Matsutake (Tricholoma matsutake = syn. T. nauseosum = syn. Armillaria ponderosa) is the common name for a highly sought mushroom that grows in Asia, Europe, and North America. It is prized in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisine for its distinct spicy-aromatic odor.
Habitat and Distribution
Matsutake mushrooms grow under trees and are usually concealed under litter on the forest floor, forming a symbiotic relationship with roots of various tree species.
They grow in Canada, China, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Korea, Laos, Norway, the United States, Poland, and Sweden, among other countries. In Korea and Japan, matsutake mushrooms are most commonly associated with Pinus densiflora.
Up in the North American Pacific Northwest, Tricholoma murrillianum is found in coniferous forests of one or more of the following tree species: Douglas, Noble, or Shasta red fir, Sugar, Ponderosa, or Lodgepole pine. In California and parts of Oregon, it is also associated with hardwoods.
In northeastern of the USA , the closely related mushroom Tricholoma magnivelare is generally found in Jack pine forests.
A few medical studies claim that matsutake a natural anti-cancer remedy. But it are predominantly traditional healers who say that the pine mushroom can stop the growth of various cancer cells and have no side-effects.
Understand that pine mushrooms are talked about more for their taste and aroma rather than their therapeutic benefits. As such, there is limited data on what the mushroom can achieve as a medicine. It is presumed, though not validated, that the mushroom can improve the overall immune system.
Use and Recipes with matsutake
Japanese chefs love the mushroom. Especially in fall. They grill, steam, fry, or sautee the matsutake mushrooms and add them to a whole slew of dishes like tempura, sushi, and other rice dishes. Or use the mushrooms in broths.
The texture of the mushroom is similar to meat but the taste is always very difficult to describe. Its is spicy, slightly meaty and a little bit sour. Some even say that the taste is comparable to ripe or intense cheese.
Cost and Availability
Though simple to harvest, matsutake are hard to find because of their specific growth requirements and the rarity of appropriate forest and terrain, combined with competition from local folk and wild animals such as squirrel, rabbits and deer for the once-yearly harvest of mushrooms, causing the price to be very high at times or as low as $2 per pound for pickers when the market will bear it.
Domestic production of matsutake in Japan has been sharply reduced over the last 50 years due to the pine-killing nematode Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, which has influenced the price a great deal. The annual harvest of matsutake in Japan is now less than 1,000 tons, and the Japanese mushroom supply is largely made up by imports from China, Korea, the North American Pacific Northwest (Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia), and Northern Europe (Sweden, Finland and Norway).
The price for matsutake in the Japanese market is highly dependent on quality, availability, and origin. The Japanese matsutake at the beginning of the season, which is the highest grade, can go up to $1,000 per kilogram. Which would make it one of the most expensive natural foods in the world. But still not as expensive as black or white truffles. In contrast, the average value for imported matsutake is about $90 per kilogram.