Straw mushrooms (Volvariella volvacea), also known as paddy straw mushrooms, are an edible mushroom variety that grows all over East and Southeast Asia. It is a popular ingredient in Asian recipes. This article will guide you through the process of identifying, growing, harvesting, and using straw mushrooms for cooking and preserving.
Did you know: straw mushrooms are the third most consumed mushroom in the world?
Another piece of cute piece of trivia is that Walt Disney used straw mushrooms for the “Danse Chinois” in the movie Fantasia because these pint-sized mushrooms look like they have brown straw hats, happy faces, and little dancing feet.
In this guide, you will discover everything you need to know about straw mushrooms, including:
- How to tell them apart from other similar (and sometimes poisonous) varieties
- The best way to cultivate and harvest them
- Their benefits, uses, and nutritional values
Shall we dig in and see what we can unearth about straw mushrooms?
What are Straw Mushrooms?
When you see straw mushrooms displayed in baskets at fresh food markets in Asia, you would think they are the eggs of a small bird. This is because the mushrooms are harvested before their caps open up. When in their ‘egg stage,’ they are called ‘unpeeled.’ After they have matured and their caps have erupted, they are called ‘peeled.’
Nutritional research has found that the unpeeled mushrooms contain a more nutritious balance of amino acids than when they are peeled. This means that these mushrooms are a valuable source of protein in the Asian diet.
In other parts of the world, you can buy straw mushrooms in a can from Asian markets, or dried, from Asian herbal outlets. The labels will tell you if they are peeled or unpeeled. Unpeeled canned mushrooms have a stronger taste than the mature, peeled ones, and dried mushrooms have a more intense flavor than those preserved in a can.
Straw Mushroom vs. Button Mushrooms and Death Cap Mushrooms
Button mushrooms, also known as white mushrooms and champignon, are smooth, round-capped, mild-flavored mushrooms. They make up most of the cultivated mushroom crops in the western world. Even though they are called ‘white’ mushrooms, they can also be off-white and brown, in which case they are called Cremini or Crimini. They belong to the species Agaricus bisporus. The ‘real buttons’ are about one-half inch in diameter, while the ‘jumbos’ can be as big as 3 inches. Their flavor intensifies when they are cooked, and they are great eaten raw in salads.
Straw mushrooms are not as readily available as buttons – that is, if you want them fresh. You will be able to find them canned or dried, though. If you want nice fresh ones, we’ll tell you how to grow your own a little later in this guide.
Death cap mushrooms live up to their name – they are poisonous. Unfortunately, death caps resemble straw mushrooms in their unpeeled stage. They can, however, be distinguished by inspecting a few mycological features. For example, the spore print of death caps is white, while that of straw mushrooms is pink. They also grow in different areas, with the death cap typically not found where the straw mushroom grows natively. Regrettably, immigrants from Southeast Asia have been poisoned due to misidentification.
Where do Straw Mushrooms Grow?
Paddy Straw Mushrooms got their name because they grow on the straw found on rice paddies in the humid conditions in East and Southeast Asia. This is a subtropical climate that experiences high annual rainfall. This variety of edible fungi loves the hot, steamy conditions that this climate offers.
These mushrooms only fruit above 80° F (27° C) and actually prefer +90° F (+32° C). They can be grown on any slightly composted vegetable waste, not only paddy straw; although, in this guide, we will be using straw and cottonseed hulls.
Attempts to grow them on a commercial scale in America have failed. But don’t let that dissuade you from growing your own. As a home-grower, you will be able to control the conditions needed to successfully grow straw mushrooms, wherever you live.
Straw Mushrooms, Benefits and Uses
One cup of straw mushrooms is nutritionally dense and provides 240 kilojoules (58 kilocalories) of food energy, 27.7 µg selenium (50.36% of RDA), 699 mg sodium (46.60%), 2.6 mg iron (32.50%), 0.242 mg copper (26.89%), 69 µg vitamin B9 (Folate) (17.25%), 111 mg phosphorus (15.86%), 0.75 mg vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) (15.00%), 6.97 g protein (13.94%), 4.5 g total dietary fiber (11.84%), and 1.22 mg zinc (11.09%).
7 Health Benefits of Straw Mushrooms
All varieties of mushrooms are packed with nutrients and vitamins. They are considered a superfood because they boost your immune system and improve bone health. They are also cholesterol and gluten-free. Mushrooms are a low-calorie source of antioxidants, fiber, and protein.
Let’s have a closer look at straw mushrooms’ health benefits:
1. Low in Cholesterol
Straw Mushrooms contain several proteins that help to burn cholesterol in the digestive system. They contain no bad fats and have a low carb content. The fiber and enzyme content helps the digestive system.
2. Boosts your Immune System
Straw Mushrooms contain ergothioneine, a powerful antioxidant that protects the body from free radicals. The Vitamin A, B-complex, and C found in these superfoods will do wonders for your immune system. Due to the high levels of antioxidants, it is believed that mushrooms can prevent health conditions such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
3. Protein Without the Fat
Dried straw mushrooms contain 38 to 42% protein. Our bodies need protein for growth and repair, but many sources of protein contain unhealthy fats. Compared with eggs, another protein food-source, straw mushrooms contain less fat. Another plus compared to eggs, the protein in mushrooms actually combats cholesterol.
