of wild mushroom. As such they function as modern-day village elders for an increasingly urban, nature-ignorant population. This paper identifies underlying cultural bias in the determination of mushroom edibility in English-language field guides, using the iconic mushroom, Amanita muscaria, as an example. We explore a selection of ethnographic and medical texts that report the use of A. muscaria as a food, and we accept parboiling as a safe method of detoxifying it for the dinner table. Mushroom field guides, however, almost universally label the mushroom as poisonous. We discuss the cultural underpinnings and literary form of mushroom field guides and demonstrate that they work within a mostly closed intellectual system that ironically shares many of the same limitations of cultural bias found in traditional folk cultures, but with the pretense of being modern and scientific.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Annals of Horticulture. 1848. Annals of Horticulture and Dear-Book of Information on Practical Gardening. Charles Cox, London.
Arora, D. 1979. Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi of the Central California Coast. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley.
———. 1986. Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi. 2nd ed. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley.
———. 1991. All that the Rain Promises and More...: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley.
———. 2000. Funghi dal Mondo. Bollettino del Gruppo Micologico G. Bresadola Trento 43:38–40.
Atkinson, G. F. 1900. Mushrooms, Edible, Poisonous, etc. Andrus and Church, Ithaca, New York.
Badham, C. D. 1863. A Treatise on the Esculent Funguses of England, edited by F. Currey. Lovell Reeve and Company, London.
Benedict, A. L. 1908. Golden rules of dietetics; the general principles and empiric knowledge of human nutrition; analytic tables of foodstuffs; diet lists and rules for infant feeding and for feeding in various diseases. C. V. Mosby, St. Louis.
Benedict, R. G. 1972. Mushroom Toxins Other Than Amanita. Pages 281–320 in S. Kadis, A. Ciegler, and S. J. Ajl, eds., Microbial Toxins. Vol. 8. Academic Press, New York.
Benjamin, D. R. 1995. Mushrooms: Poisons and Panaceas—A Handbook for Naturalists, Mycologists, and Physicians. W. H. Freeman, New York.
Bessette, A. E., and W. Sundberg 1987. Mushrooms: A Quick Reference Guide to Mushrooms of North America. Macmillan, New York.
———, A. R. Bessette, and D. W. Fischer. 1997. Mushrooms of Northeastern North America. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York.
Bessette, A. R., A. E. Bessette, and W. J. Neill. 2001. Mushrooms of Cape Cod and the National Seashore. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York.
Bon, M. 1987. The Mushrooms and Toadstools of Britain and Northwestern Europe. Hodder and Stoughton, London.
Boom, M. 2005. Re: San Francisco Chronicle Magazine article. www.tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/mssf/messages/9038 (17 March 2008).
Bowden, K., and A. C. Drysdale. 1965. A Novel Constituent of Amanita muscaria. Tetrahedron Letters 612:727–728.
Briggs, R. 1792. The New Art of Cookery... Being a Complete Guide to All Housekeepers, etc. W. Spotswood, Philadelphia.
Brill, S. 2002. The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook. Harvard Common Press, Boston.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 2005. Food Safety Measures for Fiddleheads http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/concen/specif/fidcroe.shtml (15 July 2007).
Carter, W. S. 1901. The Physiological Action of Three Poisonous Toadstools—Amanita Muscaria, Amanita Verna or Bulbosa, and Amanita Phalloides. American Journal of Physiology 5:158–174.
Cetto, B. 1994. I Funghi dal Vero. Vol. 1. Arti Grafiche Saturna, Trento, Italy.
Christison, R. 1829. A Treatise on Poisons in Relation to Medical Jurisprudence, Physiology and the Practice of Physic. A. and C. Black, Edinburgh.
Cooke, M. C. 1880. Fungi: Their Nature and Uses. D. Appleton and Company, New York.
Cortin, B. 1942. Svampplockarens Handbok. Saxon and Lindström, Stockholm.
Coville, F. V. 1898. Observations on Recent Cases of Mushroom Poisoning in the District of Columbia. United States Department of Agriculture, Division of Botany, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
Curtis, W. 1777–1798. Flora Londinensis. A non-paginated volume printed for and sold by the author; and B. White, bookseller, London.
