Do mushrooms need peeling?
September 20, 2007 7:41 AM   Subscribe

My wife, and her family, insist that "white" supermarket mushrooms must be "peeled" (or, barring that, washed) prior to eating. I always ate the things right out of the package, possibly using a brush to get the black stuff (dirt? mushroom grower poop?) off, if I think of it. Do mushrooms need to be peeled or cleaned?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
How can you peel something that doesn't have skin?
posted by public at 7:43 AM on September 20, 2007

I never really thought about it either until I saw the mushroom growing episode of Dirty Jobs. Now I wash them every time. Peeling them seems odd.
posted by sanka at 7:44 AM on September 20, 2007

I've always rinsed 'em, and left it at that.
posted by aramaic at 7:46 AM on September 20, 2007

Response by poster: The top of the mushroom does have something skin-life, which can be removed pretty easily if you snap off the stem, start at the underside and work with a paring knife. But it means you end up wasting the stem (you can still use it but it looks unappetizing) and it takes a half a minute prep time for each mushroom.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:46 AM on September 20, 2007

Response by poster: skin-like
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:46 AM on September 20, 2007

Peeling is not necessary, and in fact it removes many of the mushroom's nutrients that are contained in the outer layer.

I tend to wash mushrooms only if they look like they need it, and only with a light spray of water or wiping with a paper towel. Otherwise they can feel soggy (depending on the variety).
posted by brain_drain at 7:47 AM on September 20, 2007

I just saw "Mushroom Farmer" on Dirty Jobs, and I'm going to have to say that you should clean your mushrooms. A stiff brush will work off the outer layer of the mushroom, which is probably what your wife means by peeling.
posted by saffry at 7:48 AM on September 20, 2007

Yeah, you don't even really have to rinse them. Not that it matters with supermarket button mushrooms, but when you get into the more expensive varieties, culinary experts say that you should do as little as possible to them as far as rinsing, washing, etc. as any attempts you make to clean off "germs" will just remove flavor and/or damage or bruise the mushrooms.
posted by rossination at 7:49 AM on September 20, 2007

I'd rinse the dirt out a little, but peeling...?

To each their own I guess.
posted by Muu at 7:49 AM on September 20, 2007

No no, I rinse mushrooms quickly under water and gently brush off any dirt. Mushrooms are delicate and bruise easily, excess handling like peeling only increases chances of bruising and loses the flavour.
posted by Meagan at 7:51 AM on September 20, 2007

I think a good rule is to always wash fruits and vegetables, no matter what. I don't care if it says they were cleaned on the package; it may not look dirty, but you can't exactly see pesticides.

Peeling, on the other hand... a bit much.
posted by sephira at 7:54 AM on September 20, 2007 stepmom always peeled mushrooms so I wound up doing it because I thought it was normal. I later found out that NOBODY PEELS THOSE MUSHROOMS! I rinse them off a bit like I do with any produce, but not peeling them saves a lot of time & bloodshed (those fuckers are hard to peel).

Some people have weird paranoia about food. For example, my stepmother also would not eat anything made with eggs if it had been refrigerated for more than a day, because apparently eggs go bad instantly in her world. This included main dishes like casseroles, lasagna, etc. Apparently though if it was a baked good, like cake, it was exempt from the rule of immediate egg spoilage.
posted by tastybrains at 7:56 AM on September 20, 2007

Some folks above have been dancing around this issue, referring to Dirty Jobs (which I haven't seen), but I can tell you this. Mushrooms often grow in poop. They are often cultivated in poop. I believe that this is because poop is a very fecund growing medium. (Note that this link refers to the growing medium as "compost." I'll leave it to you to define "compost" for your own self.)

So, the question should not be "Do mushrooms need to be peeled or cleaned?" Rather, the question that your family is trying (not) to ask you is: "Do you want to eat poop with your dinner?"

As for the right answer? Well, to each his own. I have it on good authority (namely a report by Rob Corddry on the Daily Show) that humans can "spoon feed small amounts of feces with little medical contraindication."

But if you don't want poop with your dinner, then I'd suggest scraping or (at the least) washing your mushrooms.

Now . . . let's eat, hmmmmmmmm?

Mmmmmmmushrooms . . . .
posted by deejay jaydee at 7:59 AM on September 20, 2007 [4 favorites]

I am somewhat comforted to note that a Google search returns only 86 results for "peel the mushrooms" -- your wife's family had me worried that all these years I'd been doing something terribly uncouth. Looks like peeling is a presentational thing, really.

As for cleaning... well, yeah, use a mushroom brush or something. They do grow them in shit (among other things you probably wouldn't want to inadvertently eat). You wash your other vegetables, don't you?
posted by mumkin at 8:00 AM on September 20, 2007

Just wipe down the mushroom with a damp piece of kitchen towel and they'll be fine. Mushrooms absorb more water when you soak them, which (for me anyway), ruins them.

