Puffball Mushroom, You’ll Be Ok If You Follow One ID Feature


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Bovista Puffball Mushroom
Bovista aestivalis Puffball Mushroom (Photo By: Ron Pastorino at Mushroom Observer / Wikimedia Commons)

The Puffball Mushroom(Genus:Calvatia, Bovista and others) is an easily identifiable common mushroom but it has some very, very poisonous look-a-likes, namely young destroying angel and deathcap mushrooms.  Puffball mushrooms fall into a number of genuses, most of them are small(less than 3”) but there is one giant puffball(Calvatia gigantea) that can grow up to one foot diameter and is edible.

Correct Identification

There is one good way to tell puffballs apart from its poisonous look-a-likes, you must cut the mushroom in half from top to bottom.  The inside of edible puffball mushrooms should be pure white, like a marshmallow, or like fresh mozzarella balls, there should be no patterns, or marks or colors or anything other than pure white, and especially no signs of gills.  If you follow this one rule you should be able to enjoy mushroom hunting for puffball mushrooms without worry.  Not all puffballs are edible, and not all are edible at all stages, but if you stick with the rule of pure white inside then you will only be eating edible puffballs.

Edibility and Culinary Use

Giant Puffball
Giant Puffball(Calvatia gigantea)(Photo By: Pavel Savela / Wikimedia Commons)

Puffballs have a mild mushroomy taste that is not overwhelming, some people describe it as an earthy taste.  They can be used in recipes in place of eggplant.  The texture is like tofu so they make a great addition to soups. They should be eaten cooked, baked, boiled, or fried in butter are all common ways to eat this mushroom.  Although it is possible to freeze or dry them they are best when eaten shortly after picking, this may be one reason they are not a popular grocery item.  Washing the interior of the mushroom is not a good idea since it will soak up water like a sponge and become soggy, if you are worried about dirt or germs you can remove the skin from the mushrooms instead.

Health Benefits

The nutritional and health benefits of wild foods are not studied enough.  But there is one important possible health benefit to eating puffballs in the genus Calvatia.  A chemical called calvacin has been found in puffballs in the genus calvatia.  Calvacin is now being studied as a potent cancer drug because of its antitumor properties.  The studies are still ongoing and there have not been any huge breakthroughs, but it is known to prevent tumors when taken on a regular basis.

Cautions

Lycoperdon Puffball Mushroom
Lycoperdon pyrforme Puffball Mushroom (Photo By: Bernd Gliwa / Wikimedia Commons)

The primary caution of this fungus is to make sure it is identified correctly, if you accidentally eat a mushroom in the Amanita genus especially destroying angel(Amanita bisporigera, ocreata, or virosa) or deathcap(Amanita phalloides) then you will probably die within 24 hours.  But the rule mentioned above about making sure the mushroom is pure white is universally accepted, and will keep you safe. Rare allergic reactions have been reported and are usually minor, so always eat a small portion of any new food and wait before indulging in large quantities.

Conclusion

Giant Puffball
Giant Puffball

This is a great mushroom for mushroom hunting, especially the giant puffball because it is almost impossible to misidentify.  It has a mild taste and a familiar texture.  It can be cooked and added to many types of dishes.  So with one identification rule to follow this can be a great wild edible to add to your list.


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