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When you want to eat something meaty without actually eating meat, mushrooms are your secret weapon. There are so many types of mushrooms to try, each with its own unique flavor and texture.
In this guide, we'll introduce you to nine mushrooms that make great replacements for meat. You'll learn what they look like, what they taste like, where to buy them and (most importantly) how to use them in delicious plant-based dishes.
But first—why bother with using mushrooms as a meat substitute in the first place?
Why You Should Try a Lot of Different Types of Mushrooms
Why do so many plant-based recipes use mushrooms as meat substitutes?
Well, they're meaty!
For the most part, mushrooms don't taste exactly like meat. But they do share some of meat's properties, which makes it easier to disguise them as meat in a lot of popular dishes.
Let's take a look at what makes them stand out.
Mushrooms are typically described as "earthy," but that doesn't capture the true depth of their flavor. All types of mushrooms have the mystical "fifth taste" known as umami thanks to an amino acid called glutamate. Glutamate is a major reason why meat tastes savory—and why mushrooms can be so satisfying.
Without umami, plant-based meals can feel like they're missing something important. But if you swap mushrooms for meat, you still get that savory flavor, usually with some sweet undertones to balance it out. As a bonus, mushrooms are also great at soaking up sauces and seasonings, so you can customize every dish to your own tastes.
This is where mushrooms gross a lot of people out. If you're one of them, we understand; mushrooms can have a weird, squeaky, almost slimy texture when they're not cooked the right way.
When they are, all types of mushrooms have unique textures that enhance plant-based meals. Some are tender and meaty; others are firm and chewy. You'll also find mushrooms that are flaky, soft or creamy.
Marinades, cooking methods and even cooking time affect the texture of mushrooms, which gives you total control over how they turn out. We encourage you to experiment with different mushrooms and cooking techniques, which we'll talk about more later.
Okay, mushrooms have taste and texture nailed as a stand-in for meat. But what about nutrition?
Let's look at 100 grams of white button, the most familiar type of mushroom:
3.3 grams carbohydrates
3.1 grams protein
0.3 grams fat
1 gram of fiber
24% daily value (DV) vitamin B2
18% DV vitamin B3
16% DV copper
15% DV vitamin B5
13% DV selenium
9% DV phosphorous
That's a decent amount of nutrition packed into a low-calorie, high-water food. But, as you'll notice, it's not a one-to-one substitute for meat. To match amount of protein in a three-ounce serving of chicken, you'd have to eat almost a pound and a half of mushrooms!
Don't worry; you don't actually need to do that. Instead, you can combine mushrooms with other plant-based protein sources like beans, tempeh, tofu or seitan to make a balanced meal.
Mushrooms also have a few nutritional secrets that you won't find listed on a label. They're known for being high in anti-inflammatory antioxidants, and they can also be a good source of vitamin D if they're exposed to sunlight. (You can actually increase the amount of vitamin D in mushrooms by putting them in a sunny spot for 15 minutes before using them in recipes!)
9 Types of Mushrooms You Can Eat Instead of Meat
Ready to experiment with using mushrooms to transform your favorite meat dishes or elevate some plant-based meals that need a little umami flavor?
We promise it's not hard. Actually, it's a lot of fun!
You'll get a chance to explore different mushroom flavors and textures—and, if you're feeling adventurous, track down a few unusual mushrooms you don't typically find at the grocery store.
We've put together a list of nine types of mushrooms that make easy, tasty meat substitutes.
We'd love to see what you cook up with these mushrooms! Tag us @mokufoods when you post your creations on Instagram.
1) White Button Mushrooms: Basic and Delicious
Scientific name: Agaricus bisporus
Look and taste: Small and stocky with a firm cap and a mild flavor, white button mushrooms can be made to taste like pretty much anything by using different seasonings.
Where to buy: You can pick up a container of these little white mushrooms at just about any grocery store.
Best meat replacement: White buttons aren't the meatiest type of mushroom, but since they're good at soaking up other flavors, you have room to be creative. Here's how to use them to add flavor, texture and nutrition to meals:
- Put white button mushrooms on pizza (classic!)
