Weird Ingredient Wednesday: The Mushroom That Tastes Like Candy

The Mushroom That Tastes Like Candy

Mushrooms are glorious: they're nutritional powerhouses, add meaty savor to just about any dish, and are cheap and plentiful (mostly). But just when you thought you knew best how to use edible fungi (in gravies, as portobello burgers, stewed and served over pasta, just to name a few uses), you learn something new: there's a mushroom out there that tastes like maple syrup. Yep, maple syrup.

A candy cap in the wild! Image by J. Maughn/Flickr

Lactarius rubidus, aka the candy cap, is used in baking and desserts or to add a sweet counterpoint to savory dishes. Mycologists (that's "mushroom experts" to you and me) know that the fresh candy cap has only a faint aroma of maple-y goodness, but when dried, the scent grows rich and heady, like a hybrid of maple syrup and butterscotch. It does a bang-up job of adding maple flavor and sweetness to cooking (and can be a lot cheaper—maple syrup itself is quite pricey).

Plus, if you're concerned about sugar intake or want to sneak a little more nutrition into your food, candy caps are the way to go, since their natural flavor doesn't require any disguising.

How cute is that mushroom? Image via Don Loarie

Candy caps aren't hard to cook with, either. They do especially well in desserts that feature a lot of dairy, like ice cream, panna cotta, or cheesecake. You simply have to steep the dried mushrooms in milk so all that rich maple flavor infuses the dairy.

The Bojon Gourmet has a great recipe for candy cap crème caramel. Epicurious has a good, easy ice cream recipe. Wine Forest also has several good dishes you can make using candy caps. And Cupcake Project has a delicious-looking cupcake recipe.

Candy cap and bourbon ice cream. Image by Matthew Biancaniello/LA Weekly

They're wondrous in baked goods, too. Treat them as you would high-quality chocolate: chop them fine and add them to cookies, cakes, and sweet breads. You can also grind them fine in a good spice grinder and work with them in powder form.

Cookies made with candy cap mushrooms. Don't they look tasty? Image via Fat of the Land

Candy caps are easier to find these days. Many gourmet stores carry them and you can also order them online. They're a little pricey, so you might want to reserve making candy cap dishes for people who will really appreciate them—unadventurous types who might squeal, "Ewwww—mushrooms in cookies?" won't appreciate the wonderful appeal of these fungi.

If you're lucky enough to number mushroom hunters among your friends, have them review how to forage for candy caps and make sure you're extra nice to them so they give you their leftovers. Just remember to dry them first!

More Weird Ingredients...

Check out Weird Ingredient Wednesday for more adventurous things to add to your recipes! Charcoal isn't just for grilling food—it's actually a great ingredient, too. This special ingredient will turn any cheese into a top-notch melter. The British and pro chefs alike love Marmite—you should, too.

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