4. Reducing Free Radicals
The flavonoids and selenium found in straw mushrooms can help fight free radicals in the body. We are exposed to free radicals through pollution, alcohol, unhealthy fats, and electromagnetic radiation. Free radicals can cause serious illnesses, including cancer.
5. Good for Diabetics
Straw Mushrooms contain doses of natural insulin, which may benefit people with diabetes. Natural insulin increases the health of your liver, pancreas, and other endocrinal glands and regulates insulin formation. The natural antibiotics found in this little fungus can help fight infection in the wounds of diabetic people.
6. Strengthening Bones
Straw Mushrooms contain the second-highest concentration of vitamin D after cod-liver oil (and they taste so much better). They also contain calcium. Both are beneficial for bone health.
7. Great for Heart Health
Straw mushrooms contain potassium and copper. Copper has anti-bacterial properties that may help prevent bacterial disease in our internal organs, and potassium helps maintain our blood vessels’ health, resulting in a happy heart.
Uses, Dishes, and Recipe Ideas
Straw Mushrooms are best enjoyed cooked. They can be braised in garlic butter or added to stir-fries, soups, or stews. You could also serve them on top of grilled fish, burgers, steak, or your favorite omelet.
To reconstitute dried straw mushrooms, you can blanch them in boiling water for two to five minutes or soak them in lukewarm water, wine, or broth for about 30 minutes.
Canned straw mushrooms should be strained and rinsed before use. If you don’t use the whole can in one sitting, store the remaining mushrooms in clean water in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a further two or three days.
If you want to dehydrate your own straw mushrooms for use when the weather is cooler, and they are more difficult to grow, follow these simple steps:
- Clean the mushrooms. Gently wash and remove all dirt using a brush or knife.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the mushrooms into quarter-inch (6mm) slices.
- Arrange in a single layer on mesh dehydrator sheets.
- Dehydrate at 130° F (54° C) for four to eight hours or until completely dry and crispy.
- Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
How to Grow Straw Mushrooms at Home
What You Need:
- Mushroom spawn
- Plastic sheet or tarp
- 50 lb (23 kg) bag of cottonseed hulls
- 1 square wheat bale (shredded is best)
- 5 lb (2.5kg) wheat bran – hydrated
- Hydrated lime
What To Do:
- Mix the cottonseed hulls and wheat straw separately with water. Soak it for three days – this allows it to ferment briefly.
- Remove the cotton and straw from the water and add half of the wheat bran to each – this is your growing mix.
- Pasteurize your growing mix by wrapping each type separately in plastic and placing it in the sun for three days. If you can’t wait, you could steam it for two hours at 140-160 ° F (60-70 ° C).
- Lay your growing mix in strips alternating between the cotton waste and the wheat straw on your plastic sheet. Place the sheet in an area that does not get direct sunlight unless you are in a cooler climate, in which case a sunny area will work well.
- Put the spawn on top of the cotton rows.
- Cover everything loosely with another plastic sheet. The inner growing mix’s temperature needs to remain close to 100° F (37° C) and not exceed 120 ° F (48° C) for too long.
- After two days, remove the top sheet and inspect the growing mix where you put the spawn. You should see fine web-like growth spreading out.
- Lift the plastic to increase the airflow without allowing the growing mix to dry out. You could use a small hoop-like structure to create a humidity tent.
Harvesting and Storing
Harvest the mushrooms while they are still in their ‘unpeeled,’ egg stage. This is not only better for storage, but, as we read at the beginning of this guide, it is when the mushrooms are at their most nutritious. Store the mushrooms in a paper bag in your refrigerator for a few days, or dry them out and store them in an airtight container until you need them. After your first harvest, the bed will rest and then fruit once more.
When you have successfully grown your straw mushrooms, you can use the same growing mix for Almond Portabella mushrooms, or you can compost the mix and create rich soil for your plants. Using everything is part of a zero-waste lifestyle. For more zero-waste ideas have a look here.
This video demonstrates how to harvest Straw Mushrooms:
Just because straw mushrooms may not grow naturally in your area doesn’t mean you can’t cultivate your own crop and enjoy this typically Asian mushroom in your home-cooked Eastern cuisine or any other dish of your choice. They are tasty, packed full of goodness, and easy to grow – so give it a try!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is mycelium?
“A mycelium is a network of fungal threads or hyphae. Mycelia often grow underground but can also thrive in other places such as rotting vegetation. A single spore can develop into a mycelium. The fruiting bodies of fungi, such as mushrooms, can sprout from a mycelium.”
How does mushroom spawn and mycelium work?
“In the spawn-production process, mycelium from a mushroom culture is placed onto steam-sterilized grain, and in time the mycelium completely grows through the grain. This grain/mycelium mixture is called spawn, and spawn is used to ‘seed’ mushroom compost.”
How long until I can harvest my first crop of straw mushrooms?
In as little as four to seven days, but typically in two weeks, straw mushroom’ eggs’ will begin to form on the surface, commonly in clusters. They will quickly mature in two to three days.