In this article you’ll learn how to find, identify, and eat hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum spp.) – chanterelle lookalikes that may taste even better than chanterelles!
Hedgehog mushrooms go by a few common names, including yellow tooth fungus and sweet tooth. We prefer the name “hedgehog” because it evokes the spiny appearance of the popular mammal, which helps beginners accurately identify these mushrooms.
As it happens, the underside of hedgehog mushroom caps do in fact bear a resemblance to the texture of (mammal) hedgehogs due to their spiny, tooth-like appendages, from which the mushrooms emit their spores.
Depending on the specific hedgehog species (there’s more than one) and the maturity of the mushroom, hedgehog “teeth” range in length from about 1/8″ – 1/4″ and are rather delicate, easily breaking off when rubbed with a finger.
How to identify hedgehog mushrooms: the perfect beginner’s mushroom
Three wonderful things about hedgehog mushrooms for new foragers:
- they taste delicious (once cooked);
- they’re easy to identify,
- there aren’t any poisonous lookalikes.
That means if you find:
a) mushrooms emerging from the forest floor in coniferous, deciduous, or mixed forests (but not growing on actual logs/trees); and
b) the mushrooms have a pale white-cream-yellow-orange color; and
c) they have small yet distinct teeth/spines growing on the underside of the cap,
… then you’ve found hedgehog mushrooms.
You can go a step further in your identification and do a spore print. Hedgehog mushrooms will leave a creamy-white spore print.
Which hedgehog species did you find? Morphological vs genetic analyses…
As a 2016 study in Scientific Reports details, there are distinct species of hedgehog mushrooms found throughout the world: North/Central/South America, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australasia.
If you’re in the US like we are, it used to be thought that there were only ~5 Hydnum species found here: Hydnum albidum (a white-colored west coast hedgehog), H. albomagnum, H. repandum, H. rufescens, and H. umbilicatum.
Over the years while foraging here in the mountains of Upstate South Carolina, we believed we found H. repandum (large yellow-orange hedgehogs) and H. umbilicatum (small yellow-orange hedgehogs). This assumption was based on our specimens matching morphological descriptions of these two species.
However, new tools used to conduct genetic analyses on fungi are profoundly reshaping some of the long-established species classifications and revealing far more genetic diversity than was apparent based on traditional visual characteristics/morphology that’s been used since the time of Linnaeus.
As the authors of the previously cited Scientific Reports study state: “These studies strongly suggest that the species diversity of Hydnum had been heavily under-estimated due to the lack of molecular evidence. Unfortunately, few molecular phylogenetic studies have been conducted on Hydnum collections made from continents outside of Europe.”
Then, in a 2018 molecular analysis of North American Hydnum species using ITS sequences from herbarium collections and GenBank data, it was revealed that there are at least 17 phylogenetic Hydnum species in EASTERN North America alone!
In short: based on our clumsy visual analysis, we know we’re finding edible hedgehog mushrooms. However, knowing exactly which species we’re finding is impossible without conducting a genetic analysis. The same is likely true where you live as well.
What season do hedgehog mushrooms fruit?
The season in which hedgehog mushrooms fruit varies by region. In our area (Southeast US), hedgehogs start fruiting in the summer and can be found well into the fall (and sometimes even into the winter months).
Although we’ve only found hedgehogs in summer and fall, a foraging friend of ours found a large flush of them emerging from melting snow in the winter. Even though hedgehogs are considered a fairly common mushroom, we don’t see them nearly as often mushrooms like chanterelles and bicolor boletes.
On the west coast of the US, hedgehogs are considered a fall-winter mushroom.
What role do hedgehog mushrooms play in nature?
Hedgehog mushrooms are ectomycorrhizal (EcM). They form a symbiotic relationship with their host tree(s), swapping nutrients and water they mine underground in exchange for carbohydrates/sugars the trees produce via photosynthesis.
“Ecto” refers to the fact that they do not penetrate a host tree’s roots to make this exchange. Instead, hedgehogs and other EcM mushrooms form a Hartig net around the outer layers of the tree roots, wherein the nutrient/water exchange takes place. (Other types of mycorrhizal fungi actually penetrate the tree roots.)
It’s a good idea to never forage mycorrhizal fungi from polluted forests, next to asphalt roads, etc. That’s because these mushrooms also pull chemicals and heavy metals that might harm the tree up and out of the rhizosphere to the soil surface via their fruiting bodies.
