Giant Puffball Mushrooms – the Fungus Goliaths
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Giant Puffball Mushrooms (scientific name Calvatia Gigantea) are huge mushrooms that are often the size of a soccer ball and which, when mature and broken open, emit clouds of spores, hence the puff name. They are larger versions of the common puffball mushroom. Some describe these as massive mozzarella-like balls and their resemblance to the famous cheese from a distance is notable. They typically have a bright white exterior (the visible part) and a greenish or beige-brown interior.
These mushroom species are edible only when they are young and fresh and when they are milky white in appearance.
Where To Find Giant Puffball Mushrooms And When
These extra-large puffballs grow natively in green fields, meadows, and deciduous forests mostly in temperate regions such as the Eastern U.S, Central Europe, and Northeast Asia such as China, Japan, and Mongolia.
Even though they are typically found in the wild, some people in these regions report spotting these fungi flourishing in well-fertilized home lawns. This is not a very common occurrence, but if the conditions are perfect, they will grow on their own – typically in small numbers (1 to 3 mushrooms).
Their growing period runs from late summer to early autumn.
How To Identify Them
Giant puffballs can be distinguished by their circular appearance that is usually close to the size of a soccer ball. The average puffball mushroom diameter is 20 inches (50cm), but some may grow as big as 36 inches (90cm).
Despite looking like globes, they are rarely a perfect sphere and mild abnormalities in their roundish shape are pretty common. They also do not have any visible stem or cap. If they have a clean white exterior this means that they are safe enough to be cooked and consumed. However, if the exterior starts to become yellow or light brown with the presence of gills and marks, this is a sign they are rotting and are not safe for consumption.
There aren’t many poisonous look-alikes for the giant puffball except for the smaller common earthball mushroom (scleroderma citrinum) which is similar in shape to a puffball, but which has brownish marks on its exterior and has firmer and more flexible flesh. Common earthballs tend to grow up to 4 inches (10cm) in diameter.
How To Grow Giant Puffball Mushrooms
Growing giant puffball mushrooms is tricky because unlike most edible mushroom species, they are not exactly saprotrophic which means that they do not mainly feed on dead or decaying hard matter, e.g., dead hardwood or straw. However, some experts argue that they are saprotrophic to a certain extent as they feed on old or decaying lawns.
Perhaps the only or at least most efficient and common way to grow them is to actually use spores or parts of an already grown and harvested giant puffball mushroom first. Success is not 100% guaranteed, but here are the essential steps to follow if you wish to grow them from scratch:
- Harvest the giant puffball mushrooms after they have turned brown and started to rot. This is an outward sign that they contain spores.
- Fill up a large container with pure and distilled water, about 1-2 gallons. Add a small spoonful of molasses with a pinch of salt to the water and stir well to dissolve the salt.
- Squeeze out a puffball with your hand to release the spores into the container with the prepared water. Cover the container and let the mixture stand for 24-48 hours at room temperature.
- Pour the end mixture (slurry) onto an area where it can grow naturally, e.g. a lawn or a meadow. If you pour it in a place with no grass, it probably won’t grow. The first fruits should start to show up in 3 to 4 weeks and grow fully typically in a month.
If the mushrooms are consumed fresh and young (or in powder form), they may help with the following conditions (although there is not yet enough scientific evidence to validate such claims):
- Bleeding incidents e.g., oral bleeding, nose bleeds, etc.
- Sore throat and hoarse voice treatment
- Recovery from infections
- Anti-cancer action due to its content in mucoprotein calvacin, which has anti-tumor properties
Historically, Native Americans used Giant puffballs domestically and, on the battlefield, to treat wounds and speed up recovery. They were used both internally and externally as a topical agent, usually in freshly cut slices.
How To Cook Giant Puffball Mushrooms
Due to their mild nutty flavour, semi-firm texture and large size, these mushrooms are ideal mainly for grilling and sauteeing or deep frying, although you can use them with other cooking methods too. Some may find that they have no distinct taste compared to other mushrooms, but you can use that to your benefit as they tend to easily soak up flavors and aromas you may mix them with, in a similar fashion to tofu. They can be purchased in dried form online.
Here is a flavorful and crunchy way to cook them:
Breaded Giant Puffball Mushrooms With Pesto Sauce
- 1 fresh giant puffball mushroom, scrubbed and cut into 1.5-inch slices.
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese
- ½ cup Italian-style breadcrumbs
- 4-5 teaspoons of pesto sauce
- 1 cup of vegetable oil
- Season the eggs with salt and pepper and whisk them lightly. Mix the breadcrumbs and the parmesan cheese in a medium bowl and keep aside.
- Dip each mushroom slice into the egg wash and then into the breadcrumb mixture.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry each slice until golden brown (around 2 minutes on each side). Once fried, transfer into a large dish lined with kitchen paper to absorb excess grease.
- Serve with one teaspoonful of pesto sauce over each breaded mushroom slice.
Unmissable because of their size, Giant puffballs are a fascinating mushroom and can make a contribution in the kitchen as well.
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