Also, useful tips on for cleaning mushrooms and mushrooms in general: How to clean mushrooms.
posted by Nugget at 8:05 AM on September 20, 2007

I used to go out with a mushroom farmer. His grandfather started the largest mushroom co-op in North America. Anyway, his family said to rinse under water and rub off dirt. They wouldn't eat them without washing them. However, they said peeling was a bit extreme. But we always ate them cooked.
posted by acoutu at 8:07 AM on September 20, 2007

My sisters both peel mushrooms, and I peel mushrooms if I'm feeding squeamish people like them.

Alton Brown demonstrated that you can wash -- even soak -- mushrooms without making them soggy. So wash 'em, don't bother peeling.
posted by maudlin at 8:09 AM on September 20, 2007

It's generally a good idea to wash them yourself when preparing them for use. From what I have seen of industrial packaging operations they do not rinse or clean them in any particular fashion. They simply pick, cut, sort and package them. You wouldn't want them to be rinsed anyway as without adequate evaporation possibilities they would get slimy and sticky in the shrink wrapped foam container.

Most mushroom hunters like to use brushes for spot cleaning in the wild, you can go over them with finer detail or a rinse at a later time. Chitin is the main constituent of the fungal tissue cell wall which provides for their strength and flexibility, this also allows them to absorb or expel moisture quite readily, depending on the conditions.

You can throw them in a colander and spray them down but I would give them a little time to dry on some towels as they feel a lot more clammy after an immediate rinse. You could also prep them beforehand with a brush and light rinse, storing them in a paper bag in your refrigerator, which is the preferred fresh storage method. They need room to breathe and the paper will help wick up some of the moisture out of the immediate vicinity, otherwise again you will be left with a gooey, nasty mess.

Peeling sounds rather extreme, but it is the best way to get at raw and unexposed tissue. Seeing as how you're not interested in doing a live tissue biopsy for cloning purposes I would say you could avoid this process without cause for concern.

Animal manure as a main constituent of commercial mushroom cultivation substrate has gone out of practice for the most part, it was the recommended method by various bodies from the 1940's on, but times have changed. The main substrate is a very complex compost that is meticulously prepared and steam pasteurized before being placed into the spawning beds. It's not like they throw horse apples into a bucket and sprinkle spores over it, for crying out loud.

It's interesting that deejay jaydee would mention "poop" three times in his link to the Mushroom Council website, which reads thusly:

The medium-called compost is scientifically formulated of various materials such as straw, corn cobs, cotton seed and cocoa seed hulls, gypsum and nitrogen supplements. Preparing the compost takes one to two weeks. Then it's pasteurized and placed in large trays or beds.

This doesn't change the fact that any particulate matter you find on Buttom Mushrooms should be removed - it is not going to be a spore, as the mushroom is picked before it has time to fully develop. Portobellos are actually the same strain of fungus as Buttom Mushrooms, they are simply allowed to mature to the point were their caps will spread and the gills will open, releasing their spores and completing their life cycle.

Alton Browns link from maudlin is very helpful and completely succinct. Generally fresh Mushrooms cannot absorb enough water to completely ruin them because of this simple fact - they are already 92% water weight when you get them in this form!
posted by prostyle at 8:12 AM on September 20, 2007 [36 favorites]

Wash and brush. Peeling is makes the mushrooms far less appealing imo.

Who wants to eat a white portobello? Not me. Brown and unpeeled, grilled with garlic and olive oil, served as a warm salad with a chilled crisp, light red. If it came peeled, I'd send it back.
posted by bonehead at 8:13 AM on September 20, 2007

prostyle has explained it quite well. Mushrooms are grown on sterilized material, the dirt that may be on them is probably the safest you can buy. A quick rinse is all you need.
posted by Mitheral at 8:40 AM on September 20, 2007

I really hate washing mushrooms. I just buy 'em, chop the last eighth inch off the stem, and cook 'em. I wash all my other produce, so I figure my total intake of pesticides and other nasties is still pretty low. Surviving so far.
posted by pocams at 8:49 AM on September 20, 2007

Peeling them is a holdover from classic French cuisine. I think Julia Child actually suggests it here and there. There's also a technique for carving a decorative swirl in the mushroom. But none of that's necessary.

For that matter, modern cuisine has gotten away from peeling lots of other things, like potatoes and carrots. Carrots are not even grown in poop. Just take a stiff brush to the dirt that's in the grooves, cook and eat.
posted by beagle at 9:09 AM on September 20, 2007

Mushrooms are grown in compost which contains a high percentage of poop. However, it's made poop that has been made safe -

Still..... it's poop. And poop doesn't taste good, even if it's safe. Wash the mushrooms. Peeling is not needed.
posted by Vorpil at 9:43 AM on September 20, 2007

I agree that washing is perfectly sufficient, and that peeling wastes flavor and food.

