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Should You Eat Mushrooms Raw? Maybe so, Maybe not.

Updated: Feb 8

Within the mycological culinary realm, a persistent question arises: "Can you eat raw mushrooms?" The response isn't straightforward. While some mushrooms are suitable for raw consumption, doing so might compromise their nutritional value. Cooking them, on the other hand, is necessary to eliminate potential toxins. On the flip side, cooking them cooks away vitamins too. Frustrating response, maybe, but like many things in life, there are always pros and cons.


Nutrient Content of Raw Mushrooms

Mushrooms have tons of vitamins and minerals. They are, in fact, the only food in the produce aisle that contain vitamin D. Cooking mushrooms enhances their nutritional bioavailability for better nutrient absorption in the body. However, consuming them raw preserves certain nutrients like vitamin C and some B vitamins that might be lost through cooking.


Digestibility

Trapped within the tough exterior of the cell walls during the digestion process, certain nutrient content is never made available to the eater. This tough to digest chitin is known to cause stomach upset for some people. Cooking your mushrooms takes care of both of these problems simultaneously.


Agaritine: Do Portabellos Cause Cancer?

Agaritine is found in certain mushrooms like white button mushrooms, scientific name Agaricus bisporus, which is a young Portabello. Some concerns have been raised due to its potential carcinogenic properties. Where does this come from? There was a study on agaritine and its relationship to the risk of developing cancer in field mice, where it was shown that the agaritine extract (but not the raw mushrooms themselves) showed such an increased risk. The findings of this study are not definitive evidence of its risks, but no doubt provide enough evidence to proceed carefully.


Is there a way to eradicate this potential toxin from a mushroom? Well, yes...cooking them.



Agaratine Portabello

0x010C, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Eating Other Mushrooms Raw

Though there are exceptions to most any rule, wild foraged mushrooms are generally unsafe to consume raw. For one, certain mushrooms like the ever-popular morel are toxic if consumed in its raw state. There are plenty of other examples, blewits, honey mushrooms…you get the point. Cooking, although not a destroyer of all toxins, is a tried and true method of breaking down toxins in many different mushroom species, including those that I mentioned. So, you might pick up a mushroom, identify it, and eat it raw straight out of the forest, and be just fine. Still, others are fatally toxic whether cooked or not. So, I like to operate on the safe side and do what I can to minimize the risk. As they say, “only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.”



Yellow Morel Toxic Raw

Amada44, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Adding to the risk is the potential for presence of harmful bacteria or pathogens on or inside of wild mushrooms. Cooking has a better than even chance of taking care of these as well. So…just cook your wild mushrooms, OK? Store-bought? You be the judge.


What's the Verdict?

I can’t tell you how risk averse you should be. But, balancing the benefits and risks, I cook my mushrooms. Hopefully this blog helps you find your own balance.



Sources

 

S E Shephard D GunzC Schlatter. Genotoxicity of agaritine in the lacI transgenic mouse mutation assay: evaluation of the health risk of mushroom consumption, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7737599/

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