The Paddy Straw Mushroom, known simply as a straw mushroom, and more formally as Volvariella volvacea, is a type of mushroom found widely distributed throughout Asia. The thumb sized mushrooms are heavily cultivated for food and export in Asia, and can be found in canned and dried forms in other parts of the world. These mushrooms are often used in stir fries, and add a distinctive slightly musty flavor to food.
The mushroom takes its name from paddy straw, the straw left over after growing rice, which happens to be the mushroom's favorite habitat. In addition to its traditional growth medium, the straw mushroom can also be found growing on many types of vegetable material such as other straws or grasses, compost, and wood piles. Usually this mushroom is cultivated for consumption on a mixture of cotton fiber and paddy straw. When mature for eating, a straw mushroom is approximately thumb sized, and distinguished by its pale pink gills and white spore print. The mushrooms have long white stems with bulbous bases, and drooping yellow to brown caps with a partial veil.
This mushroom has not been identified in the wild in North America, although it has been observed in most of Asia and parts of Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, many Asian immigrants mistake the delicious straw mushroom with members of the amanita genus, which can be deadly. Amanitas have many superficial resemblances which can confuse amateur mushroom hunters: it is better to avoid veiled mushrooms with bulbed bases or volvas unless you are very experienced with mushrooms.
In Asia, the mushroom is readily available in fresh, dried, and canned form at most markets. Because they take well to indoor cultivation, fresh specimens are available year-round. In other parts of the world, exported dried and canned mushrooms can be found at Asian specialty stores and some large markets. Dried straw mushrooms can be rehydrated with boiling water, while canned ones should be drained and rinsed before use.
This mushroom has a delicate, musty, slightly earthy flavor which is quite appealing to some consumers. It takes well to inclusion in stir fries, soups, and stuffings, and retains both shape and flavor through cooking. It figures most prominently in Asian cuisine, and many Westerners are familiar with the shape and taste thanks to a proliferation of Asian-themed restaurants around the world. It can also be included in cuisine from other nations for an unusual injection of flavor and texture.