I have a question, though: What's the "51548" tag for?
posted by cerebus19 at 9:53 AM on September 20, 2007

posted by edd at 9:54 AM on September 20, 2007

Not directly related, but Morning Edition aired a story today about the best ways to clean fresh food (apples and pears, in their case).

Apparently a diluted vinegar spray followed by cold water rinse removed 98% of bacteria.
posted by metabrilliant at 9:58 AM on September 20, 2007

Here's a nice blog post on the subject of peeling mushrooms, in which the author starts with the proposition that you peel them, rather than wash them, in order to avoid making them soggy, but comes to the conclusion that washing is OK.
posted by beagle at 10:30 AM on September 20, 2007

Restaurants wash mushrooms all the time. Peeling button mushrooms seems odd since they're incredibly easy to clean with a damp cloth or brush. Freshly foraged chanterelles on the other hand frequently need to be peeled (scraped really) because they're caked in dirt.
posted by foodgeek at 10:55 AM on September 20, 2007

I've visited a mushroom farm. All their mushrooms were grown in a sterile substrate that did not include any animal manure. The manure that's used in mushroom farming is composted anyway- it's no different that the steer manure and chicken manure enriched organic soils that gardeners use all the time. If you're still freaky about "poop", you can grow your own button mushrooms in a home kit.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:58 AM on September 20, 2007

I've never seen mushrooms washed at any restaurant I've worked at... but I've only worked at a few places.
posted by glip at 1:38 PM on September 20, 2007

Meh. I don't bother. I brush off visible dirt with my hands. They smell good and I'm still alive so I think that's fine. I'm not sure why a person would think a mushroom wouldn't absorb pesticide (or "poop")... it's not like it has a hard peel, it's basically a sponge so if there's pesticide used peeling off the outer layer of skin is not going to make a difference.
posted by loiseau at 2:36 PM on September 20, 2007

I generally rinse them under running water.

But the first time I'm cooking with someone, I don't wash them & just rub off any visible dirt with my fingers.

It's one of my little tests to see how irrational people are.
posted by lastobelus at 4:49 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

My mum used to make me peel mushrooms. A very time consuming process.

We used to grow our own mushrooms in a "growbox" in the cupboard under the stairs, until we found out our cat had been using it as a litter box. They were good mushrooms though.
posted by schwa at 6:17 PM on September 20, 2007

Sure wash them, but a reminder that some seem to have forgotten - cooking things at high heat kills germs.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:40 PM on September 20, 2007

I've never peeled mushrooms, just brush 'em off and chuck 'em in the pan. I also eat them raw quite a bit with no ill effect.
posted by jonesor at 6:09 AM on September 21, 2007

I'm not sure why a person would think a mushroom wouldn't absorb pesticide (or "poop")...

Toxins in a substrate are metabolized by the mycelium, not 'transmitted' by capillary action to the fruits such as in plants. There is no conduction of contaminants, other than any present heavy metals, into the fruit body. This doesn't mean there can't be surface contamination or bacterial blotching, which is readily identified by a cursory glance, but the idea that a non poisonous fruit body can become toxic from substrate mold or bacteria presence is a common misconception.
posted by prostyle at 7:21 AM on September 21, 2007

I just wash the things, making sure all specks of dirt are gone and cut the last bit of stem off.

My mother peels them if they are getting a little bit stale where I would just throw them away... But of course I'm wasteful and don't remember rationing etc etc.

I worked in a frozen meal factory once and they used to wash the mushrooms by just putting them in this big tub full of water. And didn't peel them.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:30 PM on September 21, 2007

this question embiggens the educumation of the youth of amerika.

no, mushies don't need to be peeled. just make sure you wash the grit out of the underside of the, um, what's it called...? the bell end.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:39 AM on September 22, 2007

It's not likely you'll die from eating a smidge of compost. I'd almost go so far as to say some people don't get enough dirt in their diets. A bit of inoculation isn't always a bad thing.

Wash 'em if you feel like it. Peel 'em if you feel like it. Truth is, you're fooling yourself if you think you're really going to get all the bugs off anyway. It's probably more important to follow all the other 'food safety' rules about cold storage and cooking temperatures and not leaving food in the trunk of your car.

Yes, I've seen the "Mushroom Farmer" episode of 'Dirty Jobs.' But I've also played with pretty, pathogenic Petrie dishes.
posted by zennie at 8:33 PM on September 23, 2007

whether or not these white button mushrooms are washed is not the issue.
posted by telstar at 9:48 PM on September 24, 2007

I think this page will answer most of your questions.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 12:12 AM on September 25, 2007

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