Can You Eat Raw Mushrooms? How To Safely Eat Uncooked Mushrooms

Can You Eat Raw Mushrooms? How To Safely Eat Uncooked Mushrooms

Published on Oct 05, 2023

If you’re a mushroom lover or simply curious about the nutritional properties of fungi—you may have wondered: is it safe to eat mushrooms raw?

Raw mushrooms have found their way into salads, sandwiches, and numerous raw food dishes. Their unique texture and earthy flavour can be an interesting addition to a variety of meals. However, before adding raw mushrooms to your plate, it's crucial to consider the potential downsides.

For many commonly consumed varieties of mushrooms like button, oyster, and shiitake mushrooms, eating them raw is generally considered safe, even if they are easier to digest when cooked.

With that said, some types of mushrooms should be avoided due to potential digestive issues, while others could pose serious, even life-threatening risks when consumed.

In this article, we will explore the science behind mushroom consumption, explaining why cooking mushrooms is generally better for you and if you wish to consume mushrooms raw, how to do so safely.

We'll also compare the safety and health benefits of cooked versus raw mushrooms, and provide a curated list of mushrooms that are safe to consume, those that are better avoided, and the ones you should steer clear of at all costs.

Is Eating Raw Mushrooms Safe?

For many popular types of mushrooms, consuming them raw is safe—if that is your preference. While most mushrooms available at grocery stores are safe to consume raw, doing so is not universally recommended. The digestibility and nutrient absorption of raw mushrooms should be considered before incorporating them into your diet.

Can Humans Digest Raw Mushrooms?

Most people can digest many forms of raw mushrooms, though there are drawbacks to consuming mushrooms this way.

Mushrooms contain a compound called chitin—a complex sugar that lends structure to the fungal cells. Pronounced 'kay-tin,' this substance is also found in the exoskeletons of insects and certain marine creatures. If you were to compare mushrooms to plants, its function is akin to cellulose, the main contributor to dietary fibre.

In the human digestive system, chitin is broken down by enzymes known as chitinases. Though our bodies neither produce nor require chitin, chitinases serve to defend us against chitin-based parasites, safeguarding our digestive and reproductive systems from potential harm.

By taking these factors into account, it becomes clear that while consuming raw mushrooms isn't always dangerous, opting for cooked versions can offer significant advantages for nutrient absorption and overall health.

Raw Mushrooms vs. Cooked Mushrooms

Aspect Raw Mushrooms Cooked Mushrooms
Nutritional Properties - May retain more vitamin D if sun-exposed. - Enhanced availability of nutrients such as B vitamins, selenium, potassium, and phosphorus due to breakdown of cell walls.
- Increased accessibility to beta-glucans known for immune support.
Flavour & Texture Mild, earthy flavour with a crisp texture. - Deep, umami flavor with a tender, meaty texture brought out by caramelisation of natural sugars.
Contamination & Digestibility - Potential challenges for sensitive stomachs due to compounds like agaritine and a tougher cell structure.
- Possible bacterial contamination (alleviated with washing or blanching).
- Easier digestion due to breakdown of tough cell walls and neutralisation of compounds like agaritine.
- Reduced bacterial contamination risk through cooking.
Culinary Applications - Suitable for salads, cold dishes, and recipes that call for a fresh, crunchy texture. - Versatile for a variety of cooked dishes, stews, stir-fries, and more, where a hearty texture and rich flavour are desired.


Why Cooking Mushrooms Is Healthier

Cooking mushrooms isn't just a matter of taste or texture—it also helps to make consuming them safer as well as improving their nutritional benefits. When dealing with wild-foraged or improperly stored mushrooms, cooking also significantly reduces the risk of bacterial contamination. 

While there's a common notion that cooking may reduce the nutritional contents of many foods, mushrooms are generally an exception. When mushrooms are cooked, the bioavailability of their proteins markedly increases, allowing for improved and easier digestion. It even helps our bodies access essential minerals such as selenium, phosphorus and potassium.

As we've touched on already, cooking  mushrooms breaks down the chitin, a component of the mushroom cell walls, aiding in nutrient absorption.

If we look at the medicinal properties of mushrooms when cooked, we also see an amplification of anti-oxidants and beta-glucans—compounds shown to have immune-boosting properties. It's worth noting, however, that most edible medicinal mushrooms are best consumed in a concentrated form like tinctures or powders. 