Douglass, B. 1917a. Mushroom Poisoning. Torreya 1710:171–175.
———. 1917b. Mushroom Poisoning (cont.). Torreya 1712:207–221.
Erowid. 2008. http://www.erowid.org/plants/amanitas/amanitas.shtml (4 February 2008).
Eugster, C. H., G. F. R. Müller, and R. Good. 1965. Active Principles from Amanita muscaria: Ibotenic Acid and Muscazone. Tetrahedron Letters 623:1813–1815.
Fergus, C. L., and C. Fergus. 2003. Common Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of the Northeast. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
Fischer, D. W., and A. Bessette. 1992. Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide. University of Texas, Austin.
Galli, R. 1996. I Boleti. Edinatura, Milan.
Geml, J., G. A. Laursen, K. O’Neill, H. C. Nusbaum, and D. L. Taylor. 2006. Beringian Origins and Cryptic Speciation Events in the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria). Molecular Ecology 151:225–239.
Gerard, M. 1852. On the Deprivation of the Noxious Powers of Poisonous Mushrooms. The British and Foreign Medico-chirurgical Review 10:279–280.
Gerard, M. 1863. A simple means of removing the poisonous properties of suspicious mushrooms. The Half-yearly Abstract of the Medical Sciences: being a digest of British and Continental medicine, and of the progress of medicine and the collateral sciences 37:15–16.
Ghirardini, M., M. Carli, N. Del Vecchio, A. Rovati, O. Cova, F. Valigi, G. Agnetti, M. Macconi, D. Adamo, M. Traina, F. Laudini, I. Marcheselli, N. Caruso, T. Gedda, F. Donati, A. Marzadro, P. Russi, C. Spaggiari, M. Bianco, R. Binda, E. Barattieri, A. Tognacci, M. Girardo, L. Vaschetti, P. Caprino, E. Sesti, G. Andreozzi, E. Coletto, G. Belzer, and A. Pieroni. 2007. The Importance of a Taste. A Comparative Study on Wild Food Plant Consumption in Twenty-One Local Communities in Italy. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 3:1.
Gibson, W. H. 1899. Our edible toadstools and mushrooms and how to distinguish them; a selection of thirty native food varieties, easily recognizable by their marked individualities, with simple rules for the identification of poisonous species. Harper and Brothers, New York.
Glasse, H. 1747. The Art of Cookery. 2nd ed. Printed for the Author, London.
Glick, P. 1979. The Mushroom Trail Guide. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York.
Grande, A. D., R. Paradiso, S. Amico, G. Fulco, B. Fantauzza, and P. Noto. 2004. Anticholinergic Toxicity Associated with Lupin Seed Ingestion: Case Report. European Journal of Emergency Medicine 11:119–120.
Greville, R. K. 1823. Scottish Cryptogamic Flora. Edinburgh.
Groves, J. W. 1962. Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of Canada. Canada Department of Agriculture, Ottawa.
Guild, B. 1977. The Alaskan Mushroom Hunter’s Guide. Alaska Northwest Publishing, Anchorage.
Guissou, K. M. L., A. M. Lykke, P. Sankara, and S. Guinko. 2008. Declining Wild Mushroom Recognition and Usage in Burkina Faso. Economic Botany 62(3).
Güssow, H. T., and W. S. Odell. 1927. Mushrooms and Toadstools: An Account of the More Common Edible and Poisonous Fungi of Canada. Ministry of Agriculture, Ottawa.
Hagara, L. 1987. Atlas Húb. Vydavatel’stvo Osveta, Martin, Slovakia.
Hall, I. R., S. L. Stephenson, P. K. Buchanan, W. Yun, and A. L. J. Cole. 2003. Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of the World. Timber Press, Portland.
Hanaoka, K., K. Yosida, M. Tamano, T. Kuroiwa, T. Kaise, and S. Maeda. 2001. Arsenic in the Prepared Edible Brown Alga Hijiki, Hijikia fusiforme. Applied Organometallic Chemistry 156:561–565.
Hard, M. E. 1908. The Mushroom: Edible and Otherwise, Its Habitat and Its Time of Growth. Mushroom Publishing Company, Columbus, Ohio.
