Learning to identify candy caps

Our mushroom of the month this April is the candy cap! Danny Miller has already written an extensive post full of interesting facts and useful info for identifying. Here, I just wanted to share a couple of images that should make identifying a lot easier. As Danny mentioned, there are a lot of candy cap look-alikes in the PNW, and it can be hard to tell them apart at first. You can always take them home and dry them to confirm a positive ID, but that can be time consuming, and you might end up with a bag full of duds.

One macroscopic characteristic you really want to pay attention to is the latex, the liquid substance that oozes from any lactarius when it is broken. Candy caps have a murky clear latex, kind of like saliva or another bodily fluid. The most common look-alikes, in contrast, have a much whiter, more opaque latex. Take a look:

(These photos came from PSMS member Josh Powell (left) and Tim Sage via mushroom observer (right))

As you start to find candy caps with any regularity, you’ll get really good at identifying the real thing, even without the latex. Some of us (including me!) can actually distinguish their smell when they’re fresh!

Finally, I’d like to leave you with one last tip: dry your candy caps SLOWLY. For most mushrooms, it doesn’t matter a whole lot how quickly you dry them, or the temperature you use, but I’ve found that candy caps that are dried too quickly don’t develop as strong a smell, and often have a much stronger mushroom-y flavor instead.

Happy hunting! (or rather — happy future hunting. we still have several months before the season starts!)