With Or Without Water, Please Clean Your Mushrooms

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If you've ever washed a mushroom and thought, "I feel like I'm doing this wrong," you're not alone. It seems like there's an ongoing debate in the cooking community about the best way to clean mushrooms. On one side, there are the purists, clutching their pastry brushes, swearing that any contact with water means a slimy disaster for absorbent mushrooms. On the other side sit the pragmatists, colanders in hand, ready to rinse their mushrooms just like they would any vegetable. In reality, they're both partially right, so you're probably not ruining your mushrooms either way.


Many chefs and foodies have tried to clear up the mushroom controversy. Take the writer Felicity Cloake of The Guardian, who had her boyfriend do a blind taste test of soaked versus dry brushed mushrooms, only to find that he couldn't taste the difference. Or the author Harold McGee, who (for his book, "The Curious Cook") went as far as soaking mushrooms for 5 minutes, then weighing them to see how much water they absorbed. Lo and behold, over 250 grams of dry mushrooms only absorbed 6 grams (a fraction of a teaspoon) of water. It seems like water isn't kryptonite for mushrooms after all.

No matter how you do it, you should still make sure your mushrooms are clean before using them. Although most store-bought mushrooms are very clean and are grown indoors instead of in the wild, no one wants to feel the grit of dirt between their teeth while enjoying a mushroomy dish.


How to clean mushrooms using water

Although water usually won't ruin your mushrooms, there are definitely ways to mess up the washing process. If you wash your mushrooms too long before cooking, they can become discolored. Washing too vigorously can also lead to slimy mushrooms, and if you're serving mushrooms raw, like you would on a salad, washed mushrooms may turn out wet, overly browned, and not very appetizing.


To minimize these potential pitfalls, only wash mushrooms that will be used in a cooked preparation (like jazzed-up scrambled eggs), and wash them gently, right before cooking. There are several tried-and-true methods for washing mushrooms without ruining them. A quick rinse to remove any visible dirt works just fine. If you want to take it a step further, you can dunk them in a bowl of water or leave them there to soak for about five minutes. You can also use a salad spinner to remove excess water once washed. With all of these methods, be sure to pat the mushrooms dry before cooking.

How to clean mushrooms without water

If you're one of the dry-mushroom purists, or if you're using mushrooms raw in a dish, you can opt to clean them without water. Gently wiping visible dirt off with a clean kitchen towel or a paper towel is the easiest method. The next level up would be dry-brushing, which involves using a pastry brush — or for the real mushroom-heads, a special mushroom brush — to gently clean each mushroom. If you have some extra time on your hands and want to feel like a Michelin Star chef, you can use a paring knife to delicately peel away the outside of each mushroom.


No matter the cleaning method, everyone agrees that visible dirt should be removed from mushrooms before eating. If you prefer to wash them with water, they most likely won't soak up very much liquid and can be used in just about any cooked preparation. If you prefer to keep water away from your mushrooms, wiping or brushing will also get the job done.