Puffball mushrooms (also known as Calvatia gigantea and Langermannia gigantea) are only edible when they're a milky white. The round, white fungus can range from golf-ball sized to the size of a watermelon.
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Puffballs can produce up to seven trillion spores. In fact, they get their name from the millions of spores released in a puff when a mature puffball mushroom is disturbed and bursts open.
And this is how puffballs spread: Raindrops or just a crack along the surface can cause the spores to escape. The wind then carries the spores off to create new puffballs. Clouds of spores explode out of a disturbed mushroom and fill the air around the mushroom before they float off to create new puffball mushrooms.
Can You Eat Puffball Mushrooms?
Yes, you can eat puffball mushrooms — they are edible fungi. Edible puffball mushrooms contain pure white flesh similar to marshmallows or fresh mozzarella, per the U.S. National Park Service.
To tell if a puffball mushroom is safe to eat, inspect the outside and slice it open. Both the inside and outside should be white and firm with no yellow or mushy parts, per the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. If it's brown or has any blemishes, it may not be edible and you should throw it out.
You want to look for puffballs that are smooth and white, with a soft, bread-like texture inside. If there are any blemishes on the puffball, it may be poisonous and should not be eaten. Consult a mushroom expert before eating any mushrooms you've picked.
How to Cook Puffball Mushrooms
Puffball mushrooms aren't really popular for their flavor — they're often likened to tofu in that they can take on the flavor of other ingredients in a dish.
"Puffball mushrooms are so much fun to find and to cook," says celebrity chef Serena Poon. "My favorite way to cook these delightful fungi is to sauté them with leafy greens in an Asian-inspired sauce and eat on top of a bowl full of cooked ancient grains."
Here, Poon shares the best way to cook puffball mushrooms.
Things You'll Need
Sauté pan or wok
Toasted sesame oil
Himalayan pink salt
Paper towel or dish towel
Leafy greens like bok choy or napa cabbage
1. Simmer Oils and Seasonings in a Pan
Gather avocado oil, toasted sesame oil, chopped garlic, chopped ginger, tamari and Himalayan pink salt.
Heat your sauté pan or wok over medium-high heat and add the oils when the pan is hot. Avocado oil can be used over high heat, so it's a great choice for this recipe while toasted sesame oil adds a slightly nutty flavor.
Once the oil is hot, add the chopped garlic and ginger. Add tamari and Himalayan pink salt for flavor and to create an Asian-style sauce.
Cook this mixture until it has browned.
2. Slice Puffball Mushrooms
Rinse the mushrooms under running water, but don't let them soak in the water (this can add excess moisture, which can affect the texture). After rinsing, dry them with a paper towel or dish towel. Place the dry puffball mushrooms on a cutting board.
Slice the puffball mushrooms into cubes with a sharp knife. Puffball mushrooms can range dramatically in size, so try to cut them in similar sizes so they cook evenly. Mushrooms shrink in size when cooked, so don't chop them too small.
3. Add Cubed Puffball Mushrooms to the Pan
Transfer the cubed puffball mushrooms to the hot pan with the sauce. Depending on the size, it only takes a few minutes for puffball mushrooms to brown when sautéed over medium-high heat.
4. Add Leafy Greens to the Mixture
Once the mushrooms begin to brown, add a large handful of leafy greens, such as bok choy or napa cabbage.
Sauté for a few more minutes until everything is incorporated and the leafy greens have cooked down.
5. Serve Over Grains
Once the mixture is finished cooking, serve it over a bed of cooked grains, such as white or brown rice or farro.
Ways to Use Puffball Mushrooms
Puffball mushrooms are naturally mild in flavor, so they are very versatile. You can use them like you would other varieties of mushrooms.
"There are so many ways to cook puffballs — grilling, drying, smoking and frying," says Sioux chef Sean Sherman. One of Sherman's favorite ways to cook them is simply frying them.
