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Oyster Mushrooms; an Introduction

Oyster Mushrooms With Gills On Show

Oyster Mushrooms are one of the most common edible mushroom types that belong in the Pleurotus genus of gilled mushrooms (like King Oyster mushrooms). They are saprotrophic, feeding on dead trees or logs. They are fairly large in size and their shape resembles that of a medium-sized oyster, hence their name. Most oyster mushroom caps measure between 2 to 10 inches (5 to 25cm) in diameter. Their stems are very short or non-existent, as their gills (the small porous lines underneath their caps) extend downward.

Where To Find Oyster Mushrooms And When

Oyster mushrooms grow natively in Temperate and Tropical regions and mainly in 3 continents: Europe, Asia, and Northern America. They are found on the base or trunk of decayed or dead hardwood trees such as beech and aspen. They feed on dead matter, bacteria and earthworms. Wild forests and parks are the main habitat for these mushrooms.

They are available all year round, but their peak season is towards late summer and early Autumn.

Identifying Oyster Mushrooms

These mushrooms have an oyster-like shape and a short to non-existent stem. Their color can be off-white, light brown, gray, pink or yellow and their gills extend from beneath their caps and run down the stems (known as decurrent gills). The most common color of Oyster mushrooms is beige or very light brown. They also grow in shelf-like forms with overlapping clusters and their texture is smooth and fairly firm with no warts or scales.

Look-alikes

The ghost mushroom (Omphalotus nidiformis) from Australia and Tasmania looks similar to the oyster mushroom. Although its poison is not fatal, eating it may lead to cramping and vomiting.

How To Grow Oyster Mushrooms

You can either grow these mushrooms from scratch or use a grow kit. Grow kits (for example, a pink oyster mushroom grow kit) with all the essentials and directions you need to grow your own oyster mushrooms are available at plant nurseries and online sources like Amazon.

To grow your own oyster mushrooms from scratch, use the following fairly simple 5 to 6 step process. (This depends, in part, on the type of oyster mushroom you wish to grow as each has its own requirements and characteristics.) Here are all the essential steps:-

Choose the type of Oyster mushroom:

Pick your Oyster mushroom spawn variety from among the following types: pearl oysters, gold oysters, king oysters, pink oysters, and blue oysters. Those that have a warm beige color such as gold or pearl oysters typically grow in warmer climates whereas those of a cool blue or grey color such as King oyster mushrooms grow better in colder temperatures.

Lay down the substrate:

Use clean and washed cardboard strips or egg trays to colonize your spawn in a substrate (the soil-like material that will make your mushrooms grow, available in plant nurseries/suppliers). If you are using card strips, stack them on top of each other and then place your spawn in-between these and then inside a plastic bag. Egg trays should also be fertilized with spawn on each tray and again inside a bag.

Seal in the mushrooms:

Seal the bag so no air comes through and put in a warm place heated at between 64 to 77 F (18 to 25C) if you are growing pink or golden oysters or a cooler place below 64F (18C) if you are growing blue or King oysters. Check the bag after 2 days to ensure no pools of water are trapped (drain any water which accumulates).

Wait for the spawn to fertilize:

Reseal the bag and wait for 3 to 4 weeks (pink and golden oysters) or 4 to 6 weeks (blue and king oysters) for the spawn to fertilize and the first tiny mushrooms to pop up. After about 7 to 8 weeks, you should see the spawn fully fertilized.

Let the growth continue:

Open the outer plastic bag containing the colony and expose it in a place that is well-lit in order that the mushrooms can flourish. Spray the walls of the bag (not the mushrooms directly) with water to provide enough moisture for the mushrooms to grow.

Harvest the mushrooms:

After a few days, after following the above steps, you should be able to see nearly full or fully-grown mushrooms. You can now harvest them by twisting the mushrooms off the bag (do not tear them).

How To Cook Oyster Mushrooms

These mushrooms have a rich nutty flavor and semi-chewy, meat-like texture. Although they can be used raw in salads, they are ideal for grilling, sauteeing, stir-frying and roasting. You can use them in most egg dishes (such as omelettes), casseroles, and Asian stir-fries. They are good in rice dishes (such as risottos), pasta dishes, soups, lasagna, stews, sheet pan meals, and barbeque grills. Dried oyster mushrooms for these dishes are freely available online.

Bunch of fresh oyster mushrooms ready for cooking
Bunch of fresh oyster mushrooms ready for cooking

Trim them, then wash and cut them. They typically take from 8 to 10 minutes to cook with oil in a frying pan or an oven. However, if you are using a barbeque grill, these will take a maximum of 6 minutes with occasional flipping.

Conclusion

Oyster mushrooms are a popular choice for meals. They are rich in protein, plentiful in B vitamins, and they can lower cholesterol.

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