    How To Safely Eat Raw Mushrooms

    1. Ensure They Are An Edible Variety

    The first step towards safely enjoying raw mushrooms begins with choosing the right varieties. Stick to those known for their edibility and palatability such as the common white button, cremini, and portobello mushrooms. Wild mushrooms, although intriguing, are a path best left untraveled unless you are a seasoned mycologist or have consulted with one. The wilderness hosts a plethora of mushroom species, many of which are highly toxic and easy to misidentify.

    2. Purchase from Reliable Sources or Grow Your Own

    Where you buy your mushrooms is equally important. Opt for reputable grocers, farmers' markets, or specialty stores that are known for adhering to stringent food safety standards. If possible, gravitate towards organically grown mushrooms; this way, you bypass the potential health hurdles posed by pesticide residues.

    Alternatively, growing your own mushrooms is another way to ensure proper handling and standards, as well as making for a rewarding experience. It not only ensures a fresh supply but also provides control over the growing conditions.

    3. Proper Storage is Key

    Once you've purchased or grown your mushrooms, proper storage is crucial to maintain their freshness. The refrigerator is your friend here. Storing them in a paper bag allows the mushrooms to breathe, which in turn helps in maintaining their texture and prolonging their shelf life.

    4. Thorough Cleaning

    Before they make their way onto your plate, mushrooms deserve a thorough cleaning to rid them of any bacteria and dirt they may be harbouring. A gentle rinse under cold running water usually does the trick. For a more thorough cleaning, a soft brush or cloth can be employed to gently scrub away any stubborn dirt or debris.

    5. Consider Blanching

    For the purists amongst us, the idea of blanching may seem like a departure from the raw food ethos. However, a brief blanching session can be a step to kill off any lurking bacteria without significantly compromising the texture or taste of the mushrooms. A quick submersion in boiling water for 1-2 minutes followed by an immediate transfer to ice water to halt the cooking process is all it takes.

    6. Become Aware of Allergies and Sensitivities

    Mushrooms and mould share a close lineage, making mushrooms a potential trigger for those with mould allergies or sensitivities. If you haven't explored mushrooms much in the past, it's wise to start with a small portion to gauge your body's reaction.

    7. Consult a Health Professional

    If you have a compromised immune system or other health conditions, a quick consultation with a healthcare professional before introducing raw mushrooms to your diet is advisable.

    Types of Mushrooms That Can Be Eaten Raw

    When it comes to raw mushroom consumption, not all mushrooms make the cut. Here are some varieties that are a generally considered safe to eat uncooked:

    White Button Mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus)

    The humble white button mushroom is a common sight in grocery stores and a safe choice for raw consumption. They have a mild, delicate flavour that can be a great addition to salads and sandwiches.

    Cremini Mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus)

    Cremini, or baby bella mushrooms, are essentially a mature version of the white button mushrooms. They offer a slightly firmer texture and a more robust flavour, making them a favoured choice for those seeking a bit more character in their raw mushroom experience.

    Portobello Mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus)

    The Portobello is the fully matured version of the Cremini, boasting a hearty texture and a rich, meaty flavour. They are excellent as meat substitutes in burgers or as a standalone dish with a drizzle of olive oil.

    Shiitake Mushrooms (Lentinula edodes)

    While shiitake mushrooms are more commonly cooked to bring out their umami flavour, they can also be eaten raw. They have a chewy texture and a rich, smoky flavour.

    With that said, there are some important considerations before you do. Like many mushrooms, their cellular structure can prove challenging to our digestive systems when consumed raw. 

    It's also important to note that raw shiitake may harbour potential allergens, which may trigger adverse reaction in some people. There have been reported cases where the consumption of raw shiitake has been associated with a unique form of skin irritation known as Shiitake Dermatitis, which results in itchy and painful rashes.

    Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)

    Whilst in theory consuming raw Oyster mushrooms isn’t considered as harmful, it is important to mention that it contains a protein called ostreolysin. Its role in nature is to break down cell walls of wood, allowing the mushroom to access the nutrients. It is being studied for its cytotoxic effects on cells (e.g. cancer cells), however ingesting large quantities of it may be harmful. It is still studied extensively so to be on the safe side we would recommend having your oyster mushrooms cooked, as this neutralises the protein and enhances the flavour.

    As we continue to explore the world of fungi and understand what is safe in various quantities, the general consensus remains that cooking mushrooms is often the safest and most flavourful option. It's good practice to acquire them from reputable sources (or grow your own), handle them with care, and remain vigilant for any signs of spoilage to ensure safety.