Hay, W. D. 1887. An Elementary Text-book of British Fungi. S. Sonnenschein, Lowrey, London.
Heilmann-Clausen, J., A. Verbeken, and J. Vesterholt. 1998. The Genus Lactarius (Fungi of Northern Europe, Vol. 2). Danish Mycological Society, Copenhagen.
Heim, R. 1963. Les Champignons, Toxiques et Hallucinogenes. Editions N. Boubee, Paris.
Hongo, T. and M. Izawa. 1994. Mushrooms. Yama-kei, Tokyo. In Japanese.
Ichikawa, S., M. Kamoshida, K. Hanoaka, M. Hamano, T. Matitani, and T. Kaise. 2006. Decrease of Arsenic in Edible Brown Algae Hijikia fusiforme by the Cooking Process. Applied Organometallic Chemistry 209:585–590.
Imazeki, R., Y. Otani, and T. Hongo. 1988. Fungi of Japan. Yama-kei, Tokyo. In Japanese.
Jacquat, C., and G. Bertossa. 1990. Plants from the Markets of Thailand. Editions Duang Kamol, Bangkok, Thailand.
Jordan, E. O. 1917. Food Poisoning. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Jordan, P., and S. Wheeler. 1995. The Ultimate Mushroom Book. Smithmark, New York.
Kauffman, C. H. 1918. The Agaricaceae of Michigan. Michigan Geological and Biological Survey, 5:26. (Reprinted 1971 by Dover Publications, New York, as the Gilled Mushrooms [Agaricaceae] of Michigan and the Great Lakes Region.)
Kawai, M., A. Okiyama, and Y. Ueda. 2002. Taste Enhancements between Various Amino Acids and IMP. Chemical Senses 27:739–745.
Krieger, L. C. 1936. The Mushroom Handbook. Macmillan, New York. (Reprinted in 1967 by Dover Publications, New York).
Kuo, K. 2007. 100 Edible Mushrooms. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Lamarck, J. B. and P. Augustin. 1815. Flore française, ou, Descriptions succinctes de toutes les plantes qui croissent naturellement en France: disposées selon une nouvelle méthode d’analyse, et précédées par un exposé des principes élémentaires de la botanique. Desray, Paris
Lampe, K. F. 1979. Toxic Fungi. Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology 19:85–104.
Letcher, A. 2007. Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom. Ecco, New York.
Lincoff, G. 1981. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. Chanticleer Press, Knopf, New York.
———, and D. H. Mitchel. 1977. Toxic and Hallucinogenic Mushroom Poisoning: A Handbook for Physicians and Mushroom Hunters. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York.
Lincoln, D. A. 1884. Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book. Roberts Brothers, Boston.
Lindley, J. 1836. A Natural System of Botany, or, A systematic view of the organization, natural affinities, and geographical distribution, of the whole vegetable kingdom: together with the uses of the most important species in medicine, the arts, and rural or domestic economy. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, London.
Marshall, N. L. 1905. The Mushroom Book. A Popular Guide to the Identification and Study of Our Commoner Fungi, with Special Emphasis on the Edible Varieties. Doubleday, Page and Company, New York.
May, R. 1660. The Accomplisht Cook, or, the Art and Mystery of Cookery. Reprinted 1994, Prospect Books, Totnes.
McDonald, A. 1978. The Abuse of Drug Terminology. In B. Rumack and E. Salzman, eds., Mushroom Poisoning: Diagnosis and Treatment. CRC Press, West Palm Beach, Florida.
McIlvaine, C. and R. K. Macadam. 1902. One Thousand American Fungi. Bowen-Merrill, Indianapolis. (Reprinted in1973 by Dover Publications, New York).
McKenny, M., and D. E. Stuntz. 1971. The Savory Wild Mushroom. University of Washington Press, Seattle.
———, D. Stuntz, and J. Ammirati. 1987. The New Savory Wild Mushroom. University of Washington, Seattle.
McKnight, K. 1987. A Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America. (The Peterson Field Guide Series: 34). Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
Michelot, D., and L. M. Melendez-Howell. 2003. Amanita muscaria: Chemistry, Biology, Toxicology, and Ethnomycology. Mycological Research 107:131–146.
Miller, O. K. 1972. Mushrooms of North America. Dutton, New York.
