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Japan's $200 Mushrooms

By Okinawa - Posted on 12 April 2009

What's the most expensive mushroom in the world? The title belongs to matsutake mushrooms, Japan's answer to the black truffle. While prices are not quite as high as the most expensive truffles, who's rich flavor is sought in high societies around the world, top quality matsutake retail for a respectable $1,000 per pound. But why are matsutake so sought after and what makes them so expensive?

This basket of five mushrooms costs just under $500:

photo of expensive japaneese matsutake mushrooms

Matsutake mushrooms, or mattake for short, are said to have been part of the Japanese diet for more than a thousand years. Despite this long history, however, no one has been able to figure out how to farm them, and they must be gathered by hand. Japanese matsutake are found under fallen leaves at the foot of pine trees, hence the name - matsutake means pine mushroom in Japanese.

Why are matsutake mushrooms so expensive?

One reason matsutake have become so expensive is that while Japan's household income increased exponentially over the passed 50 years, the number of matsutake mushrooms harvested in the country has decreased sharply due to the introduction of a bug that kills the trees they grow under. With more and more money to spend on less and less mushrooms, matsutake have achieved an almost mythical status in Japan.

More than just a mushroom, matsutake are related to the Japanese symbol for longevity. They are synonymous with the autumn season, and for many people in Japan, where importance has longed been placed upon the change of season, the mushrooms have become one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be Japanese. Another example would be sakura cherry blossoms in the spring.

Matsutake are often given as gift baskets to show appreciation or curry favor, and companies are happy to lavish the most expensive ones on high-end clients and business partners.

How to choose a good matsutake

Matsutake are harvested from around the end of September through the middle of November. The highest grade is given to mushrooms that have an even plumpness to the stem and measure about 6 inches in length. More important than size, however, is to make sure that the cap has not yet opened – the Japanese say to choose the one that looks like a penis instead of an umbrella. In fact, a mushroom can loose up to a third of its value once the cap separates from the stem and the gills become visible underneath.

Another factor that determines price is where the mushroom comes from. Matsutake collected from the bottom of red pines in the Tamba region outside of Kyoto are said to be the best and are the most expensive. As the country now only harvests less than 1,000 tons per year, 90% of Japan's matsutake are imported from places like North and South Korea, China, and the American northwest. These imported varieties are much cheaper and sell for an average of 10,000 yen ($110) per kilogram.

For example, these matsutake imported from China are only about $13 for two:

photo of cheap chinese matsutake mushrooms

According to Japanese law, imported matsutake must be washed of dirt and many people say that this dilutes their fragrance and taste. Domestic ones are also preferred because, as with any mushroom, freshness plays a large part in texture.

That being said, most people would not be able to distinguish between Japanese matsutake and those that are imported. Some imported ones are also of very high quality, like these from Korea that cost about $420 for a basket of three:

korean matsutake mushrooms - songi gui, photo

Just remember that one of the most important parts to enjoying matsutake is getting into the whole autumn experience.

How do matsutake taste?

While most popular fungi are enjoyed primarily for their taste, Matsutake are sought after for their unique aroma. The scent is both spicy and fruity, with a hint of sweet cinnamon. The fall feeling is completed by the mushroom's pine-like earthiness.

Matsutake mushroom photo taken by markii187 under CC license. Photo of Chinese matsutake by eightydaysjet under CC license. Korean matsutake mushroom photo taken by panduh and used under CC license.

$1,000 a pound for most expensive mushrooms...not really.
the most expensive mushroom is the rare white truffle that fetches anywhere from $ 50,000 - $ 100,000 US depending on the condition of the mushroom.

Expensive truffles are more expensive than matsutakes, but I was under the impression that while they are both fungi, truffles are not mushrooms. Does anyone have any input?

You are correct that Truffles are fungi, but they are not mushrooms. Most all mushrooms live and produce above ground whereas truffles rarely are found above ground.
The truffle itself is similar to a tuber in that it lives it's entire life below ground. They are mycorozial, which means that the spores of the Truffle attatch themselves to the root system of a "host tree" or bush. The host provides the the photosynthises for the truffle to grow.
Hope this helps.

Thanks for your clarification about the differences between mushrooms and truffles!

This year, 2010, there are plenty of matsutake mushrooms. The price has dropped significantly. We hope that price to go up, but for now, matsutake is more affordable than most of the years.

Am very interested in cultivating these Matsutake mushrooms in Holland, i live next to a Forrest and also near a protected/preserved ecological area, and hope that our climate as well our pine trees ánd other species that will be suitable for this.

am also interested in beekeeping, and other methods of ecological gardening. At the moment we have 2,5 hectares worth of soil that has been un-used for 2 years now.

we plan to make 'levels' of teh soil ..a pyramid-like structure, this to in-crease potency of the soil and everything that grows.

[Google maps]

my question is do you have any tips for me?
are there video's on internet about cultivation of the Matsutake? (in English)
..and foremost; what can you do with the Matsutake in the kitchen?

yours censerly,
Joshua Wildenberg

You're banking on the fact that you live next to a forest and an ecological preserve that this is all you need to be able to grow Matsutake mushrooms?? LOL! Just because they're called pine mushrooms, the Matsutake actually prefer growing in a mixture of hemlock and pine forest, and are most often found growing near or at the base of hemlock trees where there is evidence of a previous ancient forest fire. Pine mushrooms are wild mushrooms, you'd have more success in trying to domesticate a moose. If you succeed in cultivating the Matsutake or pine mushroom as it's known in Canada, you'll be the first.

That does it! I'm going out looking for mushrooms - plenty of red pine and hemlock trees near me! :)

Ill sell them for half that price right know!!! Ive got them here on my property.

I have been picking wild Matsutake for over 20 years in Eastern USA and have many other people that pick them to sell to me also. The Matsutake that we pick are larger and more white on them than the ones that grow in Japan.They grow under Hemlock and Red pine here in Northeast USA. If anyone in Japan wishes to buy Matsutake from me,they can email me if they wish.

Teach English in Korea


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