This Is the Best Way to Clean Mushrooms

bowl of fresh edible brown mushrooms in white bowl on blue table

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Forget everything you've heard about how to clean mushrooms.

Mushrooms are glorious. They are packed with miraculous nutrients and are one of the best ways to add texture and umami to meatless dishes. But about that delicately-wiping-with-a-tea-towel to clean them? We need to talk.

Common cooking lore has it that mushrooms cannot be subjected to running water because they absorb too much of it. So we break out the mushroom brushes and tea towels and forge ahead in the painstaking task of wiping away each speck of dirt.

At this point I confess that when preparing mushrooms for cooking, I have always just rinsed them in the sink. The shame, I know. But as it turns out, I was not wrong. In his Heated column on Medium, Mark Bittman tells us "You’re cleaning mushrooms wrong; Put the tea towel down and slowly back away from the creminis." He goes on to explain:

"There’s this myth that you should never ever wash mushrooms because they’ll absorb too much water. Instead, what we’ve been taught to do is daintily wipe the dirt off with a damp cloth or paper towel. This is maddeningly slow and a huge waste of time. To clean mushrooms, you should rinse them under running water."

Vindication is mine!

Bittman reminds us that, yes, mushrooms are porous and should not be left to soak in a bowl of water for ages, but a quick rinse will do them no harm, "and will save you a lot of time and frustration in the kitchen."

Other food gurus confirm Bittman's take on this (contentious) issue. Alton Brown and Kenji Lopez Alt are both on Team Wash. Famed culinary scientist Harold McGee tacked the dilemma in his book The Curious Cook. He found that even after soaking button mushrooms for five minutes, a single mushroom absorbed one-sixteenth of a teaspoon of water. "A speedy rinse, McGee concludes, causes virtually no water retention," notes Saveur magazine.

All of that said, there are times when brushing/wiping may be called for. If you have especially delicate mushrooms that you wish to pamper, by all means wipe them. Likewise, some chefs do not water-wash mushrooms that will be served raw. But for every other occasion, quick rinsing will save time and spare you from tedium.

Now I know there are really, really much greater problems in the world than the minutiae of mushroom cleaning, but any efforts to make plant-based eating easier should be encouraged.

Bittman sums it up perfectly: "If cleaning mushrooms is less frustrating, maybe we’ll cook more mushrooms. If we cook more mushrooms, maybe we’ll eat less meat. If we eat less meat, maybe (definitely) we’ll be healthier and so will the earth."