- Mix them into red pasta sauce or dairy-free alfredo
- Use them in soups and stews for a boost of umami
- Combine them with lentils and walnuts to make meat-free tacos
- Make grilled mushroom kebabs with other veggies and cubes of tofu or tempeh
- Use them to bulk up your Thanksgiving stuffing
How to prepare: For soups and stews, cut smaller mushrooms into halves or quarters and larger ones into thick slices. Slice mushrooms thinly or chop them into small pieces for pizza and pasta sauce. If you're making kebabs, just leave them whole!
2) Cremini Mushrooms: Power Up Your Pasta
Scientific name: Agaricus bisporus
Look and taste: Cremini mushrooms are compact with rounded brown caps and short, thick stems. They have a light, earthy flavor that adds depth to vegetable dishes.
Where to buy: Like white button mushrooms, cremini are widely available at grocery stores. (Fun fact: These are actually the same species as white button; they're just in a different state of maturity!)
Best meat replacement: This is a good type of mushroom to try if you're used to cooking with beef. It makes a great meat substitute in pasta sauce and on pizza and can stand in for beef in any thick, saucy stew. When combined with lentils, cremini mushrooms work well as a replacement for ground beef in shepherd's pie, meatballs and meatloaf.
How to prepare: For stews, leave small mushrooms whole or cut them into large chunks. If you're using mushrooms to replace ground beef or add a "meaty" texture to pasta and pizza, cut them up as small as you can.
3) Portobello Mushrooms: The Original Plant-Based Burger
Scientific name: Agaricus bisporus
Look and taste: Portobello mushrooms have wide brown caps with dark gills on the underside. They grow with stems, but these are sometimes removed before packaging. The flavor is classic mushroom: deep, rich and earthy.
Where to buy: Portobellos are pretty popular, so you should be able to find them with other mushrooms at your local grocery store. Sometimes they also pop up at farmers markets.
(Did you notice these are also the same species as white buttons and cremini? Portobellos are the fully mature form.)
Best meat substitute: If you've ever been to a restaurant with a veggie option, you've seen the iconic portobello burger, portobello sandwich or portobello steak. But portobellos aren't limited to these dishes! This is one of the types of mushrooms you can eat in place of meat just about anywhere you would use ground or whole cuts of beef.
We recommend swapping portobello mushrooms for meat in stews, sandwiches, chili, tacos or fajitas. They're also amazing when you:
- Coat them in a balsamic marinade and stuff them with beans and veggies
- Grill them along with summer veggies like zucchini and eggplant
- Use them as an ingredient in veggie burger recipes
How to prepare: Slice caps into strips for making taco or fajita filling (you might need to cut larger slices in half). Leave caps whole for stuffing, grilling or making sandwiches. Chop caps into small pieces for chili or veggie burger recipes.
4) Oyster Mushrooms: A Sneaky Substitute for Clams
Scientific name: Pleurotus ostreatus (Finally, a different one!)
Look and taste: Oyster mushrooms have thin—or non-existent—stems. The caps looks like rounded leaves and can be thick and meaty or thin and feathery. Gray is the most common color, but there are also pink, yellow and blue varieties.
Coking time can change how oyster mushrooms taste. Cooked quickly, the flavor stays light and mild with a hint of seafood. Longer cooking times bring out an earthy flavor with a hint of sweetness.
Where to buy: It's getting more common to see these types of mushrooms at well-stocked grocery stores. You can also find oyster mushrooms at Asian supermarkets, farmers markets and food co-ops.
You probably won't see other colors of oyster mushrooms outside of farmers markets, though. Yellow and pink caps are delicate and don't travel very well.
Best meat replacement: As the name suggests, these mushrooms are a perfect stand-in for seafood. Try them in a New England clam chowder recipe; we bet you won't be able to tell they're not clams. You can also use them in place of fish to make fish-free tacos or po'boy sandwiches.