    Mushrooms to Avoid Eating Raw

    While many mushrooms hold great medicinal and culinary value, some are simply not advisable to be consumed raw. Proper cooking or an alternative form of processing, such as oil extraction, is required for these varieties. Eating them raw can lead to gastrointestinal issues, and in the case of toxic species, it poses severe health risks. Therefore, when consuming mushrooms from an unfamiliar source, always ensure you can positively identify the species.


    Reishi mushrooms, highly regarded for their medicinal properties should not be consumed raw. These mushrooms are exceptionally tough due to their dense and compact skeletal hyphae structure, slow growth pattern, and the chitin-rich cell walls; attempting to bite into them could lead to dental problems - ouch! To harness their medicinal benefits, they should be dried, crushed, and best consumed as a tea, tincture, or in capsule form.

    Morels (Morchella spp.)

    Morels, with their distinctive hollow stems and caps reminiscent of fancy French tuile biscuits, are considered a delicacy. However, they must be treated with caution. Firstly, ensure you have genuine Morels (Morchella spp.) and not the false Morels (Gyromitra spp.). Secondly, they must be cooked before consumption. This is due to their chitin content and digestive enzymes, which may cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Cooking Morels makes them more palatable and safe to eat.

    False Morels (Gyromitra spp.)

    The false Morel, a lookalike of the mushroom mentioned above, is one to avoid, whether cooked or raw. Consuming a cooked false Morel may result in gastrointestinal discomfort, while ingesting a raw one can lead to unpleasant experiences, including diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, and potential liver or kidney damage. It's best to steer clear of these mushrooms entirely.

    Death Cap (Amanita Phalloides)

    Amanita Phalloides, aptly known as the "Death Cap," should never be consumed in any form. These mushrooms contain such a high amount of lethal toxins that even a single mushroom can be fatal to several people. It's best to leave them where they belong - in the woods.

    Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius)

    Chanterelles are cherished in the culinary world for their unique flavour and aroma. While they aren't toxic like some other wild mushrooms, eating them raw could potentially cause mild gastrointestinal upset in some individuals.

    In Eastern Europe, they are occasionally consumed raw or dried and powdered for their anti-parasitic properties. However, they can be confused with false chanterelles (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca), so it's crucial to have strong identification skills. In any case, it's advisable to explore recipes that bring out their rich and nutty flavour.

    Porcini (Boletus edulis)

    While many mushrooms in the Boletus family are edible, Porcini are best enjoyed when cooked. Although they lack lethal toxins, they may be somewhat challenging to digest and can cause gastrointestinal discomfort if consumed raw. Proper preparation through cooking breaks down any potentially indigestible elements, resulting in a more enjoyable culinary experience.

    Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria mellea)

    Honey mushrooms require thorough cooking to break down their mild toxins and to eliminate any harmful bacteria, making them unsafe for raw consumption.

    In a world teeming with edible, palatable, and even medicinal mushroom species, it's often not worth the risk of experimenting with those that come with "may be edible if" attached to them. Even the most seasoned foragers tend to stick to the mushroom varieties they know well. The potential for unpleasant effects isn't worth the risk. After all, no one desires liver failure for the sake of a meal, do they?

    How cooking mushrooms improves their flavour

    Cooking not only makes mushrooms safer and more nutritious but also significantly enhances their flavour and texture. This transformation occurs through several key processes:

    • Maillard Reaction: When mushrooms are exposed to heat, they undergo the Maillard reaction—a chemical process between amino acids and reducing sugars—that produces new flavour compounds. The Maillard reaction not only gives the mushrooms a richer, more savoury taste but also changes their colour to a delightful golden brown.
    • Water Evaporation: Mushrooms consist of about 90% water. Cooking helps evaporate some of this water, which concentrates the flavour of the mushroom. The reduction in water content also changes the texture, making them more tender and meat-like.
    • Fat Absorption: When cooked with fats like butter or olive oil, mushrooms absorb these fats, which serve as carriers for soluble flavour compounds. This enables the mushrooms to develop a more robust and rounded flavour.
    • Caramelisation of Natural Sugars: Mushrooms contain natural sugars that caramelise when exposed to heat. This caramelisation process adds sweetness and complexity to the mushroom’s overall flavour profile, making them more appealing.

    Mushroom Cooking Tips and Techniques

    For additional insights into the benefits of cooking mushrooms, we consulted Chris Bax, an expert forager and chef from Taste the Wild. Chris reiterated the point that button mushrooms, on their own, can be "a bit sad." However, with proper cooking techniques and browning, they acquire a caramelised texture that accentuates the umami flavours.

