Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are medium to large in size, averaging 5-25 centimeters in diameter and are broad, fan-shaped, and grow in multiple, overlapping brackets that look like miniature shelves on the sides of trees. The caps are smooth or slightly wrinkled and are bright orange and white when young, fading to a dull orange and then to completely white when mature. The cap is also slightly grooved with a suede-like feel and a rounded edge. Instead of gills, the underside is composed of white to sulfur-colored, tightly packed pores from which spores can be released. When cooked, Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are juicy, succulent, and meaty with a mild, lemony flavor that many compare to the taste of chicken, lobster, or crab.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are available in the late summer through early fall.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms, botanically classified as Laetiporus sulphureus, are brightly colored, edible mushrooms that are members of the Polyporaceae family. Also known as Chicken fungus, Chicken mushroom, and Sulphur Shelf, there are about twelve different species of Chicken of the Woods mushrooms that are visually indistinguishable yet are considered biologically distinct as a sibling species. The only way to distinguish one sibling species from another is using ecological factors like growing region and the wood on which it grows. The edible Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are found growing on dead or dying hardwood trees such as oak, cherry, or beech. There are some varieties that grow on conifers, eucalyptus, and cedar, but these should be avoided as they can absorb oils from the trees that may cause intense intestinal irritation. Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are a popular variety for their meaty texture and chicken-like flavor and are often used as a meat substitute in vegetarian dishes.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms contain potassium, vitamin C, fiber, vitamin A, and are believed to have antifungal and antibiotic properties.