Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)
Laetiporus sulphureus, commonly known as chicken of the woods, or sulphur shelf, is a highly sought-after choice edible mushroom.
Laet- means "bright, pleasing, or abundant," while por- means "pores," and sulphureus refers to the yellow sulphur color found on the mushrooms.
The name chicken of the woods comes from the belief by many that its taste and texture closely resemble chicken meat. However, others think it is closer to crab meat and can be called crab of the woods.
It is popular because of its taste, its striking yellow to orange colors, and the fact that people have found clusters of this mushroom weighing up to 100 pounds.
This article will cover how to identify Laetiporus sulphureus, where you can buy it, and some great ways to cook it!
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How to Identify Chicken of the Woods
In all reality, the chicken of the woods is one of the easiest species of mushrooms to identify.
Laetiporus sulphureus will often grow in a shelving pattern on the tree itself and cause the wood in the heart of the tree to rot.
It will often kill trees, and harvesting the mushrooms will still leave the fungus to finish the job if the tree is still alive possibly.
Around 5-30cm (2-12 inches) wide, clusters can get more than 75cm (30 inches) across.
The flesh is soft and juicy but will harden and get flakey with age.
It is a polypore with no gills.
No stem (stipe).
The pore surface is sulfur-yellow, and the spore print is white.
Location and Fruiting Season
They will grow on or at the base of oaks, still standing or fallen, and other hardwoods commonly in Europe and North America.
The typical season is summer to autumn, but they can be found in late spring.
Many species are referred to as chicken of the woods, but here are a few of the main ones.
Some of these species are so close it may only be by the location that you may be able to tell them apart.
Laetiporus Cincinnatus is the white pored chicken of the woods and is one of the easier species to tell apart by color.
Laetiporus huronensis is found in the great lakes region of North America but is found on conifers, which are softwood trees. It is tough to tell apart from L. sulphureus otherwise.
Laetiporus conifericola is found mostly in the Western United States and grows on confers as its name denotes.
Laetiporus gilbertsonii has more of a salmon-colored pore surface which can be a way to identify it. It is found in the western united state and has been found fruiting on eucalyptus trees.
Laetiporus persicinus is known as the white chicken mushroom and has more of a salmon-colored cap with a white pore surface.
We will cover the edible and non-edible look likes in the next section.
False Chicken of the Woods
The fruiting mushroom bodies of chicken of the woods are beautiful and tasty, but a poisonous species has somewhat similar colors.
Jack O'Lantern mushrooms, Omphalotus olearius in Europe, and Omphalotus illudens in North America are poisonous chicken of the woods look-alikes.
It shouldn't be too hard to tell these apart with just a little bit of research as Laetiporus sulphureus has very distinct features.
It is usually from above that they can be mistaken until you take a look underneath the caps.
The Omphalotus species will not grow in shelving clusters, and they have gills where chicken of the woods does not.
Chanterelle mushrooms can be mistaken for chicken of the woods mostly because of color, but they are a choice of edible mushrooms, so it's not as big of a deal.
The difference between chanterelles is relatively easy to spot because chanterelles are found on the ground and not in shelving clusters.
Chanterelles also have false gills in contrast to the smooth non-gilled chicken of the woods.
If you stretch the imagination a bit again, the velvet top fungus, or Phaeolus schweinitzii, is a similar polypore that is non-edible but not poisonous.
This fungus is more of yellow-brown color but can have an orangish color at some point.
However, the velvet top fungus is harder and doesn't glow in clusters the same way.
Lastly, Grifola frondosa, or hen of the woods, can be mistaken just due to their poultry-inspired nicknames, but they don't really look similar at all.
Chicken of the Woods Price
The average price for fresh chicken of the woods is around $12-25 per pound. In their dried state Laetiporus sulphureus will cost more, averaging anywhere from $3.50 - $8 an ounce. If you buy them in larger quantities, you can often get them cheaper at the lower end of that price range.
Where to Buy Chicken of the Woods
Unless you live in a place where you can find them at a local coop or farmer's market, you will likely have to look online for this delicious mushroom.
You can find fresh chicken of the woods online at OregonMushrooms.com from August to mid-November, currently at $18 per pound.
They also have them dried all year round at $3.69 - $8 per ounce, depending on your purchase quantity.
You can purchase them from their site or on Amazon, where you can also find spores and plugs to grow your own.
Eating Chicken of the Woods
Chicken of the woods can taste just like chicken, especially with the right seasonings.
It is a wonderful edible mushroom, but you should know a few things before you chicken of the woods.
- It should be thoroughly washed and cooked before consumption.
- It gets tougher and less palatable with age.
- The few inches starting from the edge of the margins usually have the best flavor.
- You should avoid consuming damaged and discolored portions; if in doubt, throw it out.
- When harvested from some trees like pine, eucalyptus, yews, or conifers, they can absorb compounds that can be toxic.
Not all mushrooms agree with everyone's stomach, and people have reported GI upset after consuming Laetiporus sulphureus.
You should, of course, never consume wild found mushrooms without the guidance of an expert.
Chicken of the Woods Health Benefits
Chicken of the woods is also popular because of its good nutritional value.
It is both a good source of potassium and vitamin C. It also contains notable amounts of vitamin A, fiber, and protein.
Chicken of the woods is considered a medicinal mushroom as it contains these compounds:
- Acetyl eburicoic acid, which has been shown to have significant anti-inflammatory properties. It acts as a Cox-2 inhibitor like many prescription anti-inflammatory drugs, which can help as Cox-2 is an enzyme responsible for inflammation in the body.
- Quercetin, which is a heavily researched antioxidant that can also have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties.
- Other antioxidants including chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and kaempferol.
- Lanostanoids, which have shown promising anti-tumor properties.
- A certain extract from the mushroom has proven to have anti-fungal properties as well.
While chicken of the woods will not likely cure any serious disease, it should be considered a great addition to a healthy diet.
How to Cook Chicken of the Woods
I prefer my mushrooms sauteed, but there are many highly rated chicken of the woods recipes online.
However, before you cook them you will need to clean the mushrooms.
Here are some basic steps for cleaning chicken of the woods:
- Start by filling up the sink and putting the whole cluster in if it will fit.
- Pull apart and remove the caps to start cutting off damaged, buggy, or discolored portions of the mushroom.
- Throw out any questionable-looking portions to be safe.
- Rinse the mushrooms after trimming again and quickly dry them.
- Remember to use a different knife or wash the one you were using before cutting for cooking or storage.
The simplest way to cook them is to cut them into strips and marinate them in something.
Olive oil with a little soy or teriyaki sauce will make cooking on the stove or grill quick and tasty.
Here are the simple steps for cooking chicken of the woods:
- Dip them in the marinade or soak them in it overnight in the refrigerator.
- Let the pan or grill heat up on medium-high heat before adding the marinated mushrooms and
- If you don't overload the pan, it should only take about 5 minutes to get them a nice golden brown color.
You will start to see the quality of this mushroom decrease in about a week of storing it in the refrigerator.
These mushrooms can be stored in the freezer without cooking them first for up to 12 months.
You simply cut them into small pieces and put them in a ziplock bag to prepare for freezing.
It is always a good idea to mark down the date you put them in on the package, so you don't forget.
You can also dry these mushrooms, but if you gander through the online reviews of this particular dried species, you will quickly realize this isn't the preferred storage method.