5 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying, Storing, and Cooking Mushrooms

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Unlike other vegetables, mushrooms often get their own little carved-out section at the grocery store. Not only are there half-a-dozen or so many varieties to choose from, but they also often come with the option to buy in bulk, pre-sliced, pre-cleaned, and more. It’s all a little daunting!

And that’s before you take them home. Then there’s the question of the right way to clean and cook them. But what you really need to know is what you shouldn’t do to your mushrooms.

1. Buying prepackaged mushrooms.

If at all possible, avoid buying packaged mushrooms, and buy them loose instead. Not only does this allow you to buy only what you need, but the loose ones are also usually cheaper. You’ll also be able to inspect them to make sure you’re buying the best ones.

Follow this tip: Buy loose mushrooms instead of packaged; choose ones that aren’t broken or bruised. They should be firm, evenly colored, and just barely damp, and smell earthy and fresh.

2. Storing them in a plastic bag.

That environment is actually too moist for mushrooms, and storing them there can cause them to get soft and moldy fast.

Follow this tip: Store mushrooms in an open paper bag in the main compartment of the refrigerator. The paper allows for air circulation and absorbs any excess moisture.

3. Keeping them close to smelly foods.

Mushrooms have a tendency to absorb odors from other foods, so it’s best to keep them away from anything strong-smelling in your refrigerator.

Follow this tip: Keep mushrooms separate from things like herbs, alliums, cheese, and any pungent leftovers in your refrigerator.

4. Not cleaning them properly.

How to clean mushrooms depends on how you plan to use them. Since mushrooms absorb water like a sponge, simply rinsing them like you do other vegetables isn’t the tried-and-true answer.

Follow this tip: If you’re planning on eating the mushrooms raw, don’t rinse them — you don’t want to be biting into soggy mushrooms in your salad. Instead, use a dry paper towel to brush off any dirt. If the mushrooms are especially dirty, then go ahead and lightly dampen the paper towel before cleaning.

If the mushrooms are being cooked, it’s OK to rinse them if they’re very dirty. Lightly rinse each one individually, rubbing the dirt off with your fingers, and then dry them off with a paper towel before cooking them.

5. Crowding the pan and using just a little fat when cooking.

Again, no one likes a soggy mushroom, but if you toss all of your mushrooms in a tiny pan to sauté them, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Mushrooms need space so that the water they release evaporates rather than stays right in the pan.

They also need enough fat, whether it’s cooking oil or butter, to caramelize properly. Since mushrooms are porous, they’ll soak up a good amount of the fat, and if you haven’t used enough, you’ll be left with none in the pan for your mushrooms to cook in.

Follow this tip: Choose a pan that’s big enough to spread the mushrooms out in a single layer and don’t be afraid to use more oil or butter. Cook them over medium to high heat, so the water can quickly evaporate, allowing the mushrooms brown.

More on Cooking Mushrooms: How to Cook Mushrooms on the Stovetop