For a simpler meal, toss oyster mushrooms into a veggie stir fry with some edamame or tofu. It's like having takeout at home!
How to prepare: You usually don't need a knife to prep oyster mushrooms for cooking. Leave small caps whole, and use your hands to pull larger caps apart into strips.
5) King Oyster Mushrooms: You Just Have to Make Jerky
Scientific name: Pleurotus eryngii
Look and taste: Also called king trumpet, king oyster mushrooms are a different species of oyster mushroom with a thick, round stem and small caps. (They kind of look like they're wearing hats!) King oysters have more umami and a deeper, earthier flavor than regular oyster mushrooms.
Where to buy: Some Whole Foods locations stock king oyster mushrooms. They’re also available at Asian markets and specialty grocery stores.
Best meat replacement: The intense, savory flavor makes king oyster mushrooms a fantastic stand-in for seafood, pork and beef.
Here are a few tasty ways to use them:
- Flavor sliced stems with Old Bay seasoning and some lemon juice for fish-free "scallops"
- Toss cooked, shredded stems with spicy barbecue sauce to create mock pulled pork
- Level up your veggie stir fry with a few pan-seared oyster mushroom slices
At Moku, we like to get creative and use king oyster mushrooms to make jerky. A little smoky flavor, a touch of sweetness and just the right combination of spices transforms these mushrooms into a chewy, satisfying beef jerky alternative.
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How to prepare: For use in stir fry or as a shredded meat substitute, slice king oyster mushrooms lengthwise into thin strips. Cut lengthwise into larger slices if you plan to make jerky or widthwise into rounds to replace seafood.
6) Shiitake Mushrooms: Perfect for Stir Fry
Scientific name: Lentinula edodes
Look and taste: Shiitake mushrooms have long, stalk-like stems and wide caps with curled edges and cream-colored gills. When cooked, they have a soft texture and meaty flavor.
Where to buy: Shiitakes are available at most well-stocked grocery stores, as well as at Asian markets and farmers markets.
Best meat replacement: Eating shiitakes is a real treat. They add amazing flavor to everything from stir fry to soup. They're sturdy enough to stand up to both pan-frying and air frying, so you can coat them with cornstarch, crisp them up and use them in place of meat in dishes like sesame beef or General Tso's chicken.
Shiitakes are also very popular as a plant-based bacon substitute. Use a combination of soy sauce, maple syrup, pepper and smoked paprika to recreate the bacon flavor, and bake or dehydrate for a crispy texture.
How to prepare: Shiitakes are one of the easiest types of mushrooms to prepare. Remove the stems, and chop them into small pieces. Slice caps into long strips—and you're done! (Some people say you can't eat the stems, but they cook up just fine if you cut them small enough.)
7) Enoki Mushrooms: Elevate Your Ramen
Scientific name: Flammulina velutipes
Look and taste: Enoki mushrooms don’t look like mushrooms; they look like noodles with a tiny cap on top. The cap grows bigger in the wild, but the cultivated variety sold in stores basically looks like a bunch of straw. Enokis have a light flavor, an earthy smell and a crunchy texture.
Where to buy: Hunt down enoki mushrooms at Asian markets and specialty grocery stores.
Best meat replacement: Enoki mushrooms are better for replacing noodles instead of meat in soups like ramen and pho. Their touch of umami adds a subtle meaty flavor to the broth.
You can also get creative and try seasoning enoki mushrooms like taco meat or pulled pork, but the flavor and texture won't be as meatlike as other mushrooms like portobello.
How to prepare: Slice off any tough sections at the bottom of the mushrooms. Pull the strands apart, and leave them whole for use as a noodle substitute. For other dishes—or if you want to toss them in a stir fry—chop the stems into shorter pieces.
8) Lion's Mane Mushrooms: A "Hairy" Solution to Seafood Cravings
Scientific name: Hericium erinaceus
Look and taste: Don't be alarmed by lion's mane's hairy appearance! Even though it looks like someone's weird idea of a round accent pillow, this mushroom's texture is chewy, not fuzzy. Light and savory with a distinct hint of seafood, lion's mane has one of the most unique flavors of all the different types of mushrooms you can eat.
