Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

milk cap one of several names for edible mushrooms of the genus Lactarius, so named because all the species in it exude a ‘milk’. Most are ‘rusty’ in colour. They have ‘decurrent’ gills, i.e. they are joined to and run some way down the stem.

L. deliciosus, which is common in autumn in coniferous woods in Europe and the northern parts of N. America, and also occurs in China, Australia, and S. Africa, is the saffron or orange milk cap. Its cap is up to 15 cm (5") wide, convex at the edges but depressed in the middle. It is of a pinkish saffron colour, sometimes marked with concentric rings of pale green. The rest of the fungus is also saffron, and when cut it exudes a milk which quickly turns to orange. (It later turns green but this is no cause for alarm. Nor is the fact that eating saffron milk caps results in reddish urine.) The somewhat bitter, spicy taste may or may not be liked. Jaccottet (1973) comments that in the opinion of many connoisseurs there is nothing delicious about it except its specific name. This paradox has been explained on the basis that the great Swedish botanist Linnaeus, who bestowed the scientific name, was for once confused and attributed to the saffron milk cap the superior culinary merit of one of its relations, probably L. sanguifluus.