Fall in love with these fun fungi—and learn to grow, store, select, and clean them while you're at it.

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The romance of mushrooms often leans to wild varieties, found through foraging. But farmed specialty varieties offer cooks reliable access to mushrooms and give non-foragers an opportunity to move beyond white button and meaty portobellos—without the risks. "My friend has a saying, and it's that all mushrooms are edible, but some mushrooms are edible only once," says Jim Angelucci of Phillips Mushroom Farms. Each variety introduces different, subtle flavor notes and textural elements into a dish.

images of different types of mushrooms
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

1. Beech

Petite beech mushrooms are sold in bouquets, with several stems attached in one clump. They're crunchy, slightly sweet, and can be white or brown; they make a crisp topping for soups or salads and can hold their own in a Mushroom Conserva for topping toast.

2. Lion's Mane

White and puffy, lion's mane mushrooms look a little like Koosh balls. They have a dense texture and a taste that's reminiscent of crab or lobster.

3. King Trumpet

These have a longer, thicker stem and smaller cap than white button mushrooms, making them ideal for skewers. They have a delicate almond flavor, almost like mushroom pastry cream.

4. Hen-of-the-Woods

This fan-shaped variety gets its name thanks to its feathery tendrils; it's also known as maitake. The "feathers" crisp up nicely when roasted, seared, grilled, or fried. You can cook them whole or break them up with your hands.

5. White Button, Cremini, and Portobello

White buttons, creminis (also known as "baby bellas"), and portobellos all belong to the same species, Agaricus bisporus, which can mature in two colors, white and brown. The white strain is cultivated for tender, creamy white button mushrooms. The brown strain grows into firmer cremini or, when fully mature, into portobellos.

6. Shiitake

Rich and woodsy-flavored mushrooms with umbrella-shaped brown caps and curved stems, shiitakes are on the hardier side for mushrooms. That means they're wonderful in soups, stews, and stocks, but it also means that their tough stems should be removed before cooking.

7. Oyster

Oyster mushrooms don't taste much like oysters—though they do look like them. In fact, this mushroom, which comes in a rainbow of colors including blue, yellow, gray, and pink, has a mild, less-earthy flavor, making it a great vehicle for sauces and seasoning. They also crisp up nicely on the grill.

Grow Them

Grow-your-own-mushroom kits usually include sawdust-based substrate that's been inoculated with mycelium culture—all you need to do is mist it with water a couple of times a day, no sun- light or open space required. For beginners, cultivation company North Spore offers kits to grow lion's mane or pink, golden, or blue oyster mushrooms. $28 at northspore.com

Select and Store Them

All mushrooms have similar signs of freshness. The surface of the mushroom should be dry but not dried out. Look for a plump, smooth cap. They shouldn't have an overly strong odor. When mushrooms start going bad, some become slimy and mushy, others get dark spots, and others get dried out and wrinkled. Fresh mushrooms last five to 10 days in the refrigerator in their original packaging or in a paper bag. They don't freeze well raw, but after cooking, they can be frozen for up to three months.

Clean Them

Some prefer to brush mushrooms with a paper towel or a mushroom brush, but it's fine to rinse them in water. "Just don't do it too soon," says chef James Wayman. "Wash them right before you're going to use them." Take care not to soak them, and pat them dry to encourage browning in the pan.