There are many types of edible mushrooms in the world. Some are common, others delicacies. I would like to focus on one of the most highly appreciated by food connoisseurs, among the rarest edible mushrooms: the Matsutake.
What type of mushroom it is?
The Matsutake is a certain variety of mushroom which grows under trees or on the roots of red pines in and outside of Japan and measuring around 10-20 cm in length. They can be found in other countries such as China, Korea, Laos, Finland, Canada, Sweden, the USA, and others. They are considered special because of their strong scent which somehow stimulates your appetite!
Matsutake is the emperor of mushrooms in Japan, particularly appetizing and always very treasured. It is the equivalent in terms of image or notoriety to the black truffle mushroom.
Matsutake is also known as the pine mushroom because the mycelium that produces it feeds on the sap of jack pine roots. Due to over-exploitation, it has become increasingly rare.
Where does it come from?
Matsutake mushroom production is mostly in Japan, Korea (North and South) and China. Mushrooms of the same family are also found in Scandinavian countries and in North America. It grows in phylogenetic tree forests, such as red pine (aka-Matsu). The top Matsutake producer in Japan is Nagano Prefecture, although some may say that the great city of Kyoto offers the best in the country.
The best time to pick Matsutake is between September and October. Its flesh is white, firm and fragrant and the aroma is reminiscent of the flavor of autumn. Optimal harvest time is when their caps are not yet open. When the caps do open, the scent fades away.
Matsutake mushrooms have been enjoyed in Japanese cuisine for over 4,000 years. Clay statues shaped like various mushrooms, including one apparently depicting Matsutake, were found in ruins from the Jomon Period (13,500 to about 3,000 years ago), according to the website of the Japan Special Forest Production Promotion Association.
Some interesting facts
In Japan, many foods have a direct historic connection with the seasons. Japanese enjoy hunting for seasonal products such as chestnuts, apples, and mushrooms. In Japan, mushrooms are given the generic name “Kinoko” and mushroom hunting is known as “Kinokogari.”. “Kinokogari” has a long history and is thought to have originated during the “Jomon period, based upon the found remains of “Kinoko,” related artifacts. In the Edo period (1603-1838) it was a distinctive way for wealthy merchant class women to celebrate the fall season. So, even in ancient times in Japan, this kind of food was associated with wealth. According to historical documents, the Samurai enjoyed picking Matsutake.
Why it is so expensive?
It is hard to find matsutake due to a specific requirement in their length and freshness. Only a small number of forests are appropriate for their growth. On top of that, it’s a competition with local folks and animals in harvesting the mushrooms.
Like other certain types of mushrooms, Matsutake is impossible or not feasible to commercially grow due to rare environmental requirements, despite farmers’ relentless efforts. Matsutake growth requirements are similar to the rare and highly prized truffle. Also, habitats suitable for Matsutake are shrinking. They grow on soil free of fallen leaves, but such areas are disappearing along with the Japanese tradition of picking up leaves for fertilizer and fuel as more modern alternatives are adopted.
The cost can reach 50,000 yen per 100g. Yet, gourmets enjoy its flavor and taste a little bit spicy.
Its place in Japanese cuisine is very similar to black and white truffle for the French. It is typically enjoyed in a soup or rice dish, but Chawanmushi is another fantastic way to enjoy this special flavor with its unique essence and taste.
The autumn season is the best time, so I highly recommend you to enjoy Matsutake unique taste trying one of the special delicious recipes: grilled, if possible on top of the table with a charcoal grill for even better aroma, or “Dobin-Mushi” (gently steam-cooked with dashi stock in a ceramic pot), or “Matsutake Gohan” (white rice mixed with matsutake) or “Tempura” (matsutake with seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep-fried).
Picture from the Guide to Noto’s Satoyama and Satoumi (Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems) by Photos and Movies