Hen of the Woods Mushroom

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(Scientific Name: Grifola frondosa) Shades of gray-brown, white and tan decorate the layers of wrinkled caps on this delicate Asian mushroom, which grows multiple long stems from the base upwards as it forms a large leafy head. Unusual in shape, the Hen of the Woods typically grows at the base of hardwood tree trunks, extending outward from the tree trunk and forming multiple layers of caps as it grows. Instead of gills beneath the cap, the Hen of the Woods develops tubes that extend down onto the stem. As it grows, the mushroom develops layers of small frilly caps or it may grow as larger flat, protruding disk-like caps, that in total may weigh from several pounds to over 50 pounds.

Succulent, large and firm in texture, this mushroom has a strong earthy or musty aroma, providing a flavor that is bold, somewhat nutty and very similar to a Portobello. It is a variety of fungus that is often valued for it's health benefits due to the amount of fiber, protein, and vitamins B and C that it contains. However, it is best to use some caution when eating the Hen of the Woods, as it may cause stomach discomfort for those who are sensitive or allergic to various mushrooms. Therefore, consume only a small amount initially if there is a concern for a reaction to the meat of this species.

At times this mushroom may be confused with the Chicken of the Woods mushroom, but it is not the same mushroom. When cleaning this mushroom, wash it thoroughly before cooking, since its leafy shape provides numerous areas that hold dirt and particles. It can be immersed in a bowl of water and shaken to loosen particles or it can be run under a faucet to clean it thoroughly. To prepare, cut the mushroom into strips or dice it. It is a mushroom that can be sautéed in butter or oil, baked or pickled, but should be well cooked to soften the tough texture. Commonly prepared as a side dish as well as added to pasta, noodles or other foods, it is also a good mushroom for use as an ingredient in soups or food stuffings and eggs. For storage, keep it refrigerated, placed in a paper bag or placed fresh on a metal rack so all sides are exposed to cool air. The Hen of the Woods is also known as Ram's Head, Sheep's Head, Maitake, or Kumotake mushroom.

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