Learn how to safely forage for chanterelle mushrooms, a gourmet summer delicacy. Also, find out how to clean, cook, and store your chanterelles!
About a decade ago, we were newbies to mushroom foraging. With good reason, we were hesitant to forage wild mushrooms since there are quite a few mushroom species that can kill you or make you very sick.
Thus, we did a bunch of reading and research about edible wild mushrooms in our area (Greenville, SC / Southeast US) before we even considered going mushroom foraging. Thankfully, we also have good friends who were experienced mushroom foragers, and they took us out for our first foray at some of their favorite spots.
It was a hot June day and rain had been plentiful during the weeks before the hunt (perfect weather conditions for chanterelles). As we drove down a dirt rode to the prime foraging spot in an old hardwood forest (perfect chanterelle habitat), our friends began excitedly shouting… “There’s one! Ooh, another one! They’re everywhere!”
Along the moss-covered ditch next to the forest-shaded road, small red and slightly larger orange mushrooms were clearly visible from the car windows. This was our first encounter with chanterelle mushrooms in the wild.
Over the course of the next two hours, our group of merry foragers gathered about 30 pounds of chanterelles. The Tyrant and I were hooked!
Needless to say, our gourmet wild and home-cultivated mushroom addiction has only grown stronger over the decade since our first chanterelle hunt. Each summer since, we eagerly return to the woods to hunt chanterelles and other wild seasonal mushrooms.
Subspecies of chanterelles: Chanterelles of the southeastern United States
“Chanterelles” are actually a very broad descriptor that may refer to a wide range of mushroom species in the genera Cantharellus and Craterellus, depending on what bioregion you live in. For instance, there are species of white chanterelle mushrooms on the west coast that we don’t have here on the east coast.
Where we live in the southeastern United States, there are three distinct color groups of chanterelles that we regularly see and forage:
1. RED chanterelles – Cantharellus cinnabarinus
Red chanterelles are commonly called “cinnabars.” They’re absolutely gorgeous in color and shape, but they’re very small and thin-fleshed. The largest cinnabar mushroom might top out at 1.5″.
When we find a particularly abundant and large-sized patch of cinnabars, we’ll pick them, otherwise we tend not to mess with them since they’re so small.
What do cinnabars taste like?
Cinnabars taste almost exactly like orange chanterelles: mild notes of apricot and almonds. There’s just not as much substance to them.
2. BLACK chanterelles – Craterellus cornucopioides
Black chanterelles are commonly called “black trumpets.” Black trumpets are larger than cinnabars, but smaller than orange chanterelles. They are also very thin-fleshed.
What do black trumpet chanterelles taste like?
In our opinion, black trumpets might just be the most delicious mushroom in North America. They have a rich earthy complex flavor that is nearly comparable to truffles.
When we find big hauls of black trumpets, we dry and powder them, then cook them in olive oil to make black trumpet-infused dipping oil for our homemade bread. So dang good!
3. ORANGE chanterelles
“Orange” chanterelles may be a bit of misnomer since their color can range from pink to peach to yellow to orange, depending on the subspecies. Orange chanterelles are often lumped under the species name Cantharellus cibarius, but there are actually lots of different subspecies of orange-colored chanterelles with slightly different colors, shapes, and false gill patterns.
For example, in our area there’s pink/peach-colored Cantharellus velutinus, C. appalachiensis with maroon hues on the cap, smooth and orange C. lateritius, and others.
It’s likely that — just as with oak trees — there are hundreds of closely related yet genetically distinct chanterelle subspecies across North America. Not to worry, once you get the hang of ID’ing orange chanterelles, it becomes quite easy to know when you’ve got the real thing, despite these subtle differences!
What do orange chanterelles taste like?
Orange chanterelles are so popular for a good reason: they’re absolutely delicious when cooked. The flavor of orange chanterelles is subtle, offering notes of apricots, almonds, and pleasant umami-earthiness.
How to find chanterelle mushrooms
What states can you find chanterelles in?
In addition to their amazing flavor, another nice thing about chanterelle mushrooms is they are widely distributed across the United States. In fact, you can find chanterelles in 49 out of 50 US states! (Sorry, Hawaii.)
