Bear's Head Mushrooms
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Bear’s Head mushrooms grow in medium to large, compact, clusters that look like fungal icicles hanging from the trunk of a tree. The mushroom averages 15-30 centimeters in diameter and has white, soft, smooth spines drooping downward from a thick, branched body. When sliced, the various branches are exposed, and as the mushroom matures, its spines transform from white to pale yellow becoming bitter and unpleasant in taste. When picked young and cooked, Bear’s Head mushrooms are tender and meaty with a mild, nutty taste and a sweet and fragrant seafood-like undertone, similar to lobster or crab.
Wild Bear’s Head mushrooms can be found in the late summer through early fall, while cultivated Bear’s Head mushrooms are available year-round.
Bear’s Head mushrooms, botanically classified as Hericium americanum, are one of North America’s only Hericium species and is a member of the Hericiaceae family. Also known as the Bear’s Head Tooth fungus and Pom Pom mushroom, Bear’s Head mushrooms grow on both living and dead deciduous hardwood trees such as birch and oak. It can often be mistaken for one of its sibling species, the lion’s mane mushroom, botanically known as Hericium erinaceus, which grows throughout Asia and in the United States. The difference between the two is very slight and primarily ecological with the presence of a branched fruiting body in the mature Bear’s Head species and the lack thereof in the lion’s mane species. Bear’s Head mushrooms are favored for their nutty taste and tender texture.
Bear’s Head mushrooms contain vitamin D, fiber, iron, antioxidants, and protein.
Bear’s Head mushrooms must be cooked before consumption and are best suited for applications such as baking, sautéing, and frying. They are best broken up or cut into chunks and pan-fried in oil and butter until browned. They can also be broken into nuggets, baked, and then dipped into sauces, mixed into pasta, sprinkled into soups, or used as a meat substitute in crab cakes, fish tacos, and clam chowder. Bear’s Head mushrooms pair well with potatoes, corn, cabbage, shallots, garlic, onion, leeks, meats such as chicken, beef, or pork, sriracha, saffron, truffle butter, and apples. They should be used immediately as they can become bitter if kept for more than a few days in the refrigerator.
Dried and powdered Bear’s Head mushroom was used by tribes in North America to stop bleeding wounds and cuts. In Asia, many mushrooms of the Hericium species are used to extract mycelium, which is an element incorporated into a sports drink called Houtou, which was believed to be responsible for several victories during the Eleventh Asia Sports Festival in 1990.
Bear’s Head mushrooms grow east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and have been growing wild for many centuries. Today they are also cultivated for commercial use and can be found at specialty grocers and farmers markets in the United States and Asia.
Recipes that include Bear's Head Mushrooms. One is easiest, three is harder.