Morels are wild, edible, foraged mushrooms that usually sprout in May in New York. Chefs and foodies go crazy for them! In a way, they are a sign of spring. When you begin to see asparagus soup with morels on menus – you know warmer weather is on the way. New York city chefs love to serve seasonal, local foods at their peak and morels are no exception. Dreaming up recipes in April and anticipating the first morels is probably common practice.
(Morels foraged from New York this past weekend – photo courtesy of forager)
Morels are the first of many edible mushrooms to sprout during the spring and summer months in New York. Like the black trumpet mushrooms and hen of the woods mushrooms, they are special because they cannot be cultivated. Trained and knowledgable foragers to go out, scavenge, safely identify, and sell them. There are regulations involved in selling wild mushrooms, but I’m not sure of the details. I will be on the look out at our farmer’s market – but I have a feeling I would have to wake up very early to buy morels. Cooks and chefs sweep through the markets early in the morning and snatch all the best produce for their restaurants. This is something I’ve become privy to by walking through the market at 8:00am.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to taste my first morel ever. An experienced, trust worthy forager (and member of a mycology club here in NYC) had gathered about a pound of them this past weekend. Many mycology guide books and other experts had worked together to identify and ensure the safety of the mushrooms. Morels have a very distinct appearance, but there are two look-alike mushrooms that sprout earlier and may cause food poisoning. If you have never seen one, imagine a sea coral, in the shape of a pine tree, propped on a thick stem. The colors can be black, brown, grayish or orange-brown. The forager had what seemed to be 3 varieties of morel, each about 3 inches long.
We cooked them in a saute pan with butter, salt and pepper (the best way to have mushrooms). They tasted wonderful! Earthy adn nutty, similar to a portobello, but stronger and more intense. There was a smokey taste that lingered in my mouth from the mushrooms. Soft and creamy in the mouth without much chew (like some can have). I now understand the anticipation of this mushroom. In fact, I have since considered signing up with a foraging club to go see what I can find. There are several clubs here in the New York City area. They arrange hikes in parks upstate throughout the summer. Everyone breaks off and foragers in the woods and near the trails. At the end, with help from the more experienced foragers, the edible mushrooms are identified. I can’t wait to see what restaurants are cooking up with morels this month. I will be looking for them… and will keep you posted.
Nutrition Facts: Serving: 3.5 Oz
- Calories: 9
- Fat: trace amount
- Protein: 2 gm
- Cholesterol: 0
- Carbs: 0
- Sodium: 2 mg
- Fiber: 2-7 gm (could not find consistent nutrient analysis of fiber)
The good: Mushrooms, specifically morels and shitakes, are a good plant source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a mineral that has received a lot of press recently for the prevention of certain cancers, depression, and bone loss. Mushrooms are a good source of the B vitamins including folate, niacin, and thiamin. They also contain potassium, selenium, copper, phosporus, and zinc to name only a few more antioxidants in their profile. All of this nutritional punch without fat, cholesterol, or a significant amount of sodium. Low in calories, low in carbohydrates, high in protein for a plant food, and high in fiber. Mushrooms are a great, wonderfully tasty addition to any meal. They bring flavor and depth along with nutrition. Ancient civilizations, especially in Asia, believed mushroom had many healing and nutritional benefits, perhaps this holds true.
The bad: Mmm… perhaps this would be that foraged mushrooms can be hard to come by, and must be from a very reliable source in order to consume safely. Otherwise, you can purchase cultivated mushrooms (not morels) and enjoy similar nutritional benefits. Though each variety has its own nutrient profile, all are loaded with micro-nutrients.
Recommendations: Eat and enjoy! Morels are nutritious and delicious. Buy from a reliable source and never consume wild mushrooms on your own without expert help to identify them. Find a restaurant that serves them locally, but hurry because they don’t sprout forever (only a month usually).