———, and H. Miller. 2006. North American Mushrooms: A Field Guide to Edible and Inedible Fungi. Falcon Guides, Guilford, Connecticut.
Millman, L., and T. Haff. 2004. Notes on the Ingestion of Amanita muscaria. Mushroom: The Journal of Wild Mushrooming 223:55.
Mitchel, D. H. 1980. Amanita Mushroom Poisoning. Annual Review of Medicine 31:51–57.
Oda T., C. Tanaka, and M. Tsuda. 2004. Molecular Phylogeny and Biogeography of the Widely Distributed Amanita Species, A. muscaria and A. pantherina. Mycological Research 108:885–896.
Oxford English Dictionary. 2008. (J. Simpson, Chief Editor). Oxford University Press, Oxford. (Electronic resource)
Pallas, P. S. 1794. Voyages du professeur Pallas dans plusieurs provinces de l’empire de Russie et dans l’Asie septentrionale. 2006. Elibron Classics, USA.
Papetti, C., G. Consiglio, and G. Simonini. 1999. Funghi d’Italia. Fondazione Centro Studi Micologici Dell’ A.M.B. Vicenza.
Pearson, L. C. 1987. The Mushroom Manual. Naturegraph Publishers, Happy Camp, California.
Peck, C. H. 1895. Annual Report of the State Botanist 1895. University of the State of New York, Albany.
Phillips, R. 1981. Mushrooms and Other Fungi of Great Britain and Europe. Pan Books, London.
Phillips, R. 1991. Mushrooms of North America. Little, Brown and Company, Boston.
Phipps, A. 2000, Japanese Use of Beni-Tengu-Dake (Amanita muscaria) and the Efficacy of Traditional Detoxification Methods. Master’s thesis, Biology Department, Florida International University.
Porcher, F. P. 1854. The Medicinal, Poisonous, and Dietetic Properties of the Cryptogamic Plants of the United States. Being a report made to the American Medical Association, at its sessions held in Richmond, Va., and St. Louis, Mo. Baker, Godwin and Co., New York.
Pouchet, F. A. 1839. Expériences sur L’Alimentation par les Champignons Vénéneux. Journal de chimie médicale, de pharmacie et de toxicology V. 322–328.
Prentiss, D. W. 1898. Five Cases of Mushroom-Poisoning, Three of Which Proved Fatal; Treatment of the Poisoning.. The Philadelphia Medical Journal. September 24:607–611.
Randolph, M. 1836. The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook. Stereotype. J. Plaskitt, Baltimore, Maryland.
Reese, J. J. 1874. A Manual of Toxicology, including the Consideration of the Nature, Properties, Effects, and Means of Detection of Poisons, more especially in their Medico-legal Relations. J. B. Lippincott and Co., Philadelphia.
Rombauer, I., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 2006. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, New York.
Rorer, S. T. H. 1902. Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book: A Manual of Housekeeping. Arnold and Company, Philadelphia.
Rubel, W. 2000. http://www.williamrubel.com/mushrooms/amanita-muscaria/ (16 May 2007).
Rumack, B. H., and E. Salzman. 1978. Mushroom Poisoning: Diagnosis and Treatment. CRC Press, West Palm Beach, Florida.
Sampson, H. A. 2002. Peanut Allergy. The New England Journal of Medicine 34617:1294–1299.
Schwab, A. 2006. Mushrooming Without Fear. Merwin Unwin Books, Ludlow, U.K., and Skyhorse Publishing, New York.
Sitta, N. and M. Floriani. 2008. Nationalization and Globalization Trends in the Wild Mushroom Commerce of Italy with Emphasis on Porcini (Boletus edulis and Allied Species). Economic Botany 62(3).
Smith, A. H. 1948. Mushrooms in Their Natural Habitat. Hafner Press, New York.
Smith, A. H. 1958. The Mushroom Hunter’s Field Guide. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.
Smith, A. H. 1963. The Mushroom Hunter’s Field Guide. Revised and enlarged. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.
Smith, A. H. 1975. A Field Guide to Western Mushrooms. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.
Smith, A. H., and N. S. Weber. 1980. The Mushroom Hunter’s Field Guide. All color and enlarged. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.
