The so-called lobster mushroom is a strange species that looks like a mushroom with a cap. This cap is covered by a layer with a vivid orange or red color and changes its shape with age. The Hypomyces lactifluorum is actually a parasite that covers the real mushroom and can block its gills completely. The spores produced belong to the parasitic fungus. When the parasite reaches maturity, numerous perithecial mounds looking like pimples dot the surface and liberate spores.
Despite its name, the lobster mushroom is actually a parasitic ascomycete fungus. This infects only some mushrooms species and grows on top of them in a layer with a strong red or orange color, which looks like the shell of a boiled lobster and explains the common name. Milk-cap mushrooms from the genera Lactarius and Lactifluus and brittle gills (Russula) like the North American Russula brevipes and Lactifluus piperatus are the most common hosts for Hypomyces lactifluorum. When fully developed, the parasite covers the entire mushroom, which can no longer be identified. Lobster mushrooms have a great taste that has been compared to seafood, as well as a dense and strong texture. They are very popular as food; they are consumed all over the world and usually available in large stores.
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The vivid orange color of a lobster mushroom is caused by a fungus that covers the surface of a Lactarius or Russula species. It causes the skin to become hard, covered with small bumps with a strong color. These pimples break the structure of the original gills and stop the production of spores, while the inside flesh remains white. After a few days, the original mushroom starts to have a strange shape, due to the parasitic infestation.
The size of the original host determines the one of the lobster mushroom, so it can be highly variable. The most common ones have a height of 15 to 20 cm.
The cap of the lobster mushroom ensembles the one of the host but usually has an irregular shape. It is sometimes concave, since members of the Russula and Lactarius families often have concave caps. The parasitic infestation severely distorts the initial shape, with random results. It also causes cracks to develop on the surface. Caps are frequently dirty and it is not easy to clean them, which can be a problem because dirty cracks cause the mushroom to degrade quickly. However, it can still be used as a dye or for other purposes.
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Lobster mushrooms rarely have a stem or it is a very short one. The flesh is firm and dense, with a white color or a slightly orange one. It is not easy to collect the spores, since they are transparent.
All mushrooms have excellent nutritional qualities because they are very low in carbohydrates, have no fat or cholesterol and provide quality vegetal proteins. Eating them reduces the level of cholesterol, due to the content of fibers and some enzymes. Lobster mushrooms also include a good amount of lean proteins, which also boost the burn rate of cholesterol. Modern medicine focuses on achieving a proper balance between the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL) in order to reduce the risk of strokes, heart attacks, atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.
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A poor supply of iron triggers a condition known as anemia, which leads to extreme fatigue, headaches, reduced neural function, digestive problems and low energy levels. Lobster mushrooms are a great source of this essential mineral and over 90% of the quantity provided is absorbed by the body. As a result, the production of red blood cells is high and people who eat them can enjoy a healthy life.
Mushrooms provide a great dose of beta-glucans and conjugated linoleic acid, two natural compounds with a strong effect against cancer. Lobster mushrooms are no exception and are known to especially prevent prostate and breast cancers. Linoleic acid can neutralize excess estrogen and prevent it from harming the body. A high level of estrogen is considered to be the main cause of breast cancer for women after menopause. Beta-glucans are effective against prostate cancer and have been found to reduce the development of tumour cells. Numerous modern studies have proven that mushrooms have strong anti-tumour effects.
Vitamin D is usually produced by the body through the action of sunlight and very rarely found in food sources. However, mushrooms provide a small amount of this very important nutrient. It is especially needed for the health of the bone system, because it boosts the absorption of calcium and phosphorous. Mushrooms are also rich in these two minerals, so they provide the full package and including them in your diet is a great idea if you need calcium and phosphorous.
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Lobster mushrooms are rich in ergothioneine, a strong antioxidant that provides protection from the action of free radicals that can mutate cells, while improving the reaction of the immune system at the same time. Ergothioneine is actually an amino acid that has sulfur in its structure. Despite it being a common element, many people have a deficiency of sulfur. This antioxidant compound is only found in mushrooms and grants a significant boost to the immune system. Free radicals are a product of the cell metabolism. They can travel through the entire body and have very dangerous effects, being the root cause of cancer and many chronic diseases.
Natural antibiotics with a similar structure to penicillin are found in all types of mushrooms. They stop the growth of germs and can also defeat fungal infections. Most of these compounds are beta-glucans and polysaccharides that also provide an immune system boost, as well as cure ulcerous wounds or ulcers and healing their infections. Lobster mushrooms also supply a powerful mix of vitamins A, B-complex and C, which grant an additional immune boost.
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One trace element found in lobster mushroom is selenium, which is often ignored in nutrition despite its high importance. Normally, we get the needed selenium from animal proteins. Vegetarians don't have this option, so they can eat mushrooms instead. Since these feed on animal and plant remnants, they provide a decent amount of this essential mineral. The high dose of selenium supplied by lobster mushroom improves the durability and density of bones, as well as the nails, teeth and even the hair. It is also a strong antioxidant agent on its own, which grants a boost to the immune system and eliminates dangerous free radicals from the body. Depending on the species, mushrooms can have more or less selenium. However, the lobster mushroom and other common varieties are rich in this essential nutrient.
Depending on the original host species, the taste of a lobster mushroom is highly variable. The best mushrooms are the fresh ones, with a flesh that is still completely white. Brown areas are sometimes visible; these should be cut off and discarded. The best young mushrooms smell like seafood when cooked, this natural aroma is similar to the one of crabs, lobsters or other marine animals. Another similarity with a real lobster is the orange juice that is produced when this mushroom is sautéed or fried, which can give an interesting color to your recipes. However, be aware that the flavour is very sensitive and will disappear if you cook the mushrooms too much. These mushrooms are a great choice for tempura frying and pair very well with white wine. They can actually be used or paired with any recipe that is usually complemented by white wine. Older lobster mushrooms can be quite mealy and have a lower quality.
Since this species is so similar to a lobster, it is frequently paired with it in various recipes. They have many common characteristics, especially since the mushroom can absorb flavours from other ingredients. The lobster mushroom is often cooked with tofu or meat and gives food a nice color.
Like most other mushrooms, lobster mushroom can be harvested at the end of summer or in early autumn. Lobster mushroom is usually found in forests with oaks, poplars and other deciduous trees. They are more numerous in cleared areas, such as camping sites, or close to small forest ponds.
Lobster mushrooms provide small quantities of fiber and proteins and are a good source of carbohydrates. They also supply the vitamins B-complex, C and D, as well as iron and selenium.
Buckets, durable baskets or cloth bags are the best recipients during the harvest. Always carry a brush with soft bristles as well, this is very useful to clean any sand or dirt and clean the mushrooms quickly before placing them in your bag.
If you find lobster mushrooms in one area, they will appear in the same location the following year. You should remember the position, in order to harvest these delicious mushrooms with ease every season.