Years of mushroom foraging under my belt and I’ve still never seen a giant puffball mushroom. I keep hearing they’re everywhere, and I know that they’re one of the “foolproof four” easiest to identify mushrooms along with chicken of the woods, shaggy mane and morels. Easy to identify and even easier to spot can only get you so far, if there just aren’t any nearby.
While giant puffball mushrooms may be the most famous, there are dozens of edible species of puffball mushrooms and they’re all just as easy to identify.
This particular patch of puffball mushrooms was discovered by my 3-year-old daughter.
She’s been foraging with me for over a year, and she’s always excited to learn a new mushroom. She rushed over with her find and this proud mama congratulated her on her very first puffball mushrooms.
Identifying Puffball Mushrooms
There are many species of mushroom that look like puffballs when they’re small, including several toxic species. When cut in half though, it’s easy to identify puffballs.
Mushrooms with gills may look round while they’re immature, but their telltale gills will still be developing inside.
If a mushroom is a pure white on the inside, with no sign of gills at all, then it’s a puffball.
Still, there are a few puffballs that are toxic, so a lack of gills isn’t a sure sign that you have an edible puffball mushroom.
A lack of gills and a pure white interior are both required to identify edible species.
Toxic puffball look-alikes either have gills, or they’re not white on the inside.
It’s not at all ambiguous. No gills and white means puffball, and gills and any other color is no good.
Poisonous puffball species don’t mess around, and a black puffball is a toxic puffball.
Since puffballs don’t have gills, they have to get their spores out into the world somehow. They do it by converting their entire mushroom bodies into pores, which has me uniquely impressed.
Once a puffball has passed the edible stage, the interior will begin to turn yellow or green, and that’s the mushroom entering its reproductive phase.
Puffballs with a green or yellow interior are no longer edible, but it’s not necessarily an indication that you’ve found a toxic species. It may be a perfectly edible puffball species but you’re just a week too late.
The same patch of puffball mushrooms, a week later, will be a completely different find. Mine, in particular, turned a very unambiguous green on the inside and puffed out a cloud of spores as I opened them.
Once puffballs have begun to change color on the inside, do them a favor and step on them.
Jumping on a patch of puffball mushrooms pops them open and helps send their spores far and wide. You may have missed out on this patch this time, but dispersing their spores will help you have better luck next time.
Besides, it’s fun.
Overripe puffballs are basically just tough skins full of millions of tiny spores that pop on contact. If you ever stomped packing bubbles as a kid, you’ll love stomping puffballs.
My daughter took my invitation to puffball stomping seriously and gladly went to work.
A potential edible look-alike is shrimp of the woods, though they’re only vaguely similar.
Shrimp of the woods mushrooms are a strange aborted mushroom growth that fruits out when honey mushrooms come into contact with another mushroom known as Entoloma abortivum.
They’re brownish/white blobs with a pink/white interior, and like puffballs, they have no visible gills inside.
Shrimp of the woods are edible, and here’s a recipe if you find them.
How to Prepare Puffball Mushrooms
Assuming you’ve found a patch of puffball mushrooms and positively identified them. What’s next?
Many people choose to peel them because the exterior skin can be a bit tough.
That makes sense because once the interior flesh turns to spores the exterior skin is basically a balloon waiting to be popped by some passing animal.
Peeling puffballs can be a bit tricky though, and not to mention time-consuming.
The skin is definitely distinct from the body of the mushroom, but it takes a bit of skill to remove it efficiently. Honestly, it’s a complete pain and not strictly necessary.
Peeled or not, it’s important to get puffballs into the refrigerator soon after harvest.
They’ll begin to spoil quickly if left un-refrigerated. I particularly like the idea of making a dried puffball powder to preserve them for long-term use.
Puffballs are remarkably versatile, and they can be substituted for tofu in recipes like this puffball stir fry. Someday, when I find a giant puffball, I’m going to take a slice and make a puffball pizza using the big thick mushroom slice as a crust.
In the meantime, these tiny puffballs are getting diced up and browned in olive oil to top a simple plate of pasta.
I cannot wait to see what mushrooms can offer in the future of medicine. I hope that this magical plant would not be abused and misused. Everything, if used properly and moderately proves to be beneficial.
I have a cousin who lives a couple of hours north of Kalispell MT. He sent me a picture last week of him holding a ten pound puffball. Yes he and his wife and children live in Canada. So maybe you could take a trip up there. And see if you can find a large puffball mushroom for your family.
My Dad taught me about pufffballs and I was beyond excited to find one in my fiancé’s back yard. I explained how special these guys are and had him dice one up to roast on the grill with some baby portabella’s. He loves them!!! We have 2 mid size ones we will be cooking this evening. We love mushrooms and desire to take some foraging classes when we move to TN near the blue Ridge Mts. I am so glad I stumbled onto the Pinterest post and now will be a big part of this website
Wonderful, so happy to have you along for the fun =)
Thank you for this! I have puffballs all over my yard! Being new in the area, this bothered me! I didn’t know what I was dealing with!!!! I knew it was a fungus. I know some are poisonous. I have dogs. I have grandkids. AND I COOK…so now I have something new to learn too. But I’ll be doing much more research on that!!! But thanks again!
I happened upon a puffball in a friend’s yard! I picked it, ate it and freaked out! So much for self confidence!
Now I’m even more nervous, but clearer about approach!
Love your approach to life!
Giant puffballs just showed up in my yard and I had no clue what they were. I thought maybe some sort of weird deadly plant had made my front yard its home, To my delight I found out that they are harmless puffballs which are all white inside . I am not planning on eating them though as I am not a lover of mushrooms. but hey, I had no clue Texas in all of its nasty heat could grow such cool mushrooms.
Just harvested a puffball that showed up in my back yard over the weekend. I must be a couple days late as the inside was already turning yellow. Any idea if the spores will still mature after cutting them open? I plan to toss them in our compost. Seems like a perfect place for inedible shrooms 🙂
They should, at least our discards seem to. I forgot about some once and they all turned to spores =)
Where I live in Ottawa ON, we always found giant puffballs in early September in the field behind our house. We cut them into slices, dipped them in seasoned flour and fried in butter. Delicious!
Thank you for this very valuable information.
Word of Caution: Most books counsel against eating shrimp mushrooms, though they are safe, the possibility of look alikes is unclear.
Good to know!
My mom taught me to make the puffballs go poof as a young child. I used to get so much joy from them. Lovely to know that they are also edible!
Such great memories.