How to Peel Mushrooms

White Button Mushroom

The more I learn about cooking, the more I discover how everyone has the “right” way to do something, from cooking pasta (oil in the water? do you rinse it after draining?) to prepping eggplants (peel them? salt and drain them?). Some of the techniques are actually useful, and some are just kitchen voodoo that doesn’t improve anything, but doesn’t hurt either (e.g. cold water boils faster. In what universe is that true?!).

It doesn’t surprise me, then, that everyone has their own opinion on how to clean a mushroom. Do you wash them? Soak them? Brush them or pat them or blow on them? I was always told to never soak or rinse fresh mushrooms, since they’ll suck up the water like little sponges and you’ll be left with soggy fungus. Soggy fungus? That phrase was enough to prevent me from ever letting a drop of water to touch my mushrooms

With washing out of the question, I had a hard time deciding how to clean them. I’ve tried wiping them with cloths, rubbing them with damp paper towels, and I even once bought a mushroom brush to flick away the dirt. Brushing seems to be more effective than wiping, but it’s all a pain in the rear.

One day I was in my sister’s kitchen and she did something I had never seen before.

“What are you doing?”
“I’m peeling mushrooms.”
“You’re… what?”
“I’m peeling mushrooms. I always peel them.”

I had never heard of peeling mushrooms! She showed me how to do it, and not only was it easy, but it also removed ever bit of dirt-ridden flesh from each and every one. It’s still a little bit time consuming, but it really gets them clean Here’s how:

Desteming a Mushroom

First you’ll need to remove the stem from your mushroom. This is my favorite part; it has the same appeal as popping bubble wrap. Simply press on one side of the stem with your thumb. You might need to press again on the opposite side to get a clean break.

Peeling a mushroom

This is a picture of a mushroom that’s already half-way peeled. On the right, you can see the part of the peel that hasn’t yet been removed. It almost looks like the hem of a skirt. Simply grasp the edge of the skirt and pull to peel your mushroom, it will come off in strips.

Peeling a Mushroom

Here’s what it looks like from the top. The strip that comes off is very thin, thinner than it looks like it is in this picture. This also works on larger mushrooms like portobellos.

So, is peeling mushrooms worth it? Probably not. Doing some research for this post, I stumbled upon more than one person insisting that it’s okay to wash mushrooms! Gasp! This page says:

According to the USDA Nutrient Database, mushrooms are already 92.5% water by weight, so even if they absorbed 1/3 of their weight more, they would still be less than 95% water. In his book “The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore”, Harold McGee describes an experiment in which he soaked 252 grams of mushrooms for 5 minutes, blotted the moisture of the surface and re-weighed them. In total, they had soaked up only 6 grams of water. Their moisture content had increased by only 1/5 of 1%!

This probably depends on how dry the mushrooms were before they were soaked. I imagine a fresh mushroom has a higher water content than one that has been cut, packaged and shipped across the country to sit in a refrigerated case for a few days before you or I purchase it. Still, there is a certain amount of logic to this. After all, don’t mushrooms grow outside? In the rain? This site says that it’s not only okay to soak them, but some varieties actually taste better after a brief salt water bath before cooking.

My new mushroom mantra is this: it’s okay to wash them. Or peel them. Or brush them. Or simply wish them clean. They’re your mushrooms, and I’m sure dinner will come out just fine no matter what technique you choose. Personally, I think I’ll be peeling when I have the time (because it’s kind of fun), but a short dip in bowl of water is most definitely acceptable.  Thank god.


  1. rachel

    I wash my mushrooms super quickly. We eat them so much I think I’d go crazy peeling them.

    As fo the cold water/boiling thing, I always thought you weren’t supposed to use hot water for boiling/drinking because it has more sediment in it.

    • Casandra

      Exactly!! Why wash them? No amount of washing is going to change the fact that they’ve grown in poop and that they are a FUNGUS. Just eat ‘em!

  2. Randi Brown

    Can you share the best way to cut a tomato, a mango, a pineapple, a watermelon, julienne (sp?) veggies, and how the hell to properly use lemongrass? I am a brand new vegan who grew up with a non-cooking mother, so even the simplest things I need help with. I love your cutting tutorials…..oh, and I went to BU for undergrad so I know Boston pretty well!

  3. Sam Wilkinson

    Get a sharp knife. Cut the fruit/vegetable into smaller pieces. Cook with (or eat raw) those smaller pieces. Enjoy. (In other words, don’t worry so much about technique; worry about the cooking aspect.)

  4. Hilary

    I grew up peeling mushrooms, so am always surprised when others find my peeling mushrooms suprising! And even after peeling, I give them a quick rinse to catch any left over dirt. Given the dirt and fertilizers, I have no trouble making it a routine.
    I can’t imagine eating them any other way. It is simply the best way to eat raw mushrooms! And on some mushrooms, you can easily peel them without removing the stem (although I agree, it is fun to do)!

  5. Sam Tresler

    Woodland lore will tell you never to eat wild mushrooms for fear of them being poisonous. My father will tell you the rule of thumb is, “If you can peel it, you can eat it.” I’ve not fully explored this theory and would recommend severe caution.

    I, also, always peel my mushrooms. Several cookbooks will tell you that you shouldn’t, that all the nutrients are in that peel, that all the flavor is in the peel. I’ve never noticed a taste difference.

    However, I now take a moment to point out that mushrooms are grown in manure. They are frequently shipped with the manure still sticking to them. I’m not like most that have an irrational fear of animal feces, but c’mon now, I don’t want to eat it. And no quick rinse is going to work here.

    I am a mushroom peeling advocate.

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