Are there toothed fungi other than hedgehogs?
There are other species of mushrooms that have teeth/spines, but it’s very hard to mistake them for hedgehogs. For instance, lion’s manes (which features large teeth) are large all-white mushrooms that fruit on dying or dead trees during the cold months. It’s a choice edible and medicinal mushroo.
Sarcodon imbricatus, commonly called a shingled or scaly hedgehog, has a brown, scaly cap with teeth underneath. It’s also edible. Despite its common name, it’s in an entirely different genus than Hydnum hedgehogs.
Mushroom Expert has a good breakdown of different species of toothed fungi if you’d like to take a deeper dive.
Harvesting and cleaning hedgehog mushrooms
If you plan to eat hedgehog mushrooms, perhaps the single best tip we can give you is this: do NOT put them in your harvest basket or bag with dirt on them. If you do, it will be nearly impossible to clean the mushrooms at home, since dirt and debris will mix into their teeth and be very difficult to remove without great effort.
Here’s how we recommend you harvest and clean hedgehog mushrooms:
1. Have a foraging knife and brush with you when you’re out mushroom hunting. Better yet, use an all-in-one tool like an Opinel mushroom foraging knife which has a fold-out blade + brush built in.
2. If the hedgehogs you’re considering harvesting are emerging straight out of the dirt, don’t bother. Instead, choose ones that are growing out of leaf litter or moss, which prevents dirt from splashing and sticking to them.
3. Pull hedgehogs from the ground when harvesting. Then cut/shave the dirt-covered parts of stems off and tap the top of the cap to knock any sand/debris out of the teeth. Finally, brush off any remaining visible debris before putting them in your harvest basket/bag.
4. Give them a final look-through and cleaning back home before you cook them. You can put them under a kitchen faucet, cap side up, while delicately washing the caps and stems to remove any remaining grit. However, if you rinse and rub the teeth, they’ll fall off and you’ve now lost part of your mushroom and a good source of flavor and nutrition.
5. If you need to store your hedgehog mushrooms for a short period of time before using them, put them in a ziplock bag, wrap the bag in a towel, and store them in the veggie drawer in your fridge. Use them within 1-2 weeks if at all possible for best texture and flavor. (They store in the fridge much better than chanterelles.)
If you’re not going to be able to use them soon, freeze or dehydrate your hedgehog mushrooms.
Cooking hedgehog mushrooms
Now comes the good part: cooking with hedgehog mushrooms! (Yes, you need to cook them before eating them.)
What do hedgehog mushrooms taste like?
Hedgehog mushrooms taste mildly sweet and nutty with faint hints of apricot. The taste and smell is quite similar to chanterelles. (Frankly, we like them even better than chanterelles.) Hedgehogs are a bit more dense than chanterelles, however.
There are reports of hedgehog mushrooms with bitter flavors. We’ve never experienced this, but these bitter flavors may be due some combination of:
- the specific species of hedgehog mushroom,
- the type of trees they’re associating with,
- the age of the mushroom.
Our guess is that some species of hedgehog mushrooms associating with the tree roots of coniferous trees may take on bitter notes (especially if the mushrooms are older), whereas hedgehog mushrooms associating with deciduous trees are sweet and nutty.
Cooking with hedgehog mushrooms
Given their sweet, fruity, nutty flavor, hedgehogs are best used with:
- creamy cheeses (parmesan, brie)
- white wines
- sweet/mild veggies (peas, Common milkweed)
- fruits (apricots, peaches)
- nuts (almonds, pine nuts)
- mild meats (chicken, pork)
- mild/creamy starches (orzo, pearl couscous, pasta)
If you can’t find a hedgehog mushroom recipe to your liking, find an appealing chanterelle recipe and substitute hedgehogs 1:1.
As we develop our own original, favorite hedgehog mushroom recipes, we’ll be sure to add links here!
Cultivate your mental hyphae with these other mushrooms articles:
- How to find, ID, and eat beefsteak mushrooms (Fistulina hepatica)
- All about Corrugated milk cap & Bradley milk cap mushrooms
- Black trumpet mushroom pasta and black trumpet mushroom & smoked gouda souffle
- How to find, ID, and use reishi mushrooms
- Chicken of the woods mushroom + “chicken” finger recipe
- Corn smut (huitlacoche) + recipe
- How to grow, forage, and eat lion’s mane + lion’s mane crabcake recipe
- Cauliflower mushroom – how to find, ID, and eat w/ quiche recipe