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Dried mushrooms are desiccated versions of normal mushrooms. Drying is used for preservation and bulk order purposes. The process is seen as an alternative preservation method for the mushrooms by preparing canned or bottled foods such as sauces or by including them in freezable food such as pies and quiches. There are two main drying processes: sun drying and cabinet drying. Dried mushrooms are suitable for a wide range of dishes and cuisines and can be made into a powder for flavoring soups and teas.
Mushrooms are the spore-releasing part of a fungus and can be found across various parts of the world in fields, woodlands and growing in trees. Many, but not all, mushrooms are edible. There are a number that are poisonous or have other ill effects on humans if eaten. Most mushrooms are best eaten fresh, but they have varying degrees of longevity. This is because of their high moisture content and, as a result, mushrooms kept in hot and humid conditions will perish sooner.
Regardless of the drying process used, the mushrooms first need to be picked. This is usually done by hand, as it is important to thoroughly check each mushroom for quality and freshness. Unless the mushrooms are being dried in the manner of herbs, they are then placed on trays. The aim of the drying process is to remove around 90 percent of the moisture from the mushrooms.
Sun dried mushrooms are usually left in the sunlight on a tray. This is a cheap and efficient method of removing moisture if the weather is good. Clear skies, bright sunshine and low humidity are considered the best weather for drying mushrooms. Alternative methods of sun drying include herb drying, which involves hanging mushrooms on hooks and placing mushrooms in a dry box or room. One problem with sun-dried mushrooms is insects laying eggs, but this can be overcome by freezing the mushrooms.
Cabinet drying is more efficient than sun drying, but involves more costs, as the drying cabinet will require gas or electricity to function. The mushrooms are put on trays and placed in the cabinet, which then passes dry, warm air over the mushrooms to suck the moisture out. One potential problem with cabinet drying is that if the air is too hot, the mushrooms will spoil. Spoilted mushrooms are apparent by changes in color.
Dried mushrooms can be made from all edible mushrooms such as oyster mushrooms, button mushrooms and shiitake. Not all edible mushrooms, however, can be dried. The corinus genus mushroom will melt if left to dry. Dried mushrooms are suitable for pasta sauces, as an ingredient for a stir-fry, for soups and for other sauces. They can also be ground into a powder and used as a flavoring ingredient.
Chinese cuisine uses dried mushrooms in a number of dishes. The Chinese also use them as an ingredient in a number of traditional Chinese medicine cures. For example, they are ground into a powder and added to a tea in the belief it aids the immune system.
I use dried mushrooms all the time. I will often reconstitute them in either hot beef or chicken broth and then add the liquid to what I'm cooking. I saw that on a cooking show years ago and thought it was a great idea.
Dried mushrooms are chewier than canned, so they also add a little extra texture to whatever you're cooking. They usually reconstitute in say, 20 minutes or so, depending on the variety, so if you do that first thing, then they will be ready to use when you want them.
I'm always on the lookout for exotic varieties of dried mushrooms to try.
The nice thing about dried mushrooms is that you can get really expensive varieties, like morels and shiitakes, and if they're dried, they're half the price of fresh ones! All you have to do is reconstitute them in hot water. Their flavor is also more concentrated.
I've seen a lot of recipes that recommend straining the reconstituting liquid and using it in the recipe, also, to intensify the mushroom flavor.
If the fancy mushrooms aren't available fresh in your area, or if they're way out of your budget, give the dried kind a try. They really are tasty.
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