Where do chanterelles grow?
You can NOT grow chanterelles; you can only forage them. Coincidentally, this is why chanterelles are so expensive when you buy them!
Chanterelles are mycorrhizal, meaning they form symbiotic relationships with tree roots of specific trees. They feed their host trees and their host trees feed them — interspecific mutualism.
That’s why you’ll only find chanterelles growing in mature forests. If you see something you think is a chanterelle growing in the middle of a field or meadow, it’s highly unlikely that it’s a chanterelle.
In our area, chanterelles grow primarily around the following hardwood trees: beech, oak, and maple. However, in other areas of the country, chanterelles (and various subspecies of chanterelles) can even be found associating with evergreens.
When we forage chanterelles with our family in the South Carolina lowcountry, we’ve even found chanterelles growing in pine forests!
When do chanterelles grow?
Chanterelles are a heat-loving summer mushroom, but they can also be found into fall in warmer areas. The earliest we’ve ever found chanterelles in Greenville, SC is the first week of June. The latest we’ve ever found them is early October.
How long after rain do chanterelles grow?
A heavy summer rain will trigger the underground chanterelle colony to begin fruiting almost immediately, but the mushrooms take a while to develop and won’t be visible for many days after. For instance, we just came out of a severe May drought (zero rain) followed by about 6″ of rain in early June. 10 days after the heavy rains and the first chanterelles of the season are about 1″ tall mushrooms — not yet large enough to harvest.
Chanterelles LOVE lots of rain. If you’re in the middle of a summer drought, you won’t find chanterelles. The best case scenario for an amazing chanterelle mushroom season is regular deep-drenching summer thunderstorms.
How do you identify chanterelle mushrooms?
As mentioned above, there are red, black, and orange chanterelle species. They all grow in the same conditions: in older forests during wet summers.
The most commonly foraged and sold chanterelles are orange chanterelles due to their larger size (it doesn’t take nearly as long or as many mushrooms to get a pound of orange chanterelles relative to black and red chanterelles).
In addition to season and location characteristics, here are key identifying features of orange chanterelles:
- Color range: Orange, peach, yellow, pink
- Shape: Vase-like
- Gill structure: The underside of chanterelles contains rows of false gills (they don’t produce spores except under the cap). The false gills fork, unlike true gills that look like single, individual blades. The false gills terminated at the stem, which is smooth. In some chanterelles, these false gills are much more pronounced than in others.
- Spore print:Light yellow to white
- Growth habit: Orange chanterelles generally grow as individual mushrooms, but sometimes can be found in small clusters.
- Smell: Orange chanterelles smell sweet, fruity and pleasant (slight apricot smell).
Do chanterelles have poisonous and non-poisonous lookalikes?
Yes! Depending on where you live, there are likely to be a few mushroom species that look somewhat like chanterelles. However, once you have some experience, distinguishing between real chanterelles and their lookalikes becomes very easy.
Remember to always comply with our rule #1 of foraging: Never eat anything you’re not 100% certain you’ve correctly ID’d AND you’re not 100% certain is edible. If you’re a new or inexperienced forager, you should have an experienced forager with you to help you correctly ID chanterelles until you get the hang of it.
Here are some chanterelle lookalikes in our area:
1. Jack-o-lantern mushrooms(Omphalotus illudens) – These are poisonous! Jack-o-lantern mushrooms have a bright orange color and their gills actually glow green at night. Individual jack-o-lantern mushrooms look somewhat similar to chanterelles, but their growth habit is different.
- Distinguishing characteristics: jack-o-lanterns grow in clusters and decompose dead trees and roots. You’ll often see them growing on decomposing stumps, whereas chanterelles don’t grow on decomposing wood.
2. False chanterelles (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) – Yes, as the name implies, false chanterelles look pretty similar to the real thing. There isn’t a consensus on whether false chanterelles are edible or poisonous. Some people eat them without incident, and others report having an upset stomach after consumption. Our recommendation: stay away, especially since they’re not supposed to taste great.
- Distinguishing characteristics: False chanterelles have true gills and are a deeper orange color than real chanterelles.
3. Hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum repandum) – If you find this chanterelle lookalike, you’ve hit the jackpot! Hedgehog mushrooms aren’t only edible, they’re delicious. We actually like them better than orange chanterelles. Unfortunately, they seem to be far more rare in our area than chanterelles.
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Hydnum repandum, aka “hedgehog” #mushroom, another wonderful wild gourmet summer #shroom. This is a mycorrhizal tooth fungi (hydnoid), but it tastes a lot like a #chanterelle. The forests in #Appalachia are full of deliciousness right now! #wildfood #foraging #gourmetfungi
- Distinguishing characteristics: The underside of hedgehog mushrooms is covered with tiny white teeth/spines where the spores are released (versus the false gills of chanterelles).
How do you harvest chanterelles?
Once you know how to ID chanterelles, it’s time to harvest them. Our rule #11 of foraging: harvest sustainably. With that rule in mind, here are five chanterelle harvesting tips:
- Cut the chanterelle mushrooms at the base of their stems rather than pulling them out of the ground. This minimizes damage to the colony and also reduces the amount of time you have to clean your mushrooms.
- Only pick clean chanterelles, leaving behind any dirt-covered chanterelles. It’s not worth the aggravation of cleaning dirty chanterelles. Plus, leaving some behind helps them continue to spore out and further colonize the area. If you have to clean chanterelles, use a makeup brush or toothbrush. If you’re discerning about which chanterelles you harvest, you shouldn’t have to do much or any cleaning prior to cooking.
- Only harvest larger, more mature chanterelles rather than very young ones. This helps ensure that they’ve had a chance to produce spores.
- Use a breathable basket when harvesting chanterelles. This allows the mushrooms you pick to spore out as you walk, helping to seed the forest with new chanterelle colonies.
- Only harvest what you’ll reasonably use immediately or have time/ability to prep for long-term storage. There’s no reason to harvest mushrooms only to let them rot in your fridge.
How long do chanterelles last? How do you use or store chanterelles?
Once you harvest chanterelles, the clock starts ticking… You’ll want to get them cleaned, bagged, and refrigerated as soon as possible.
- Left in an unrefrigerated pile in your harvesting basket, chanterelles will start to go bad within 48 hours — or less if they’re wet.
- Refrigerated chanterelles in good condition can last for 10-14 days in a ziplock.
Chanterelle cooking tips
Always cook chanterelles and other mushrooms before eating them! (Mushroom expert Paul Stamets explains why here.)
Chanterelles are a subtle flavor so use them accordingly. Don’t use them in highly flavorful sauces (curry, tomato sauce, etc) or you won’t notice them. The point is to accentuate the flavor of the chanterelles, not drown them!
Use chanterelles as follows:
- in light wine sauces,
- with mild meats (like chicken), or
- sautéed in butter or olive oil with shallots and garlic.
Our two favorite long-term chanterelle preservation methods are:
1. Dehydrating chanterelles.
When we have big chanterelle hauls, we like to dehydrate them in our Excalibur. Then we turn them into powder in a blender.
We store our “chanterelle powder” in jars. This process minimizes storage space since 20 pounds of fresh chanterelle mushrooms can be reduced down to one small jar (chanterelles are about 95% water). We use our chanterelle powder to flavor food throughout the year: in soups, as part of a coating on chicken, in sauces, etc.
2. Sautéing then freezing chanterelles.
The best way to store chanterelles to maintain like-new flavor is to:
- sauté them in butter or olive oil for 15-20 minutes,
- let them cool,
- then freeze them in freezer bags.
This method takes up more room than dehydrated chanterelles, but it’s the ideal storage method for preserving the best flavor when you’re itching for chanterelle risotto in December.
We hope this article was helpful and gets you looking at those beautiful forests in a whole new light! The world around you is full of wild gourmet food, but ALWAYS forage safely and never put you or your loved ones at risk by eating foods you haven’t properly identified.
Other articles you might enjoy:
- 6 gourmet and medicinal mushrooms you can easily grow in your garden
- How to find, identify, grow, and cook chicken of the woods mushrooms
- The hunt for the elusive morel mushroom
- How to grow shiitake mushrooms
- How to find and prepare maitake mushrooms
- A delicious indigo milkcap recipe