"I really enjoy dusting the puffballs in corn or wild rice meal and gently frying them in sunflower oil and seasoned with just a hint of salt," he says. "From there, the fried puffballs can be eaten as an appetizer with a variety of dipping options, scattered on a salad or tossed with sautéed onions and chilies."
Other ways to cook puffball mushrooms include:
- Incorporate into pizza crust
- Grill them like a portobello burger
- Fry them and pair with dipping sauce
- Use as a salad topping
- Smoke them for flavor
- Add to soup
- Sautée and top them on toast
- Dehydrate and freeze for later
- Brown puffballs in butter
How to Identify a Puffball
Puffball mushrooms are common in the U.S. and Canada. They emerge in late summer and fall in meadows, stands of trees and around forest openings, according to Iowa State University.
You can also sometimes find them on lawns during particularly wet stretches. You might see them on sports fields and on highway medians.
They grow in the ground from spreading underground roots. They can grow quite large, and the giant puffballs are the easiest to spot.
Here's how to identify a puffball that's safe to eat:
- Look for a smooth white mushroom that's round to oblong
- Make sure it can easily be picked off the ground
- The inside should also be a solid white, with no blemishes on the flesh. Any blemishes or discoloration inside or out indicate the puffball is poisonous.
If you're unsure about whether the puffball is safe to eat, consult your local authorities or just don't eat it to play it safe.
There are mushrooms similar to young puffballs, called Amanita mushrooms, that have gills inside their flesh, but these are not puffballs — and they're not edible.
Mistaking puffballs for Amanita mushrooms can be deadly, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. Puffballs often look like large white volleyballs sitting on the ground, although they may not be perfectly round.
Picking and Storing Puffballs
Puffballs live underground until the right conditions cause them to burst forth from the ground. Fungi that lurk in the soil produce spongy globular mushrooms.
If you want to get rid of puffballs from your lawn, picking them won't stop them from recurring. Rain and late summer into early fall combine to give puffballs the right conditions to appear. They will appear into late October in some areas, as long as it's above 32 degrees F.
Giant puffballs can grow quickly. The largest ever found weighed 48 pounds. Typically, they range in size from 4 inches in diameter to 1 foot. They are oval to round in shape. You can usually find them in the same place year after year, so if you want to pick them, remember where you see them.
If you plan to eat a puffball, you must pick it when it's just right. Puffballs safe for eating are smooth and have the color of a creamy, solid white on both the outside and inside. Once the inside turns mushy or is yellow or brown, it is not edible. (A puffball is edible for a short time.)
Puffball mushroom storage isn't easy — these fungi don't store well, and that's one reason why you don't often see them for sale commercially. They last a few days and can be stored in the refrigerator. But if something seems off, or they begin to darken, you shouldn't take a chance. It's best to eat a puffball soon after it's been picked.
Poison Mushroom Guide
Sometimes even safe mushrooms can cause reactions in sensitive people. Follow this protocol to avoid mushroom poisoning, according to Michigan State University Extension:
Never eat any mushroom unless you have positively identified the species.
Cook all mushrooms thoroughly and never eat a wild mushroom raw.
Be careful the first time you eat a new mushroom —
only eat a small amount and wait several hours to make sure there is no reaction. Some mushroom species react with alcohol, so be sure you know which ones do, and avoid alcohol (for two to three days) if you eat those species.
Save a small portion of any new mushroom you eat, as it will be helpful to medical staff in the event it makes someone sick.
Never try mushrooms that are not considered generally safe to eat. For more information on edible mushrooms, visit Midwest American Mycological Instruction or a County Extension Office in your state to get information specific to where you live.
- Michigan State University: "Identifying Wild Michigan Mushrooms That Are Safe to Eat"
- Colorado State University: "Mushrooms"
- U.S. National Park Service: "Species Spotlight - Puffballs"
- University of Rochester: "Mushroom Barley Soup"
- Missouri Department of Conservation: "Giant Puffball"
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: "Foraging for Football-sized Fungi"
- Iowa State University: "Puffball"