Oyster mushrooms have a delicate flavor, meaty, adaptable, and fairly expensive. It’s worth it to be able to store and preserve them for future use after you actually get your hands on some. They are delightful in all the ways regular mushrooms are, but are more flavorful than ordinary button mushrooms and more versatile than shitake mushrooms.
There are six types of oyster mushrooms: pearl oyster mushrooms, blue oyster mushrooms, golden oyster mushrooms, pink oyster mushrooms, phoenix oyster mushrooms, and king oyster mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms make a good meat substitute, as they are toothsome, and packed with a mild, pleasant flavor. The pink ones lose their color when cooked, and the blue ones become paler as they mature. Look for young mushrooms that are springy, with bright, even color, and that are without blemishes, yellow spots, or wilting.
Where to Find Them
I’m not going to recommend for a second that you develop mad spore printing skills and try to forage for wild mushrooms. Although you’re unlikely to be fatally poisoned in the United States from an actual lookalike (which grows in Japan and Australia), there are plenty of mushrooms out there that will take you out. Mushroom poisoning is no joke, so check your finds with an expert unless you plan to develop mad spore print skills anytime soon.
Grocery stores & markets
The easiest way to find mushrooms is to buy them from someone who has done all the work for you! I have had good luck finding fresh oyster mushrooms at Asian food markets, but they are usually wrapped in plastic wrap and need to be dealt with as soon as you get them home. Occasionally, our local grocery store has specialty mushrooms, and I can get them there. Amazon is a reliable source of dehydrated mushrooms, which I was unable to find anywhere else. Look for young mushrooms that are springy, with bright, even color, and that are without blemishes, dark spots, or wilting. If they have been in plastic for too long, you can bet that there is mold in there somewhere that has infected the entire package. Look for packages without visible condensation.
Grow them yourself
Oyster mushrooms are the most cultivated mushrooms worldwide. There are many places to order kits for growing your own mushrooms. There is a learning curve here, involving magic, misting and full-moon prayers . . . just kidding. They are straightforward and designed for beginners. Here is one such kit on Etsy.
Various Storage Methods
Once you find them, there are easy ways to preserve and store oyster mushrooms. But first, a quick word about how not to store mushrooms
Loosely wrap them in lint-free linen cloth or a clean dish towel. I find the cloth bags that new sheet sets come in to be perfect. Don’t clean them until you’re ready to use them. Look them over for hitchhikers, mold spots, or blemishes; cut them out or throw those away, then toss them into the fridge until needed. You can store them in a brown paper bag or in a bowl topped with a damp paper towel as well. They need to be stored in porous materials that do not trap moisture for the best results. They only keep for a few days this way.
Perhaps the best method of long-term storage is dehydration. Wash fresh mushrooms thoroughly, unless you’ve grown your own and you can verify that they are critter and debris-free. I fill the sink with water and swish them around. Put them between clean, dry, lint-free kitchen towels and press the excess water out. They soak up a huge amount of liquid, which promotes spoilage, and they will also take much longer to dehydrate. Use only unblemished mushrooms. If yours have been grown indoors and are relatively clean, I do not recommend washing them, and you can skip wringing them out.
Mushrooms and other delicates dehydrate at an optimal temperature of 125 deg F and should be dehydrated anywhere from 3-8 hours. Often using higher temps causes the skins and peels of food to dry too quickly and trap moisture inside the food, causing lengthy and uneven food dehydration. This isn’t an issue for these mushrooms.
I have two dehydrators and am shamefully laissez-faire about these things. My ancient Mr. Coffee (really!) food dehydrator, which I have used for an embarrassingly long time, has no temperature controls and when tested operated at about 165, which is great for meat, but not ideal for skinned fruits or vegetables. I did it anyway because. . . lazy. I put them in a single layer turned it on and went to bed, and they were done in the morning. It’s not really possible to overdo it with these. You want them crispy. They shouldn’t bend but break. You can put them on a baking sheet and put them on the lowest oven setting possible and achieve similar results.
After drying, give them a good sniff so you have some idea what freshness smells like. This will be useful later when determining if/when to toss out mushrooms past their prime.
Storing dehydrated mushrooms
Once dry, keep them in an airtight container, away from heat and light, like all dehydrated food. I like storing dehydrated foods and dry goods in canning jars (Walmart usually has the cheapest) with Tattler reusable lids. Even though regular canning jar lids cannot be resealed for canning purposes, I’ve had no issues reusing them for vacuum sealing. I use a FoodSaver canning jar attachment. I recommend buying the jars in person at the store – they are poorly packaged for shipping.
Ordinary plastic containers, canning jars with plastic screw-top lids, or plastic baggies are also fine, but none of these will last as long as vacuum sealing or freezing will. Alternatively, you can store dehydrated food in the freezer.
You can grind dried mushrooms into a concentrated powder to save space. Adding this powder to dishes gives them a boost of umami happiness, but ground anything loses its potency faster than intact foods.
Dehydrating mushrooms allows for indefinite storage. Like all stored food, time will eventually rob them of quality, but they will always be safe to eat, assuming they haven’t been compromised by moisture and started growing fuzzy stuff. If they no longer smell intensely of, well, dried mushroom, toss them.
Rehydrating Oyster Mushrooms
It’s fine to rehydrate mushrooms by covering them with cold water and letting them set until they are soft.
The best way I’ve found to freeze fresh mushrooms is by cooking them in some kind of oil or fat. Sauté them in butter or your oil of choice and a pinch of salt. Allow them to come to room temperature, then pack them into freezer-safe glass jars, freezer bags or plastic containers. You can vacuum seal them for longer storage. If you have a specific recipe, you can sauté all the vegetables in oil or butter along with the mushrooms and freeze them until needed. As with dehydrating, frozen food does not spoil so much as it loses quality. The recommended time is approximately 9 months. Use immediately after thawing, or add frozen to foods already being cooked. They do not do well in recipes that call for sauteed mushrooms, but they are great in stews, sauces, gravies, mushroom soup, casseroles and other cooked dishes.
According to the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (Ball, Rubbermaid Inc., 2020), mushrooms can be canned using the pressure method. They are boiled in water to cover for 5 minutes, packed into canning jars with ½ teaspoon of salt per pint, and covered with their cooking liquid. Leave 1 inch of headspace and remove air bubbles. Pressure can on medium-high, vent for 10 minutes, then bring to 10 psi and process for 45 minutes. Let canner cool until pressure is relieved and let rest 5 minutes. Remove lid. Let jars cool in water for 10 more minutes. Remove and let cool 10-12 hours without tightening bands. Check seals.
Water bath canning is inappropriate for canning mushrooms due to their low acidity. Instant Pots have not been approved because they have not been designed (or tested) to maintain a consistent 15 psi necessary to can safely.
Want more food storage advice? Check our other food storage articles.
You can also check out our other dehydrating articles:
How to Dehydrate Pasta for Backpacking or Instant Meals
How to Make Delicious Bacon Jerky in the Dehydrator or Oven