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What is a Cauliflower Mushroom?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cauliflower mushroom, also sometimes called brain fungus, is a type of edible mushroom with a distinctive physical appearance found in northern forests in many parts of the world in the fall. The mushroom is most commonly found in Western North America, although cauliflower mushroom has been identified in other locations as well. In addition to being flavorful, it is also very easy to identify, making it an excellent choice for beginning mushroom hunters, although identification of a mushroom should always be verified by someone more experienced when you are a beginning student.

In appearance, cauliflower mushroom resembles a lasagna gone awry. The mushroom grows in colonies of densely packed lobed branches that cluster around a central stem, and some mushroom identification authorities say that it looks akin to a fistful of egg noodles exploding from the ground. Cauliflower mushroom is creamy to yellow in color with a white spore print, and can reach a height of almost two feet (60 centimeters), with some specimens weighing in at up to 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms).

The formal name for the cauliflower mushroom is Sparassis crispa, and the mushroom does have a crisp, crunchy texture which is retained through cooking. The flavor of the mushroom is slightly watery, with notes of fennel and almond in the cooked mushroom that can complement creamy sauces very well. Because cauliflower mushroom is subject to insect infestation, it should be brushed and carefully looked over before use. If the fungus has been colonized, it can be soaked in a mild salt water solution shortly before consumption.

Cauliflower mushroom is rarely available in markets, although sometimes it can be found at mushroom fairs and regional farmers' or wildcraft markets. When looking for cauliflower mushrooms to purchase, look for firm evenly colored specimens with no mold or slime. The mushrooms should be stored under refrigeration and in paper for up to one week before use or drying, although if you intend to dry the mushrooms it is better to do so quickly.

The cooking options for this tasty edible are myriad. In addition to stir fries, quiches, and omelets, cauliflower mushroom can also be delicious served with pasta dishes or flying solo as a side vegetable. The mushroom does best when it is minimally seasoned and cooked, allowing the fresh taste and crispy texture to shine through. Experimentation with the cauliflower mushroom can yield intriguing and fun fall and autumn dishes.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By lightning88 — On Oct 04, 2010

I've always liked gourmet mushrooms, especially those lovely porcini mushrooms, but somebody recently gave me a book on the edible wild mushrooms of North America, and now I'm getting really curious to try some.

I get a little confused when looking at all the different pictures of edible mushrooms -- they tend to look all the same to me.

Is there a good way to tell the difference between all the different types of mushrooms, or not? I mean, this obviously isn't such an issue with the cauliflower mushroom since it's so distinctive, but what about the other ones?

By musicshaman — On Oct 04, 2010

Although with a lot of mushrooms you really have to be careful and take your mushroom field guide along with you when you pick them, cauliflower mushrooms are very distinctive.

After you see a picture of one -- just google cauliflower edible mushroom pictures -- you will never forget it. It's just such a weird looking thing. Very tasty though!

Oh, one thing you do need to remember -- when buying cauliflower mushrooms, don't choose any that have a weird color, that is to say, anything that's not white or grey. Any browns or blues should be immediately discarded, as should any mushrooms that look too slimy.

By pharmchick78 — On Oct 04, 2010

My grandmother used to use dried cauliflower mushrooms a lot, but she called them "hen of the woods". She used to wash the mushroom very thoroughly, then slice it into thin slices, batter it like you would fried chicken, and fry it for just a few seconds. The only thing I've tasted that even comes close is Japanese tempura, another one of my favorite foods.

I've also heard that cauliflower mushrooms pair really well with chanterelle mushrooms if you want to make a nice mushroom quiche. I've never tried it with puffball mushrooms though -- I think it might be a little too bland with those.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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