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All About the Matsutake Mushroom

Matsutake mushrooms, also known as “pine mushrooms,” are a highly valued and sought-after species of edible mycorrhizal fungi native to Japan. In the United States, matsutake mushrooms can be found in various locations, including the Washington coast, Northern California, Idaho, and Oregon.

Keep reading to learn how these unique, pungent, woodsy mushrooms can be identified, used in cuisine, and found or grown.

Big luxury matsutake mushrooms from Kishu province on sale in a local shop in Teramachi shopping arcade in Kyoto. Written on signs: Kishu (province), prices

Biology and Habitat


Matsutake mushrooms have distinct characteristics that make them easy to identify, such as:

  • Whitish or slightly brownish caps that can reach up to 25 cm in diameter
  • Fibrous stems that grow between 3 to 16 cm in length, and about 1 to 3 cm in thickness
  • Close-set gills with a slightly decurrent attachment to the stem
  • A spicy-aromatic odor which is highly prized in Japanese cuisine

It is important to note that Matsutake mushrooms belong to a species complex, which includes similar species such as Tricholoma murrillianum.

Habitat and Distribution

Matsutake mushrooms are primarily found in pine forests, where they often grow in association with certain pine species. They form ectomycorrhizal relationships in coniferous forests with trees from the Pinaceae family.

These mushrooms can be found in Asia, North America, and Northern Europe. In East Asia, they are especially revered, and their delicate scent is highly valued.

Threatened Species

Matsutake mushrooms and their habitats face several threats, including deforestation, which leads to the loss of suitable habitat for the growth and formation of necessary symbiotic relationships.

In addition, the spread of the pinewood nematode, which weakens and eventually kills the host trees, has been impacting the growth of the mushrooms. Climate change has also played a part in affecting the Matsutake mushroom’s natural distribution and growth patterns.

Culinary Use

Big luxury matsutake mushrooms from Yunnan province on sale in a local shop in Kunming market.

In Japanese Cuisine

Matsutake mushrooms are highly valued in Japanese cuisine for their unique aroma and spicy flavor. One of the most popular dishes featuring this mushroom is Matsutake Gohan, a rice dish that showcases the mushroom’s flavor by combining it with seasoned rice.

Another popular way to enjoy matsutake mushrooms is by grilling them. Sliced thin and grilled with shoyu (soy sauce) and mirin, this cooking method enhances the mushroom’s natural flavors and allows its unique scent to shine through.

Matsutake can also be used in soups such as miso soup, where their distinct aroma complements the subtle flavors of the broth. Moreover, they can be incorporated into other traditional preparations such as sukiyaki, a Japanese hot pot dish featuring thinly sliced meat, vegetables, and mushrooms simmered in a flavorful broth.

In North American Cuisine

In North America, matsutake mushrooms are often utilized in dishes similar to other specialty mushrooms like truffles. Matsutake can be steamed, sautéed, seared, roasted, or grilled, and also used in clear broth dishes.

When incorporating matsutake mushrooms into North American cuisine, cutting the fibrous caps and stems into thick cubes, slices, or coins helps to retain their flavor and texture. Due to their rarity, expense, and distinctive taste, it is typical to keep the preparation of matsutake mushrooms simple.

Purchase and Storage

matsutake mushroom

Fresh Matsutake

Fresh Matsutake mushrooms, also known as pine mushrooms, can be found at specialty grocery stores, Asian supermarkets, and farmers’ markets during their season, which typically runs from September to January.

When storing fresh Matsutake mushrooms:

  • Refrigerate them immediately after purchasing or harvesting
  • Store them in a paper bag or a container with a lid
  • Keep the temperature between 34-38°F in the refrigerator
  • Avoid using plastic bags or containers since it may cause them to spoil
  • Fresh Matsutake mushrooms should be consumed within ten days

Dried Matsutake

If you’re looking for convenience and a longer shelf life, dried Matsutake mushrooms can be a better choice. These will last for a year or longer and need only be rehydrated before using. To do this, soak them in warm water for 15-30 minutes, then rinse well and squeeze out any excess water.

To store dried Matsutake mushrooms:

  • Keep them in a cool, dry, and dark place
  • Store them in an airtight container to prevent moisture absorption
  • Pay attention to the expiration date on the packaging

Don’t forget that if you’re unable to find Matsutake mushrooms locally, you can always try searching for them in specialty stores and online retailers.

Foraging Techniques

matsutake mushrooms 1

Foraging for Matsutake mushrooms can be an enjoyable outdoor activity, especially in the Pacific Northwest and Idaho, where these mushrooms are often found. To improve your chances of success and to ensure you are foraging safely, follow these techniques:

First, educate yourself on the appearance and habitat of Matsutake mushrooms. They typically grow in dense forests and are known for their distinct pine and cinnamon-like aroma. Look for forests with pine trees, especially Lodgepole pines and Shasta red firs in the Pacific Northwest and Idaho.

When collecting mushrooms, use a basket or mesh bag to allow the mushroom spores to fall back to the forest floor, helping repopulate for next year. To harvest, gently twist the mushroom at the base or use a small knife, but avoid pulling it out of the ground to prevent damaging the mycelium.

Keep in mind these additional foraging tips:

  • Always forage with a knowledgeable, experienced guide when starting out or consult a reputable field guide.
  • Avoid collecting young, small specimens. This allows them to disperse spores and ensures a healthier mushroom population in the future.
  • Be aware of the weather conditions, as Matsutake mushrooms are more likely to be found after heavy rain or during periods of high humidity.

Remember that foraging for wild mushrooms carries some risk, especially as the Matsutake mushroom resembles other toxic mushroom species.

Nutritional and Health Benefits

Matsutake mushrooms are not only a delicious and unique addition to various dishes, but they also offer numerous nutritional and health benefits.

One of the significant nutrients found in matsutake mushrooms is protein, which is essential for building and repairing tissues in the body. These mushrooms also contain essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce and must be obtained through dietary sources.

Besides protein, matsutake mushrooms are also a good source of dietary fiber and glutamic acid. This amino acid is responsible for the umami flavor commonly associated with these mushrooms. Glutamic acid also plays a vital role in brain function, particularly in the synthesis of neurotransmitters.

Matsutake mushrooms offer several health benefits, owing to their nutritional content. For instance, they are known to support the immune system, making them a powerful tool for preventing and fighting infections.

They also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation in the body and protect against chronic diseases such as arthritis and heart disease.

Wrapping up the Matsutake Mushroom

With their unique flavor, plethora of nutritional benefits, and prized characteristics, the Matsutake mushroom is certainly worthy of it’s elevated status in both Japan and the United States.

To learn about other incredible mushroom varieties, including how to grow or cook them at home, visit our mushrooms page!