What is a 'Wild Mushroom' ?
August 24, 2014 7:57 PM   Subscribe

Eating at 'Cheesecake Cafe' and 'Tony Roma's', I see on the menu that they both have burgers that are garnished with 'wild mushrooms'. What are wild mushrooms? I cannot get an answer from the waitresses.
posted by Kilovolt to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Mushrooms that are not from mushroom farms but are gathered from the wild, eg forests, fields etc .
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:03 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wild means that it isn't cultivated commercially but was found growing, so it could be any type. (That is, if it actually was and it's not just something they say on menus to sound fancy.) My guess would be it's a field mushroom which is pretty similar to the standard button mushrooms.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:03 PM on August 24, 2014

It could also be a specialty mushroom like morel or chanterelle, mushrooms which are easily harvested in season but require special growing conditions when grown commercially.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:17 PM on August 24, 2014

You can't grow morels or chanterelles on purpose though foragers often know where to get them yearly.

But "wild mushroom" is probably meaningless marketing and they are probably a cultivated variety if it's a large chain restaurant.
posted by R343L at 8:31 PM on August 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

"Wild mushrooms" in that context usually technically means "mushrooms not cultivated, but gathered wild" but is meant to convey (in a marketing sense) that "fancy" mushrooms are being used. That is, a while back, "wild mushrooms" on a menu came to imply that they were using mushroom types primarily gathered wild, like morels, chanterelles, porcini, yellowfoot, and others.

These days, especially at chain restaurants like those you listed, the mushrooms they use may be more tame (and less expensive). "Wild mushroom" has become a food marketing term to make something sound more appealing/exotic/expensive than it probably is. As far as I know, there are no legal limitations or regulations on that use of "wild" on a menu or advertisement.

You might have more luck asking a waiter to find out exactly which types of mushrooms are on the item in question, rather than asking what "wild mushrooms" is supposed to mean. If they can't get an answer for you from the kitchen, it's because their mushroom topping was precomposed at a factory and shipped to them in bags, and no one except the corporate executives care what kind of mushrooms they are. That's how it is with a lot of chain restaurants, unfortunately.
posted by WasabiFlux at 8:33 PM on August 24, 2014 [13 favorites]

Yeah, if these are chains then their sheer scale and need for strict portioning would make foraged mushrooms untenable. It looks like Tony Roma's claims to have locations in 27 countries, for instance. The logistics would be absurd.

I've worked in several non-chain establishments that played loose with "wild" as a descriptor, so I'm guessing these places are too. Probably cultivated versions of mushrooms that aren't familiar to North Americans or are perceived as being more "exotic" than your standard white/button variety. And honestly, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the mushrooms in question turned out to be something as basic as the cremini (AKA "baby portabella"). Alternately, the dishes could be made with a hodge-podge mixture of dehydrated bits of wild mushrooms (resolving some of the cost/shipping/storage problems); sort of like when a place says a dish is made with truffles, but is just sprinkled with truffle-infused oil.

Obviously, there is a commercial trade in foraged mushrooms. It's not like the chef at your local high-end restaurant is out intrepidly scouring the forest. But those are not cheap, uniform, or storage-stable enough for a chain restaurant to mess with. (Something like a fresh morel is going to go for $35 -- $50 per pound, and bruise/disintegrate easily in transit.)
posted by credible hulk at 9:27 PM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

What they're talking about is mushrooms other than white button mushrooms. They aren't really sourcing foraged mushrooms from forests. And as credible hulk points out, the likelihood is that they're really talking about reconstituted, dehydrated mushroom products. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, dried porcini powder is a great addition to just about any savory thing.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:33 PM on August 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

In one (admittedly shitty, non-chain) restaurant I've worked at, "wild mushroom" was code for "whatever kind of mushroom is cheap and/or we have lying around in back".
posted by MeghanC at 12:16 AM on August 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

In general, if you're buying a dish with hand-foraged mushrooms, your restaurant would be a lot more specific - they'd be trumpeting the fact that you were eating local chanterelles or morels pretty loudly across the menu. If they're not, it's because you aren't eating anything super special.
posted by town of cats at 5:20 AM on August 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

My experience is similar to credible hulk's - either they are plain cremini or a few reconstituted bits. Restaurants using actual chanterelles or morels will identify them prominently in specials, due to both the cost and the rarity (it's nearly impossible to have a standing order for wild mushrooms; generally you purchase when someone shows up on your stoop with their haul).
posted by susanvance at 5:57 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

fingersandtoes has it: It's usually code for "not white button mushrooms."

It may be code for "not crimini/portobello mushrooms" as well, which is a bit amusing considering that white button, crimini and portobello mushrooms are all the same mushroom.

This is not to say that it won't include some of whatever mushroom(s) the code is implicitly excluding, however, and looking at the picture of Tony Romas' "steak and wild mushroom flatbread" I see what looks an awful lot like slices of white button mushrooms with some chunks of portobello.
posted by slkinsey at 7:09 AM on August 25, 2014

...the likelihood is that they're really talking about reconstituted, dehydrated mushroom products.

More specifically, if they are actually "wild" and not cultivated mushrooms, they are very likely to be some type of boletus, and most likely foraged in China. King boletes (Boletus edulis) found in Italy are what we know as porcini (or cepes, in French). A lot of the dried "porcini" you find on the market now, unless you're in a really high-end shop, are marketed as edulis, but are actually a different species of bolete, usually from China. I can't tell the difference, and I personally think the main difference is in the branding, but don't bring the topic up among foragers unless you're prepared to sit for a spell.

A mix of "wild" mushrooms on any restaurant menu could possibly contain dried chanterelles (which is a shame, because chanterelles lose most of their flavor when they're dried), and possibly morels. The morels are expensive, though, and would most likely be mentioned by name, because if you have them, why not announce it?

Tldr: The cheapest and most readily available wild mushroom is dried boletes from China, and that's what's most likely to turn up on a chain restaurant's menu.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:20 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

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