Where to buy: Unfortunately, it's not easy to find lion's mane. If you get lucky and spot it at the farmers market, buy some! You may also be able to buy it at Whole Foods.
Another option is to see if there are any mushroom farms or independent mushroom growers in your area. (Trust us; the extra work is worth it!)
Best meat replacement: Seafood. You literally can't tell the difference if you use lion's mane in place of crab, clams, shrimp or lobster in dishes like:
- Seafood alfredo
- Crab cakes
- Lobster rolls
- Pasta with garlic clam or shrimp sauce
How to prepare: Use your hands to gently pull lion's mane mushrooms into strips, removing any tough bits at the bottom as you go.
9) Chicken of the Woods: You Won't Believe it's Not Chicken!
Scientific name: Laetiporus sulphureus, cincinnatus and conifericola
Look and taste: Chicken of the woods doesn't have a cap or gills; instead, it grows in a fan shape called a conk that can be bright yellow, orange or a combination of the two.
This mushroom tastes uncannily like chicken. If you want an amazing substitute for something like chicken fingers or hot wings, chicken of the woods doesn't disappoint.
Where to buy: Chicken of the woods has to be foraged in the wild because it's one of the types of mushrooms that's hard to grow. Your best bet is to make friends with someone who's really good at foraging for mushrooms and see if they'll harvest some for you. You can also look for local foragers who sell mushrooms at farmers markets or through online shops.
Best meat replacement: Chicken, hands-down. Even the texture resembles chicken meat. Cooking these mushrooms in veggie stock with traditional chicken seasonings like onion powder, garlic powder, thyme, sage and paprika keeps them moist and brings out the chicken flavor. Use the mushrooms to replace chunks or strips of chicken in any recipe.
Chicken of the woods "wings" and crispy fried chicken of the woods are also popular recipes for this mushroom. Bread them, bake or air-fry until crisp and toss them with your choice of hot sauce or barbecue sauce for the perfect chickenless appetizer (or companion to pizza).
How to prepare: Cut tough parts off the base of the conk. Slice the mushrooms into strips or cut them into chunks, and they're ready to go.
How to Choose and Cook Different Types of Mushrooms to Eat
We've introduced you to a lot of mushrooms, so you're probably itching to try at least a few of them, right?
Don't rush off to the store just yet.
We have a few more tips to help you find the freshest mushrooms and cook them for the most amazing flavor.
Choosing and Storing Mushrooms
Look for firm mushrooms with no wet or slimy spots. Fresh mushrooms have a uniform color and earthy smell; a sour or chemical smell means they've gone bad.
Store mushrooms in a paper bag in the fridge. (Yes, even if they came in a container.) This will keep them from getting slimy. Use them up as soon as possible to enjoy the best flavor. If they start to dry out or get wrinkled, they're not bad; they're just losing moisture and can be rehydrated with a quick soak in a bowl of water.
Start by rinsing your mushrooms under cold water to remove dirt and patting them dry with a kitchen towel. Don't do this with lion's mane, though; it can absorb a lot of liquid. Instead, use your hands or a damp paper towel to brush dirt off before cooking.
Frying or dry frying mushrooms in a hot pan is the best way to bring out the umami flavor in mushrooms.
It's an easy process:
- Put a little oil (or no oil, if that's your thing) in the pan, and heat it up
- Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates and they start to brown
- Remove from the pan, and set the mushrooms aside until you're ready to add them to your recipe
Delicate types of mushrooms can overcook quickly, so you really need to pay attention—no walking away!
We recommend that you get comfortable with cooking mushrooms this way before experimenting with other cooking methods like grilling or breading and frying.
With all these different types of mushrooms to try, you won't miss the meat in your favorite recipes. Once you start experimenting, it won't take long before you're a pro at cooking mushrooms!