    Selecting the right cooking technique is essential and varies depending on the type of mushroom. For fleshier varieties like Oyster or Button mushrooms, Chris recommends cooking them quickly at high heat to prevent water from oozing into the pan, which can result in a soggy texture. Overcrowding the pan should be avoided as it reduces the temperature, leading to sogginess. Adding salt towards the end of the cooking process can provide a crispier texture by absorbing any residual moisture and creating a delicious crunchy edge. In general, methods like grilling, sautéing, or baking preserve more nutrients and flavour compared to boiling.

    Cooking mushrooms can extend beyond frying; they can be incorporated into a wide array of recipes, such as soups, sauces, or stir-fries. When comparing fresh and cooked mushrooms, the latter often offers a longer shelf life. Storing them in the fridge or freezer is a viable option if you're running short on time and wish to prevent your fresh mushrooms from spoiling too quickly.

    Frequently Searched Questions

    Can Raw Mushrooms Cause Food Poisoning?

    Raw mushroom can absolutely cause food poisoning. Raw mushrooms may contain potential parasites, bacteria, and viruses, and subjecting them to heat processing significantly reduces this substantial risk. Mushrooms purchased from the store are a safer option than wild species, offering fewer chances of toxic surprises and future health issues.

    Is It Safe to Include Raw Mushrooms in Salads?

    Mushrooms make a wonderful addition to numerous dishes, salads being no exception! While certain types are most suitable for salads when they're cooked, there are varieties that can be enjoyed raw. When selecting the right mushroom for your salad, be sure it's absolutely safe to eat uncooked, such as button mushrooms. However, always adhere to some essential guidelines to minimise risks.

    Whether you're growing the mushrooms yourself or obtaining them from a reputable supplier, it's vital to ensure they follow all safety regulations. The last thing you want is harmful bacteria or pesticides on your mushrooms. To prepare them, begin by washing them thoroughly to eliminate any soil or residue. Even simple handling and processing can introduce low levels of contamination.

    Can You Eat Raw Mushrooms Whilst Pregnant?

    If you are pregnant, your focus is likely on the best nutrition for both yourself and the baby. While mushrooms can provide many nutrients beneficial to you both, it's essential to note that consuming raw mushrooms isn't advisable during this blessed state.

    Harmful bacteria, such as Listeria, may be present in them. Even when cooked, certain wild mushroom varieties could still contain substances that may pose risks to both you and your baby. If you're a mushroom connoisseur, it's wise to consult your doctor, just to err on the side of caution.

    Can Babies Eat Raw Mushrooms?

    Due to the ongoing development of their digestive system, it's advisable to exclude mushrooms from a baby's diet. A child's immune system is more susceptible to infections and reactions, making it better to wait a few years before introducing this type of food.

    When you do introduce mushrooms, ensure they are thoroughly cooked and gradually integrated into the diet to allow the gut bacteria to adjust at their own pace. Even in Eastern Europe, where wild mushrooms are consumed in significant quantities, it's common to avoid serving them to children until they are at least 12 years old (although with cultivated varieties like button mushrooms, this introduction can occur a bit earlier).

    How Long Can You Keep Raw Mushrooms in the Fridge?

    Raw mushrooms can be stored in the fridge for approximately 7 days. However, it's essential to note that they lose moisture and may become wrinkly as each day passes. Storing them in a plastic bag is not recommended, as it can cause them to sweat and spoil more quickly. Opt for a paper bag if you can't prepare them immediately

    Final Thoughts & Takeaways

    It's apparent that the world of mushrooms offers a fascinating blend of culinary delight, nutritional benefits, and medical potential. While there are thousands of species yet to be fully explored for their effects on health and athletic performance, it's crucial to proceed with an informed approach.

    • Stick to Safe Varieties: Eat only well-known, safe-to-consume mushroom species, especially if you're new to mushroom foraging or consumption.
    • Preparation MattersThe way you prepare mushrooms can impact not only their taste but also their nutritional and safety profiles. Cooking is generally recommended for maximising health benefits.
    • Source Mushrooms ResponsiblyWhether you're foraging in the wild or purchasing from a shop, ensure that your mushrooms come from reputable sources to minimise health risks.
    • Be Mindful of Vulnerable PeoplePregnant women, babies, and individuals with specific health conditions should consult healthcare professionals before including mushrooms in their diet.

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