Morel mushrooms or Morchella are a kind of edible wild mushrooms found in the hardwood forests of the Northern Hemisphere; from Arctic/subarctic North Americas to Siberia. Morels are one of the highly prized mushrooms, valued for their rarity, and savory flavor.
Scientific name: Morchella esculenta.
|Morel mushroom. Courtesy: Thomas & Dianne Jones.|
Morels feature brown, spongy, honeycomb-patterned conical caps, and long, hollow, light color stem completely attached to the cap. There are several sub-species of Morchella mushrooms grown in the wild. Out of which black morels, brown and yellow morels have typically foraged in the forest. Morels grow in fertile organic, moist, and sandy soil. Completely developed morel mushroom measures about 6 inches in height. In the subarctic coniferous forests, they typically foraged during the spring season in the woods wildfire areas burnt during the preceding summer. In the hardwood forests, they found in abundance around the base of elm, ash, aspen, cottonwood, and oak trees.
False morels (Verpa bohemica) may often confused for true morels by young pickers. Verpa features a long, sturdy stem that is very loosely attached to the cap.
Gyromitra esculenta, another mushroom that mimics real morels, possesses gyromitrin toxin. They feature a large, irregular, dark reddish-brown, gyriform (brain-like convolutions) cap
Morels, fresh or dried, are low calorie mushrooms. 100 grams carry just 31 calories. Nonetheless, they endowed with superb levels of health benefiting antioxidants, essential minerals and vitamins.
Morels carry the highest amount of vitamin-D among the edible mushrooms. 206 IU or 34% daily required levels of vitamin-D in 100 grams of raw morels, mostly in the form of ergocalciferol (vit.D-2). This fat-soluble vitamin is labeled as "hormone" for its role in the bone growth, and calcium metabolism.
Morels are unique among the wild edible mushrooms which recognised for their rich mineral content. 100 grams of raw morels carry 69%, 152%, 26%, and 18% of copper, iron, manganese, and zinc levels respectively.
Copper is one of the essential trace element that functions as co-factor for many oxidative enzymes involved in cellular metabolism. It is also required for blood cell production (hemtopoiesis), and neurotransmission.
100 g of morel mushrooms carry 194 mg or 28% RDI of Phosphorus, and 43 mg of calcium. Adequate calcium, phosphorus and vitamin-D levels in the blood is critical for the growth and development of bones and teeth.
Zinc is essential nutrient that plays a vital role in cellular metaboilsm, mucosal regeneration, immune function, and reproductive organ growth.
Additionally, these mushrooms are an excellent source of the B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin (14% of RDA per 100 g), riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine). Altogether, these vitamins work as co-factors for enzymes during cellular substrate metabolism inside the human body.
Morels are "wild harvest" mushrooms, and cannot be cultivated in the farms, unlike shiitake, or button heads. Fresh morel season lasts from late April until June in the United States. Their arrival is eagerly awaited by several hundred morel enthusiasts each season. Mushroom hunters often get a cue from blooming of lilacs, bluebells, and dandelions after the rain in spring. Mushroom hunters collect completely grown morels by trimming them at the base of the cap using a paring knife.
Fresh morels often sold in the farmer markets/civic-municipal markets. Amateurs should always accompany an experienced picker while foraging.
Fresh morels perish quickly unless dried or frozen. To store, place fresh harvest inside a paper bag and keep it in the refrigerator. Do not store them inside a plastic cover since they sweat and become soft, mushy, and decay sets in early.
Dried morels can be stored for several months, and usually exported to overseas markets. Homemakers often steam, braise, or sauté them before storing frozen for extended usage.
The fresh morels are one of the most sought-after mushrooms, especially in French cuisine. Always eat morels cooked since eating raw morels could cause stomach upset. Being a field mushroom, morels gather sand and grit in their pits and need cleaning. Soak them in cold salted water for a few minutes and strain and again rinse in cold normal water for few seconds to remove the salty taste. Only those morels intended to use in cooking should be treated with this method.
Morels retain their flavor even after dying. Dry morels should be reconstituted by soaking them in lukewarm water for 20 minutes. Soaking swells them up, regaining their original conical shape. Dry mop using a paper towel. Slice lengthwise or quarterly as you may desire in cooking.
|Butter sauteed morel mushrooms. Photo: Larry & Teddy Page|
Here are some serving tips:
Traditionally, morel mushrooms enjoyed pan fried in butter and garlic cloves, with addition of some salt and pepper.
Slices of morel can be added to soups.
Fine sliced, diced morel can also be used as add ons in pizza, pasta, risotto, etc.
Always cook morels before eating. Allergic reactions to the consumption of true morel mushrooms are rare.
False morels (Verpa bohemica) may often confused for true morels. Repeated, and prolonged consumption of V. bohemica may cause poisoning simlar to Gyromitra esculenta, another mushroom that mimics real morels. Both possesses gyromitrin toxin which may cause stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, muscle weakness, etc.
Although people in some countries relish false morels, caution should be excercised to avoid their toxicity. (Medical disclaimer).
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Shiitake mushrooms nutrition facts and health benefits.
Truffles nutrition facts and health benefits.
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Further reading and Resources:
Productivity and diversity of morel mushrooms in healthy, burned, and insect damaged forests of northeastern Oregon.