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Dispatches From Hawai’i: Edibles in Hawai’i

This is the second in a 4-part series on the fungi of Hawai’i from a Pacific Northwest perspective.  This article discusses foraging and edible fungi in Hawai’i. 

Foraging fungi for the table in Hawai’i is a challenge.  Unlike the Pacific Northwest where finding pounds and pounds of a variety of choice edibles is often not a problem, especially in the fall, this simply won’t happen in Hawai’i.  While Hawai’i is missing some of the most conspicuous and desirable ectomycorrhizal species such as porcini and chanterelles, there are a few good edibles, and if you are lucky, you may even get to see an elusive Hawaiian morel.

In my opinion, there are three mushrooms worth picking in Hawai’i: the wood ear (Auricularia cornea), oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.), and chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sp.).

The wood ear provides a great crunch to any dish with a mild fungal flavor whether fresh or after being dried and reconstituted. A relatively common mushroom to find in both native and non-native habitats on decaying wood, there is the possibility of finding large quantities, but often they will be past their prime and waterlogged.  This is the only mushroom in Hawai’i with a common Hawaiian name, pepeiao, meaning “ear”.

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Examples of young wood ear fungi.

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Examples of young wood ear fungi.

Oyster mushrooms in Hawai’i vary in quality, but most I find are extremely fleshy and tasty.  Often growing on ohia (Metrosideros polymorpha), one variety described as P. Cystidiosus in Mushrooms of Hawai’i and later shown to be allied to P. abilonus is a favorite.

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A collection of oyster mushrooms found on Ohia.

Hawai’i’s chicken of the woods grows on its native koa tree (Acacia koa) and multiple introduced Eucalyptus species.  Described as Laetiporus sulphureus in Mushrooms of Hawai’i, subsequent DNA analysis shows it is an undescribed species.  I find it much more tender and delicious than the common variety in the Pacific Northwest (L. conifericola).

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Hawai’i’s chicken of the woods on Eucalyptus.

Beyond these desirables, a large variety of other edibles grow in Hawai’i, although either their taste, abundance, or the preparation required leads me to collect them significantly less or not at all:

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Almond-smelling Agaricus species including A. subrufescens are found in grass, pastures, and under Casuarina.

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Lepista tarda is found in grass and non-native forests.

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Tremella fuciformis is found on woody debris in non-native forests.

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Morels do grow in Hawai’i, but almost never in quantity to collect a meal’s worth.  This moldy specimen is the only one I have ever seen. They have been reported from many habitat zones, and rumors of harvests in the several pounds, including increased fruiting following burns have been reported from one location on the islands.  Where?  Well…if you don’t share your morel patches on the mainland, would you expect someone to do so when it is the only place to hunt morels within 2500 miles?

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Various Suillus spp. occur in Hawai’i with imported pines such as this Suillus pungens.  S. brevipes and S. tomentosus are two other common species to find.

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Aseroe rubra is supposedly edible in its “egg” stage before its tentacles emerge, but I have always been too squeamish to try this mushroom.  Outside it appears as a puffball, but is not completely white upon cutting open. See prior blog post for mature pictures of this stinkhorn.

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Aseroe rubra is supposedly edible in its “egg” stage before its tentacles emerge, but I have always been too squeamish to try this mushroom.  Outside it appears as a puffball, but is not completely white upon cutting open. See prior blog post for mature pictures of this stinkhorn.

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Aseroe rubra is supposedly edible in its “egg” stage before its tentacles emerge, but I have always been too squeamish to try this mushroom.  Outside it appears as a puffball, but is not completely white upon cutting open. See prior blog post for mature pictures of this stinkhorn.

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Aseroe rubra is supposedly edible in its “egg” stage before its tentacles emerge, but I have always been too squeamish to try this mushroom.  Outside it appears as a puffball, but is not completely white upon cutting open. See prior blog post for mature pictures of this stinkhorn.

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A recent article in NAMA’s publication The Mycophile by Wendy So and David Arora attest to the deliciousness of Schizophyllum commune as prepared for them on a trip to central Africa.  I have never tried it.

Other edible fungi occurring in Hawai’i are large puffballs, the paddy straw mushroom (Volvariella volvaceae), meadow mushrooms (edible, non-almond smelling Agaricus spp. from pastures), and two similar species of the mica cap (Coprinellus spp.).  I have not yet found any of these fungi.

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On their tour, Hamakua Mushrooms describes their Japanese jar cultivation technique.

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On their tour, Hamakua Mushrooms describes their Japanese jar cultivation technique.

In addition to wild mushrooms, several cultivated varieties are available at farmer’s markets and larger retail stores. King oyster (Pleurotus eryngii), oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus group), and shiitake (Lentinus edode) are the most common, with pioppini, enoki, and others also seen.  Commercial cultivation ranges from individuals selling small quantities to restaurants and residents to larger companies such as Hamakua Mushrooms which sells mushrooms to Costco and offers tours of its facility where it sells mushroom merchandise.  They market the king oyster as “Alii” a play on the Hawaiian word for chief, “ali’i”.  On Kaua’i cultivated pink oysters are sold by Kaua’i fungi, and a new company on Oahu sells organic Agaricus bisporus produced on island.

In my experience, fungi are not a normal component of a Hawaiian meal.  Beyond sliced shitake in chicken long rice, mushroom gravy topping one’s loco moco, or perhaps some pepeaio in a stew, they are not a standard ingredient.  Mushrooms of Hawai’i includes 5 pages on edible fungi with recipes shared by island residents.

My personal experience is that many more individuals are interested in cultivating fungi rather than foraging.

Happy hunting whether in the market, the wild, or the inoculated substrate in your back yard!

Jeff Stallman is a super picky PSMS member since 2009 and former Board Member. He has been exploring the fungi of Hawai’i since moving to the big island in 2014, and will be sharing his experiences with us. His series will be published the second Sunday of each month.

References:

Banik, M. T., D. L. Lindner, Y. Ota, and T. Hattori. “Relationships among North American and Japanese Laetiporus Isolates Inferred from Molecular Phylogenetics and Single-spore Incompatibility Reactions.” Mycologia 102.4 (2010): 911-17. Web.

So, Wendy, and David Arora. “Split Split Gills and Ground Ground Nuts on a Fine Fine Day.” The Mycophile 56:2 (Mar.-Apr. 2016): 11. Print.

Zervakis, G. I. “Molecular Phylogeny, Biogeography and Speciation of the Mushroom Species Pleurotus Cystidiosus and Allied Taxa.” Microbiology 150.3 (2004): 715-26. Web.