Just after we moved to our land, a big group of our college friends came for a visit. We took them on a long walk through the woods, showing off our land like proud parents. Fresh eyes noticed a lot about our land that we hadn’t yet seen. One of our visitors kept saying, “Wow, you guys sure have a lot of orange mushrooms growing everywhere…” At that point, I’d never even heard of a chanterelle, let alone eaten one.
Later that week, we took our guests to the farmers market in town, and one of the vendors had a basket overflowing with those same orange mushrooms, labeled “wild foraged chanterelles ~ $25 per pound.”
Since then, we’ve paid a lot more attention to the mushroom life on our woodland homestead, and successfully identified a number of tasty mushrooms including reishi, morels and chaga. Like a first love, chanterelles still have my adoration.
How to Find Chanterelles
So where do chanterelles grow? They require established woodland to grow, which means they’re not likely to be cultivated anytime soon. Chanterelles develop interdependent relationships with trees, called mycorrhizal relationships. This relationship takes a while to establish, so they require a mature forest to grow. A forest that’s been cut in the past few years won’t have chanterelles. Look for older trees and a solid forest canopy. They’re most commonly found around maple, beech, poplar, birch and oak trees. In some areas, they’re associated with pine and fir trees, so it doesn’t have to be hardwood.
Chanterelles require moist habitat, and they’re most abundant in wet summers with consistent rain.
Positively identifying chanterelle mushrooms take a bit more work than just spotting a few orange mushrooms in the distance. Their bright color makes them easy to spot on the forest floor, but once you have a chanterelle candidate in hand be sure to verify that it’s not a poisonous look alike.
Chanterelles have forked ridges on their underside, and the forking is a characteristic of true chanterelle mushrooms. They’re not exactly true gills, and they have blunt edges. The ridges run down the stem of the mushroom, which is another identifier.
- Yellow to orange in color (except black trumpets, which are black)
- Growing as individual mushrooms (not groups) most of the time
- Chanterelles always grow on the forest floor, never on wood
- Thick, blunt ridges instead of true gills
- Forked ridges rather than straight
- Ridges run down the stem
- The flesh inside is a pale creamy white, not orange like the surface
- Smells sweet like fruit, like apricots
- The cap edge is wavy, thin and irregular
Poisonous Chanterelle Look-Alikes
There’s only one poisonous chanterelle look alike, the Jack-O-Lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olearius). While the Jack-O-Lantern mushroom is, in fact, an orange mushroom, that’s about where the similarity ends. Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms have true gills, that are not blunt like chanterelle gills. They also don’t fork or run down the stem of the mushroom. Lastly, Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms always grow on wood, often in groups rather than singly. This can be tricky though since the wood they’re growing on may be buried so that it looks like they’re coming out of the forest floor.
Apparently, Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms taste quite good, but you still don’t want to eat them. They’re not deadly, but they’ll cause quite a bit of uncomfortable gastric distress.
Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom Characteristics
- True gills that do not fork
- Thin, fragile gills
- Grow on wood rather than the forest floor
- Almost always grow in groups
- The orange flesh inside when broken (not white/cream colored like chanterelle)
- Gills glow in the dark (thus the name)
Besides the Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom, there’s also a mushroom known as the false chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca). False chanterelles are not toxic, but it doesn’t taste as good as a true chanterelle. I’m going to admit right here that I have trouble telling the difference. If you look at pictures of false chanterelles, some of them are very different than a chanterelle, but others are disturbingly similar.
The gills are somewhere between a true chanterelle and a Jack-O-Lantern mushroom. They are gills, and they are thinner than a chanterelles blunt ridges, but they also fork. The caps tend to be rounded and downturned. The center of the top of the cap tends to be darker in color than the edge.
The main difference is the smell, but sometimes smell can be deceiving. False chanterelles smell like any grocery store mushroom, while true chanterelles smell fruity. Depending on the weather or the state of the mushrooms, smell might not be a good indicator.
While they are not poisonous, there are some reported cases where they’ve caused gastric discomfort in some people. While it’s very easy to avoid a Jack-O-Lantern mushroom, false chanterelles are a bit trickier.
False Chanterelle Characteristics
- Deep, thin gills rather than the blunt gills of a chanterelle
- Forked gills (like chanterelles)
- Cap edge is downturned and round
- Center of the cap is darker colored, edge is lighter
- Smell like a mushroom, not like apricots
Chanterelle Mushroom Season
The next year, we’re at the farmer’s market again, and another table is covered with Chanterelles. Ours don’t come in until August, and here they are, clear as day in July. I stopped to ask where he found them so early, and he looked at me with confusion and said, “There are dozens of different species of chanterelles, each with a different season.” Well, there you go. We may have an abundance of chanterelles, but we have a late variety. With so many strains, chanterelle season extends for the better part of the summer.
Out in the pacific northwest, where they don’t get a proper winter, I hear they even have a winter chanterelle.
After being told that there are dozens of chanterelle varieties, I set out to find a complete list. I didn’t find one, but I did find quite a few varieties. This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s all I’ve found described thus far. If you know of other varieties, leave a note in the comments and I’ll do a bit more research. Beyond that, all the species information I can find seems to be related to the Western United States. I’d love to find a good source of information about Chanterelles in New England, so if you have on, let me know!
- Cantharellus appalachiensis – A chanterelle variety native to the Appalachian range in the Eastern United States.
- Cantharellus californicus – Called the Mud puppy or Oak Chanterelle, and is native to California.
- Cantharellus cascadensis – Native to the pacific northwest.
- Cantharellus cibarius – Now refers to the common golden Chanterelle. This species name was originally used to refer to all chanterelles until DNA tests began to break out distinct species.
- Craterellus cornucopioides – Black Trumpet Mushrooms are black instead of golden.
- Cantharellus formosus – Pacific Golden Chanterelle is described as meaty and funnel-shaped.
- Craterellus lutescens – Closely related to Craterellus tubaeformis and also called Yellowfoot chanterelle. This species is rarer and is only found in very wet locations.
- Cantharellus roseocanus – Native to the pacific northwest, and only became a distinct species in 2012.
- Cantharellus spectaculus – The “Spectacular Chanterelle” is native to the Midwest.
- Cantharellus subalbidus – This chanterelle is very pale, almost white in color, thus the name White Chanterelle.
- Craterellus tubaeformis – Known as Yellowfoot, Winter chanterelle or Funnel Chanterelle. Found in northern and mountainous climates in the US and Europe. Associated with conifer trees.
So now that you’ve got them, it’s time to cook with chanterelles. Like most mushrooms, chanterelles shouldn’t be eaten raw. Cooking, especially with a bit of butter or oil, brings out their rich flavor anyway. I love making simple chanterelle cream toasts for a quick snack, and chanterelle risotto when I’m feeling more ambitious.
Since chanterelles have a fruity, apricot-like taste, they work well as part of a dessert too. I’ve made both chanterelle ice cream and chanterelle cheesecake, both were delicious. My young daughter still asks for mushroom ice cream often enough, which always confuses people around us (and gives me a chuckle).
- Chanterelle Tart with Ricotta and Rosemary
- Cream of Chanterelle Soup
- Chanterelle Soup
- Russian Style Chanterelles over Eggs and Toast
- Rustic Creamy Chanterelle Pasta
- French Onion Beef Stroganoff with Chanterelles
- Chanterelle Omelet
- Barley Risotto with Chanterelles and Goat Cheese
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