Why Morel Mushrooms Are So Incredibly Expensive

Mushrooms are one of those foods that some love and others hate, though when cooked properly, we're certain they can enhance just about any dish. Of course, it's easy to head to the grocery store and purchase a package of sliced or whole mushrooms for only a few dollars. Surprisingly, though, not all mushrooms are created equal.

Some mushrooms, such as morel mushrooms, run at a far higher cost than what you'll find in your basic supermarket's produce department. This mushroom type has a more unique texture and appearance than what we think of when we picture a standard mushroom — and a pound of these can run you a pretty penny, often starting around $20. But what makes this specific mushroom so expensive? It turns out they are much more difficult to harvest than the average mushroom — and don't last for long once they're picked — which ultimately drives up their price.

Morel mushrooms are difficult to cultivate and have a short shelf life

Unlike other mushrooms, it's an absolute pain to find and pick morel mushrooms. That's because, morels aren't cultivated on farms or in labs because of their incredibly particular weather and soil requirements — something that sets them apart from other varieties. For that reason, they can't be grown based on demand, meaning there are only so many available in the wild at once.

Additionally, morels are difficult to harvest because they often grow where forest fires have occurred. Timing the picking can be tough, and not every state allows for regular morel hunting; in California, you need a special permit to forage these mushrooms.

If you're able to find and forage some morels, you might not have time to use them before they spoil. Morels are hollow, so they don't hold up well, which means in the amount of time it takes to ship them to restaurant or market, the mushrooms have a good chance of going bad; they only last for about a week after they're picked.

How to use and prepare morel mushrooms

If you're lucky enough to get your hands on them, morel mushrooms work well in certain dishes. Most importantly, don't use the morels as a fringe ingredient; they're worth making the star of the show, whether that's in the form of a mushroom toast, offering the brunt of the flavor within a pasta dish, or a morel-based mash paired with other vegetables.

Interestingly, morel mushrooms should not be washed, or you risk a blander mushroom. Rather, just use a damp cloth to wipe them free from dirt. From there, make sure you cook them thoroughly. Raw morels are toxic, so fully cooking them is essential. The best way to bring out their flavor is to sauté them until they're golden brown, with minimal other ingredients; only use a bit of oil or butter, plus some salt for seasoning. You can pair them with fresh herbs, too, if desired.