Editor’s note: This article was originally published in September 2019. Updated April 2022.
Puffball is a name often given to mushroom species with a rounded shape. But, in this article, we’ll focus on one specific puffball, the giant puffball mushroom (Calvatia gigantea). As its name suggests, this wild edible mushroom can grow up to a substantial size, and can even reach one foot in diameter. It can be a common find in temperate areas throughout the world in late summer or early fall. So you could come across giant puffballs in meadows, forests, and fields when out wandering.
Edibility and culinary use
Giant puffballs have a mild nutty and earthy taste. And like most mushrooms, they soak up the flavor of any marinades or sauces really well. They can be cooked in many different ways and substituted into most recipes that call for mushrooms.
Because of their ‘meaty’, firm texture, they are often used as a substitute for tofu or even meat. And a common recipe is to coat puffball slices in breadcrumbs and fry them for a type of vegetarian schnitzel. The texture has a delicate, tofu-like feel. But just note that if you’re frying large pieces they can become quite floppy.
To prepare, peel the outer layer away before cooking. This helps to remove soil and any contamination. When you cut the mushroom open, make sure there are no discolorations. We cover cautions and lookalikes in more detail below. But if there are any other colors than pure white, it’s best not to eat that mushroom. Puffballs taste best when fresh, but you can also freeze or dry them for later use too.
Health benefits of the giant puffball
Like many other wild mushrooms, giant puffballs have great nutritional content. They’re rich in protein and low in calories and also very filling. They can also lower your cholesterol, increase your cardiovascular health, and boost your immune system.
Some research has shown that giant puffballs can help to limit bleeding from minor wounds. This benefit was known to Native Americans who used the mushrooms to treat cuts and lacerations. Puffballs also contain an interesting chemical compound called calvacin. While further study is needed, evidence suggests that this compound may have antitumor and anticancer properties. The quantity of calvacin in giant puffball mushrooms is minimal, so there wouldn’t be a notable benefit.
Can you cultivate giant puffball mushrooms?
Puffballs grow and feed in a different manner compared to other common mushrooms. Plus the germination rate for giant puffball spores is incredibly low. So cultivation takes preparation and patience. It may take several tries to successfully cultivate the giant puffball. However, if you’re up to the challenge, here’s how you can grow them at home.
How to cultivate your own
Firstly, you need to get hold of some viable giant puffball spores. If you’ve identified wild giant puffballs near your home, you could collect wild spores. When puffballs turn brown they are soon to release their spores. Several trillion to be precise, but who’s counting. Harvesting them at the right time is difficult, and inhaling spores can cause inflammation in your lungs. So alternatively you can buy mature giant puffballs online from a reputable source.
Once you have your mature puffballs, break them open with a knife. Then, press the mushrooms until all the spores are released. Fill a bucket with two gallons of spring or nonchlorinated water. Add a pinch of salt to keep bacteria away and a spoonful of molasses to feed the spores. Let everything soak at room temperature for about 48 hours.
Next, pour the mixture onto a designated space in your garden or lawn. Mist the area every couple of days to keep everything moist. The mycelium will eventually penetrate the ground and the mushrooms will grow. If you’re successful, you can expect the mushrooms to start fruiting within 3 or 4 weeks.
Harvest the puffballs while they are still young and pure white. Don’t pick the mushrooms with your bare hands as you might damage the mycelium. Instead, use a very sharp knife to make a clean cut. This way, the mycelium will be preserved and the mushrooms will come back year after year.
Cautions and lookalikes
There’s one important ID feature to remember when foraging for giant puffball mushrooms. For more information check out our guide on how to safely forage puffballs. The most important lookalikes to be wary of are young Amanita mushrooms, which are lethally poisonous. Death cap and destroying angel mushrooms are as deadly as their names suggest. So only forage puffball mushrooms with 100% confidence in what you are picking and always follow safe foraging guidelines.
Like a number of wild mushrooms, puffballs can spoil quickly after picking. So make sure to use them before they begin to brown and lose their structure.
If you’re just beginning your mushroom foraging journey, the giant puffball is a fantastic mushroom to start with. There’s nothing more satisfying than finding a huge puffball in the wild and bringing it home for cooking. Just remember to follow identification guidance and only pick mushrooms with 100% certainty. With its versatile flavor, this wild edible can be a great addition to your meals. If you struggle to find a local supply, you can always try cultivating this impressive mushroom in your own garden.
Writen by Cornelia Tjandra
Cornelia is a freelance writer with a passion for bringing words to life and sharing useful information with the world. Her educational background in natural science and social issues has given her a broad base to approach various topics with ease. Learn more about her writing services on Upwork.com or contact her directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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