Solomon, C., and N. Solomon. 1998. Charmaine Solomon’s Encyclopedia of Asian Food. Periplus Editions, Boston.
Southern Society for Clinical Investigation (U. S.). 1853. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences. J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia.
States, J. S. 1990. Mushrooms and Truffles of the Southwest. University of Arizona, Tucson.
Takemoto, T., Y. Nakajima, and T. Yokobe. 1964. Isolation of a Flycidal Constituent Ibotenic Acid from Amanita muscaria and A. pantherina. Yakugaku Zasshi 84:1233–1234.
Tat’jana, I. 2007. llustrirovannaja Enciclopediya: Sobiraem i Gotovim. Eksmo, Moscow. In Russian.
Taylor, A. S. 1859. On Poisons in Relation to Medical Jurisprudence and Medicine. 2nd American edition, from 2nd London edition. Blanchard and Lea, Philadelphia.
Testi, A. 1995. Il Libro dei Funghi D’Italia. Demetra, Colognola.
Thayer, S. 2006. The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants. Forager’s Harvest, Ogema, Wisconsin.
Thiers, H. D. 1987. Alexander H. Smith, 1904–1986. Mycologia 79:811–818.
Thomas. W. S. 1928. Field Book of Common Gilled Mushrooms, with a Key to Their Identification and Directions for Cooking Those That Are Edible. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.
———. 2003. Field Guide to Mushrooms: Based on Field Book of Common Mushrooms. Revised, updated, and with illustrations and photographs by Marie F. Heerkens, ed. Sterling Publications, New York.
von Frieden, L. 1964. I Funghi di Tutti I paesi. Rizzoli, Italy. Reprinted in English as Mushrooms of the World, 1969, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis.
von Strahlenberg, P. J. 1736. An histori-geographical description of the north and eastern part of Europe and Asia; but more particularly of Russia, Siberia, and Great Tartary. Faithfully translated into English. London.
Wasson, R. G. 1968. SOMA: Divine Mushroom of Immortality. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York.
Wasson, V. P., and R. G. Wasson. 1957. Mushrooms, Russia, and History. Pantheon Books, New York.
Wharton, F., M. Stillé, and A. Stillé. 1860. A Treatise on Medical Jurisprudence. 2nd ed. rev. Kay and Brother, Philadelphia.
———, M. Stillé, S. Ashurst, R. Amory, and W. Sinkler. 1873. Wharton and Stillé’s Medical Jurisprudence. Vol. 2. Kay and Brother, Philadelphia.
——— and M. Stillé. 1882. A Treatise on Medical Jurisprudence. Kay and Brother, Philadelphia.
Whetstone, M. S. 1898. The Mushroom as Food. Annual Report of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, XXVI: Minneapolis, Office of the Library.
Wiley, H. W. 1917. Foods and Their Adulteration; Origin, Manufacture, and Composition of Food Products; Infants’ and Invalids’ Foods; Detection of Common Adulterations. P. Blakiston’s Sons and Co., Philadelphia.
Yamin-Pasternak, S. 2008. From Disgust to Desire: Changing Attitudes Toward Beringian Mushrooms. Economic Botany 62(3).
The authors wish to thank Denis Benjamin, Michael Beug, Eric Danell, Ivan Day, Dan Moerman, Glenn Shepard, Jr., and Andrew Weil for their assistance and helpful suggestions.
An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12231-009-9080-9
How to Safely Prepare Amanita muscaria for the Dinner Table, and Why Bother?
The scattered historical references to the use of Amanita muscaria as food offer only broad guidelines for its preparation. The research done on the traditional method for detoxifying the seaweed, hijiki, Hizikia fusiforme (Harvey) Okamura (Hanaoka et al. 2001; Ichikawa et al. 2006) offers a model for what could be done for A. muscaria and other “poisonous” mushrooms with a record of being eaten. Research on the safe usage of mushrooms with water-soluble toxins, such as A. muscaria, could systematically examine such parameters as the boiling time, number of water changes, and quantity of water needed, the advantage of using salt and/or vinegar, if any, and the efficacy of slicing the mushrooms thinly or of presoaking them.
