Food on Fridays: Comparative Tasting Mushrooms


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Food on Fridays with Ann

Michael J. Gelb in his book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci recommends that we sharpen our senses. He writes that in the rush of our lives, it’s hard to pay attention to the sense of taste, even though the opportunity to taste presents itself three times a day.

One exercise he recommends is “Comparative Tasting”—wine tasting parties are a kind of comparative tasting, but he encourages readers to branch out. For example, one could buy three kinds of chocolate and then take time to make the following kinds of observations:

  1. First, he suggests looking at each sample and noting differences in color and texture.
  2. Then smell them, thirty seconds each, describing the aromas.
  3. Taste one at a time, letting the piece melt against the tongue.
  4. Sip spring water between each sample to clear the palate.

He suggests doing this with lots of things: olive oil, mushrooms, beer, apples, bottled water, smoked salmon, grapes, or vanilla ice cream. This exercise helps us develop our attentiveness to detail and our appreciation of subtle differences…one of da Vinci’s many well-honed skills that contributed to his genius.When I read the list, mushrooms stood out to me for some reason. I envisioned button mushrooms packed in blue styrofoam containers and wrapped in plastic, sitting on a self in Kroger. Above them are usually a few packs of portabello mushrooms, already sliced and always priced higher.Maybe I’ll try that sometime, I thought.Well, on Thursday afternoon I dropped by Kroger and was reaching for two boxes of button mushrooms when I glanced at the shelf above, where the portabellos are usually found, and spotted a variety pack of sliced “exotic” mushrooms, marked down for quick sale. I picked it up and observed the different shapes and sizes, thinking of Gelb’s exercise.I tossed them in the cart. I would taste-test mushrooms that very night.While fixing dinner, I poured some olive oil into a skillet along with a little butter and sauteed the ‘shrooms, remembering that scene from “Julie and Julia,” where Julie’s imitating Julia saying, “Don’t crowd the mushrooms!” I say that out loud in my best Julia Child voice every single time I saute mushrooms.As I was happily sauteing the mushrooms, it occurred to me that maybe Gelb expected me to taste raw, uncooked mushrooms. Yes, I think, I’ll bet that’s what he envisioned. But I like cooked mushrooms, so I continued, as it was too late anyway to eat any of them raw, and then I slid them into a bowl.They look kind of slimy in the photo, but they tasted wonderful.This wasn’t the most thoughtful or scientific evaluation of mushrooms. In fact, I really don’t know what kinds of mushrooms Kroger had assembled for me on that little Styrofoam tray. The assortment was not labeled, so I have to guess. But looking at this post with its descriptions, I think I ate a couple of slices of oyster, maybe one chanterelle, a shitake, and maybe one slice of portabello. Maybe.Unfortunately, because I chose to prepare them for dinner, I couldn’t focus my attention on the mushroom-tasting to the degree that I had intended, but I did slow down and enjoy each one more than usual, noting that some were more firm and flavorful than the button mushrooms I rely on; others were gummier.Most importantly, I acknowledged my desire to awaken my senses and sharpen them.I probably won’t repeat the exercise with mushrooms, but I like the idea of comparative tasting.Next up?Chocolate.


Photo credit: Images by Ann Kroeker. All rights reserved.

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  • Comments

    1. Exercising our senses. What a great idea! And like most strokes of genius, it’s a simple plan. Thanks for sharing this, Ann!

      When I saute mushrooms to accompany beef dishes (my husband loves them with a grilled steak), I add a little shot of Worchestershire sauce to the sizzling olive oil. :)

    2. Paying careful attention to mushrooms is an excellent way to hone our observation of something beautiful and earthy. The smell and really the serious investigation of taste. I passed quickly by the mushrooms yesterday not giving them a thought. Great work Ann. Our habits of rushing by in life is slowly changed but this piece really makes me anticipate my next mushroom taste. Thank you for taking time to share this. Once again you have struck a chord in me.

    3. I love all mushrooms, but my absolute favorite are Golden Chanterelle. They don’t sell them around here often, but when they do I never miss the opportunity to pick up a basket and make something delicious from them.

      Thank you so much for hosting.

    4. Lynn Hopper says:

      I wish you had had more of a chance to sample morel mushrooms from our woods. Come down in the spring (not too far away!) and maybe you still can!

    5. Your photo looks wonderful and the variety I am sure made a delicious addition to your meal. We purchased a box of mushrooms today and they are probably the button ones. We usually go for the most frugal prices. :-)

    6. I love the idea of comparative tasting. What a fabulous way to really appreciate the subtle flavour nuances in the things we eat regularly, but sometimes take for granted. And those mushrooms look beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this post with the Gallery of Favorites!

    7. I enjoyed this post! My kids and I love to do comparative tasting on different tyoes of produce. How can you determine which apple is your favorite unless you have tasted every apple available??? Thank you for sharing this post with the Gallery of Favorites.


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