Ask Auntie

Should I wash mushrooms?

Q. I have heard lots of times that you shouldn’t wash mushrooms, but I always do because that is how my mother taught me to cook them. Am I doing the right or wrong thing?

Asks Clyde in Minchinhampton.

A. We can clear this one up with a very short and concise answer. In my opinion NO, you shouldn’t wash mushrooms.

Maybe you would like a slightly longer answer though, and since there are bound to be very many people out there who disagree with me completely and will dismiss the ‘don’t wash mushrooms’ argument as a myth, I will elaborate…

It’s easy to quote ‘respected’ sources to prove just about any point of view which often makes it equally easy to dismiss them, but when it comes to cooking Larousse is one of the best and states that:

“In order to retain the full flavour of mushrooms, it is best not to peel or wash them, but simply to wipe them with a damp cloth and then dry them. […] If absolutely necessary, the mushrooms may be washed very quickly, but never allowed to soak. Varieties such as morels, which have a cap that is pitted like a honeycomb, are cleaned with a small brush.”

Also in agreement are the British Mushroom Bureau, a lot of top chefs and pretty much every culinary school I’m aware of.

The theory is that due to the fact they are highly absorbent, washing your mushrooms just before cooking them will make them even more full of water than they already are which will leave you with something soggier and with less flavour than in their prewashed state. It all depends on the variety of fungi though as some are far more absorbant than others.

I’m not sure whether the absorption thing is entirely true or not, I write only from personal experience which is that they always seem to taste better when unwashed. Instead I either brush them off or use a damp paper towel to wipe them clean.

Of course it could just be that I like the taste of traces of soil and manure, who knows. I certainly believe that we all have to eat a bit of dirt here and there, it’s probably not going to hurt you. I don’t believe in carrying round a sanitising spray and having anti-bacterial everything everywhere I go either.

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