Until optimum methods for detoxification have been established through testing, broad guidelines based on oral tradition and the limited written record will have to suffice. Pouchet (1839) boiled A. muscaria for 15 minutes and Gerard (1863) for 30 minutes. Smith (1963) said the mushrooms should be boiled until “yellow scum” comes to the surface. Pearson (1987) recommended two boilings in separate batches of water for five minutes each time. Phipps (2000) reported that residents of Sanada, Japan, boiled A. muscaria an average of 10 minutes prior to storing them in salt, but his finding that ibotenic acid and muscimol were completely eliminated was based on specimens that had been both boiled and stored in salt. Both authors of this article have been serving parboiled A. muscaria to family and dinner guests for more than 10 years, and have arrived, through judicious experimentation, at the following recipe:
Cut the A. muscaria cap and stalk into thin slices (no more than 3–4 mm or 1/8” thick) to hasten dissolving of the active constituents. For each 110 g or 4 oz of mushroom, use 1 liter or quart of water with 1 teaspoon salt. Garlic and bay leaf can be added to the water for flavoring. Bring the water to a rolling boil, then add the sliced mushrooms. Begin timing the cooking once the water returns to a boil. Boil for 10–15 minutes, until the mushroom is soft, then drain and rinse.
We believe that this method of preparation renders A. muscaria safe, meaning adverse reactions will occur no more frequently than for most other widely-eaten foods, providing one doesn’t overindulge. As Badham (1863:34) so aptly put it, people should “eat what they like but not as much of it as they like.”
Once parboiled, A. muscaria can be used in most mushroom recipes, for example, in a mushroom gravy (Coville 1898) or as an appetizer salad dressed in a vinaigrette. It also works well as a ravioli stuffing, and provides flavor and texture as the mushroom in almost any mushroom dish. We sometimes boil A. muscaria caps for only five to six minutes in order to retain a touch of the red color, which looks especially beautiful when the parboiled slices are lightly simmered in a clear broth. When we do this, however, we only serve each guest one-quarter to one-third of a cap. Eating too much undercooked A. muscaria or using too little water or not enough salt, or not slicing it thinly enough, may be cause for inebriation (Millman and Haff 2004).
Even after long boiling, A. muscaria retains a pleasantly firm texture. Yet there is a popular Anglo-American misconception that boiling mushrooms makes them mushy. In reality, boiling many kinds of mushrooms in lightly-salted water has quite the opposite effect: it tightens their structure, making them firm. Rombauer et al. (2006:1055) acknowledge this when they generalize about vegetables (but not specifically mushrooms): “[boiling helps] to preserve nutrients and to firm the tissues of vegetables.” Most mushrooms are actually safer and more digestible cooked, but as Benjamin (1995:143–144, 147) points out, our current cooking fashion favors raw or lightly-cooked ingredients, and young chefs, while embracing wild mushrooms, “lack the lore that should accompany this experimentation.”
Properly prepared, Amanita muscaria is a delicious mushroom. Yet we are frequently posed the rhetorical question, Why eat A. muscaria when there are so many other edible mushrooms available? Or more succinctly: Why bother? The reasons to eat it are as numerous and obvious as the mushroom itself: it is big, it is beautiful, it is delicious, it is there, and it is one of the easiest of all wild mushrooms to identify. Safely preparing it is not difficult, and there is the added challenge and pleasure of recreating historic dishes, such as the one offered to Coville by the African-American market woman in Washington, D.C. For anyone who enjoys the occasional foray into the woods to pick wild mushrooms for dinner, the more logical question would be why not eat it?
It also bears mentioning that amateur English and North American mushroom hunters typically do not collect a wide range of wild mushroom species. Instead they tend to mimic the limited offerings of gourmet restaurants: morels, chanterelles, porcini. An urban-based mushroom menu is thus emerging. Yet many mushroom hunters complain that these same few mushroom species they seek are becoming increasingly difficult to find because of competition (e.g., Boom 2005). A. muscaria is an enticing and plentiful alternative. It is thus worthwhile knowing how to prepare it safely.
About this article
Cite this article
Rubel, W., Arora, D. A Study of Cultural Bias in Field Guide Determinations of Mushroom Edibility Using the Iconic Mushroom, Amanita muscaria, as an Example. Econ Bot 62, 223–243 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12231-008-9040-9