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It’s Mushroom, Not Chicken: Getting to Know the Chicken of the Woods

It’s Mushroom, Not Chicken: Getting to Know the Chicken of the Woods

Chicken is a staple protein for almost everyone’s diet. But there are times when you want to try going meatless, or simply want to be healthier.

You start wondering if there can still be an equally delicious substitute out there. Enter Chicken of the Woods, a.k.a. the mushroom that tastes like chicken!

Here is everything you need to know about the chicken mushroom as you transition to a healthier diet and lifestyle. 

What is the Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)?

What is the Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)
Image: Terrestrial Fungi

Chicken of the Woods is an edible yellow-orange mushroom that tastes like chicken. A popular meat substitute, it also resembles chicken meat’s soft, tender, and juicy texture. 

This mushroom is easily recognizable for its bright yellow-orange top and pores underneath. It exudes a strong earthy smell and has a slightly sour taste.

Laetiporus sulphureus is also called a chicken mushroom, chicken fungus, or sulfur shelf. 

What does Chicken of the Woods taste like?

Chicken of the Woods has a slightly acidic and sour taste. Mushroom foragers liken the taste to chicken or crab meat. 

This characteristic makes Chicken of the Woods a popular vegan, vegetarian, or any other alternative to chicken meat.

How can you tell if it is Chicken of the Woods?

How can you tell if it is Chicken of the Woods?
Image: Mushroom Appreciation

Chicken of the Woods has a bright yellow-orange semicircular top, with pores on the underside. Its surface has a smooth and suede-like texture. 

It has no stem but emerges from the side of a tree in a 1-inch thick clustered layer of shelves. The chicken mushroom grows from 2 to 20 inches wide and weighs up to 100 pounds.

Where can you find Chicken of the Woods?

Where can you find Chicken of the Woods?
Image: Blickwinkel

You can find Chicken of the Woods in wooded areas. It commonly attaches to oak, eucalyptus, yew, willow, sweet chestnut, and cherry wood trees.

Laetiporus sulphureus or the chicken mushroom grows in shelf-like clusters of a living or decaying tree. 

How to harvest and cook Chicken of the Woods

How to harvest and cook Chicken of the Woods
Image: Forager Chef

Chicken of the Woods is harvested by slicing the cluster of mushrooms near the base of its body. It is best picked out when it is still young, moist, and tender.

Chicken of the Woods is usually cut into slices for cooking. It can be fried, blanched, baked, grilled, or sauteed.

If you have excess chicken mushrooms, you can store them in the refrigerator or freezer for 7 to 10 days. 

The chicken mushroom contains a high protein level of 14% in every 100 grams similar to another rice alternative, quinoa. 

How much is Chicken of the Woods worth?

One pound of Chicken of the Woods costs between $12 to $25. 

What are the Chicken of the Woods’ toxic look-alikes?

Although Chicken of the Woods is easy to recognize, beware of its poisonous look-alikes to prevent any medical or health emergency. Let’s study them one by one below. 

1. Jack O Lantern Mushroom

Jack O Lantern Mushroom
Image: Curative Mushroom

The Jack-o-Lantern is a yellow-orange mushroom. It derives its name from being bioluminescent or capable of glowing in the dark. 

They grow in clusters at the base of dying hardwood trees like Chicken of the Woods. 

The key difference between these two mushrooms lies in their undersides. Unlike the Chicken of the Woods which has tiny pores, the Jack-o-Lantern mushroom has gills underneath its cap. 

They also differ in shape since the Jack-o-Lanterns are circular while the chicken mushrooms have fan or semicircular shapes. 

Noting these differences is important because the Jack-o-Lantern absorbs the chemicals of the host tree which makes it poisonous to whoever consumes it. 

2. Laetiporus huroniensis

Laetiporus huroniensis
Image: Gary Emberger on Messiah Edu

Laetiporus huroniensis is identical to Chicken of the Woods in color and shape. They both have yellow-orange caps and grow in shelf-like clusters. 

However, Laetiporus huroniensis absorbs toxins from highly-toxic hemlock trees, making it poisonous and inedible. 

Other poisonous lookalikes from the Laetiporus genus include Laetiporus gilbertsonii, which grows on eucalyptus trees, and Laetiporus conifericola, found in conifers. 

3. Velvet Top Mushroom

Velvet Top Mushroom
Image: Curative Mushrooms

The velvet-top mushroom is a parasitic fungus that causes brown rot on conifers like pine, fir, hemlock, Douglas-fir and spruce trees. 

The main difference between the chicken mushroom and the velvet top mushroom is that the velvet top only has the yellow color in its border – it turns brown towards the center of the cap.

On the other hand, the top surface of Chicken of the Woods remains yellow-orange throughout its lifetime. 

The velvet top mushroom is neither toxic nor edible because of its rough texture. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is a chicken mushroom a pest?

Chicken mushroom is a parasitic mushroom that causes brown rot on its host tree. 
Once the chicken mushroom emerges, it means that its mycelium has already done irreparable damage to the insides of the tree. 
For instance, Chicken of the Woods historically caused damage to the wooden ships of the British Naval Fleet. 

What mushroom tastes most like meat?

Mushrooms that taste most like meat include chicken of the woods, white button, cremini, portobello, oyster, shiitake, and enoki mushrooms among others.

Which mushroom tastes like steak?

Portobello mushroom is a superior beef and steak alternative because of its meat-like texture, earthy and umami flavor, and high nutritional content. 
Portobellos are large and dense, making them an easy choice as a meat substitute. They can serve as a healthy version of a burger or steak, or a flavorful ingredient in pasta, pizzas, and casseroles.

Can mushrooms replace meat?

Image: Healthy Recipes
Mushrooms are good substitutes for meat. Replacing meat with mushrooms lowers a meal’s fat and calorie content while retaining its delicious taste.
Not only that, it also provides more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Which mushroom has the most protein?

Oyster mushrooms contain the most protein. For every 100 grams of oyster mushroom, it contains 3.31 grams or 3% protein.
This helps strengthens one’s heart and immune system, regulates blood sugar, and produces anti-inflammatory effects. 

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