Wine cap mushrooms are a popular edible mushroom known for their firm flesh and earthy taste. They provide a variety of nutrients, and you can easily grow them in your own backyard, making them an easy, healthy, and delicious addition to any meal.
What Are Wine Cap Mushrooms?
Wine cap Stropharia, or wine cap mushrooms, are a red-brown edible fungus with a white stem. They grow most often in the northeast U.S. and can be found in forested areas, garden beds, and many lawns. They're easily cultivated and require little maintenance for annual growth.
Wine Cap Mushroom Identification
Wine caps are named for their wine-red round heads, which can be as large as 2 to 6 inches in width, with a white stem around 3 to 6 inches long. The caps lighten as they mature, while the black gills underneath darken with maturity. The stem should not bulge where it meets the ground, unlike many look-alike varieties, and has a “king’s crown” ring below the cap. The texture should be fibrous, with many air pockets throughout the stem. If identifying the mushroom by spore print, wine caps should leave a blackish-purple mark.
Be careful when harvesting wild mushrooms, as there are many toxic look-alikes. If you can’t identify a mushroom beyond a shadow of a doubt, play it safe and leave it alone.
Wine Cap Mushroom Health Benefits
Wine cap mushrooms contain many important nutrients, and eating them may provide a variety of health benefits.
Vitamin D. The vitamin D content in wine cap mushrooms is important for maintaining healthy bone structure, and helps regulate the body’s use and absorption of calcium and phosphorus. You can absorb vitamin D through sunlight, but the amount of sunlight necessary to avoid deficiency may cause sunburn. Deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis and other bone disorders. Vitamin D may also help fight depression and improve energy.
Calcium. Wine cap mushrooms contain calcium, which is also important for bone health. Calcium is also important for proper heart and nerve function. Although too much calcium can cause problems like heart disease and buildup, too little calcium can lead to osteoporosis.
Fiber. Wine cap mushrooms are rich in fiber. Although fiber is often the part of the plant that's indigestible in the human gut, it's still a critical part of your diet. Fiber is important for maintaining proper consistency and regularity of your bowel movements. High-fiber diets may also help lower blood sugar and cholesterol and may help maintain a healthy weight.
Protein. Wine cap mushrooms are especially good for vegans and vegetarians, who don’t get protein from animal sources. Protein is important for building healthy muscle and improving strength. Eating foods high in protein can also reduce your appetite, helping to maintain a healthy weight and avoid overeating.
Iron. Iron is another vitamin that vegans and vegetarians may lack, since it’s most easily found in meat products. Although many vegetables and fungi, including wine caps, contain a healthy dose of iron as well, plant-based iron is more difficult for the body to absorb, so you need more of it to maintain healthy levels. Iron is critical for blood health, since it's a key part of hemoglobin production. Iron deficiency anemia is a common disorder that may lead to fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and poor immune health.
Wine Cap Mushroom Taste
You can eat all parts of the wine cap mushroom. The texture is crisp or firm, and the flavor compares to the earthiness of raw potatoes, pairing well with flavors like horseradish, dill, or bacon. You can safely eat them raw, but many people prefer the tender, juicy texture produced by cooking them.
How to Cook Wine Cap Mushrooms
Wine caps can be cooked in a variety of ways, including grilled, sauteed, baked, or broiled. Their high water content and sturdy texture give them a juicy, dense texture when cooked, especially using slow methods like baking or grilling. Marinating them beforehand and cooking them in your desired flavors and sauces can help the flesh absorb those flavors as it’s cooking.
Many wine cap mushroom recipes include light oils, acids like lemon juice or wine, and mild herbs or seasonings that won’t overwhelm the mild, earthy flavors of the mushrooms.
Can You Grow Your Own Wine Cap Mushrooms?
You can easily cultivate wine cap mushrooms in your own garden. Set aside roughly 16 square feet of space in a moderately sunny area for each 5-pound bag of mushroom spawn. Fill the space with a combination of wood chips or shavings, straw, or sawdust for the best growth. Add the spawn and cover with about four more inches of wood chips and straw. Soak with water.
It's best to plant wine cap mushrooms between April and September, though spring planting will produce the quickest fruiting. These low-maintenance fungi will come back every year without much in the way of care and encouragement. During dry seasons, make sure the bed stays moist, and in the fall, it may help to add an extra layer of straw or wood chips to protect the roots from frost.
Beware of Toxic Mushrooms
If gathering wild mushrooms, make sure you know for certain what mushrooms you’re picking up. Although there are many varieties of edible mushrooms, there are also many that are toxic, some of which are look-alikes to their edible counterparts.
When in doubt, leave the wild mushrooms behind and opt for buying professionally cultivated ones or growing them yourself. Even if you grow them on your own, mushroom beds can fruit other varieties that have infested the bed, so be sure what’s growing is safe to eat.
Are Wine Cap Mushrooms Medicinal?
Although many mushrooms have been used in traditional herbal medicine as treatments for a variety of ailments, generally, mushrooms, including the wine cap, serve more dietary functions than medical ones. While the wine cap has several health benefits, it's not considered a treatment for any illness. You should always talk to your doctor about appropriate treatments and diets for your health.