Experts say mushroom sales can increase anywhere from 15% to 40% by grouping varieties and merchandising a minimum of 4 linear feet. The top sellers are whites, portabellas, criminis and shiitakes, with more exotic mushrooms becoming increasingly popular, according to the Mushroom Council, Dublin, Calif. and other sources. The following list looks at some of the better-known varieties:
are actually mature criminis and a hardy relative of the white. Caps can measure as much as 6 inches in diameter. Longer growing cycle results in a deep, meat-like texture and flavor, making it an ideal meat substitute. Shelf life: 7 to 10 days. Served whole, sliced, grilled, baked or deep fried. Good marinated or stuffed.
Crimini (Italian brown). An immature portabello, with a firm texture and a light tan to rich brown cap. Deeper, denser, earthier flavor than their ancestor, the white mushroom, for which they can substitute in most recipes. Shelf life: 5 to 7 days.
Shiitake (Oak, Chinese or Black Forest). Range in color from tan to dark brown, with broad, umbrella-shaped caps, wide open veils and tan gills. Soft, spongy texture. When cooked, they become meatier in texture, with a rich, woodsy taste. Shelf life: up to 14 days. Best served cooked -- without its tough stem -- to add a meaty flavor and texture to dishes.
Oyster. Fluted and graceful in appearance with a velvety texture, ranging in color from soft brown to gray. Delicate, mild flavor. Shelf life: 5 to 7 days. Best served cooked, either as a substitute for or in combination with cooked whites. Sauteeing with butter and onions brings out full flavor.
Enoki. Grown in small clusters. Fragile and flower-like in appearance, with long, slender stems and tiny caps. Mild, light flavor, with a slight crunch. Shelf life: up to 14 days. Served raw in salads and sandwiches, or as a garnish. Roots need to be trimmed at cluster base.
Morel. Appearance marked by sponge-like pointed caps that resemble honeycombs, and short, thick, hollow stems. May be tan, yellow or black in color. Rich, nut-like flavor and woodsy fragrance. Shelf life: 10 to 14 days. Typically served cooked. Use small size for sauces and soups; medium and large for French cuisine; and jumbo as ideal stuffing vehicle.
Maitake (Hen of the Woods). Looks like a cluster of dark fronds. Firm and supple texture at base, becoming slightly brittle and crumbly at the edges. Rich, woodsy taste with distinctive aroma. Shelf life: 7 to 10 days. Served as flavor enhancer to any mushroom recipe and sauteed.
Beech (Hon-Shimeji). Tiny, with all white or light brown caps. Crunchy, with a delicately mild flavor that's sweet and nut-like. Shelf life: 7 to 10 days. Served cooked, often as the last ingredient to impart crunch, and especially in stir-fry dishes.
Consumers, after getting these mushrooms home, should refrigerate them in paper bags to prolong their freshness.