The Structure and Qualities of Mushrooms

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Mushrooms differ from plants in several important ways. The part we eat is only one small portion of the organism, most of which lives invisibly underground as a fine, cottony network of fibers, or hyphae, which ramify through the soil to gather nutrients. A single cubic centimeter of soil—a small fraction of a cubic inch—can contain as much as 2,000 meters/yards of hyphae! When the underground mass of fibers has accumulated enough material and energy, it organizes a new, dense growth of interwoven hyphae into a fruiting body, which it pumps up with water to break above the soil surface and release its offspring spores into the air. The mushrooms that we eat are these fruiting bodies. (Morels form unusual hollow fruiting bodies with a distinctive honeycombed cap; the depressions bear the spores.)