The chanterelle Cantharellus cibarius is widely viewed as among the most desirable of edible mushrooms. It is found singly, scattered, in groups, or sometimes clustered on the ground in woods. Its flesh is thick, firm, and white, with an odor that may be fragrant like apricots (or not distinctive) and a taste that may be peppery (or not distinctive). (Bessette et al. 1997) Cantharellus cibarius has been reported from North America, Europe, North Africa, the Himalayas, and Thailand, but there is considerable evidence that this nominal species actually includes multiple distinct cryptic species (see Taxonomy and Systematics section below). (Feibelman et al. 1997; Pilz et al. 2003)
Members of the Cantharellus cibarius complex occur throughout the north temperate zone. In northern California and the Pacific Northwest they grow mainly with conifers, but along the Central California coast, they are often associated with live oaks, especially at pasture edges. On the west coast of the Unites States these mushrooms appear in cool weather and are often large and thick-stemmed (half kilo specimens are not uncommon), with an orange cap, faintly fruity odor, and pale, copiously veined gills (although a smaller, slimmer, cleaner form grows under Sitka Spruce). In eastern North America they are most common in the summer and are usually much smaller (caps typically 3 to 6 cm across) and often yellower, with a slender, well developed stalk and little or no odor. A number of other fungi, including several Cantharellus species and some poisonous species, can be confused with C. cibarius. (Arora 1986)
According to Pilz et al. (2003), Cantharellus cibarius is found in North America, Europe, North Africa, the Himalayas, and Thailand. They note, however, that future research may reveal that this nominal species actually includes multiple cryptic species in these different regions (see Taxonomy and Systematics section below).
In North America, C. cibarius is encountered from June to September in the southeast, from July to August in the northeast, from September to November in the northwest, and from November to February in California. (Lincoff 1981)
Cantharellus cibarius is a medium to large mushroom with a flaring funnel shape. Its wavy-edged cap is bright yellow to orange, bald, and usually flat when young and domed when mature. The gills are well spaced, shallow, blunt-edged, and fairly thick, often with connecting veins in between. The forked, thick-edged gills are the same color as the cap or paler, running down the stalk. The stalk is colored like the cap (or slightly paler) and is solid (not hollow). The flesh is white or slightly tinged yellow. The odor is usually fruity (like pumpkin or apricot), but sometimes mild; taste is mild to peppery. No veil, ring, or volva are present. Spores are yellowish. Some similar species are poisonous. (Lincoff 1981; Arora 1991)
Cantharellus cibarius grows on the ground under oaks or conifers, with numbers ranging from just a few to many at a site (Lincoff 1981).
basidiome of Cantharellus cibarius is associated with Betula
Plant / associate
basidiome of Cantharellus cibarius is associated with Fagus
Plant / associate
basidiome of Cantharellus cibarius is associated with Quercus
Plant / associate
basidiome of Cantharellus cibarius is associated with Pinopsida
Remarks: Other: uncertain
Fungus / saprobe
fruitbody of Entoloma parasiticum is saprobic on dying fruitbody of Cantharellus cibarius
Like many other fungi, chanterelles form associations known as mycorrhizae with the roots of particular tree species (this is one factor that has made chanterelle cultivation challenging).
Evolution and Systematics
Systematics and Taxonomy
As has been the case for many fungi, especially species with apparently very broad geographic distributions and varied habitat associations, recent research has revealed that mushrooms going by the name Cantharellus cibarius do not, in fact, belong to a single species. Molecular genetic studies (in combination with traditional morphological, chemical, and ecological analysis), have led to the recognition of several "cryptic" species, some of them long suspected by mycologists and serious mushroom foragers but rigorously documented by professional mycologists beginning only around the end of the 20th century.
Until recently, morphologically similar yellow chanterelles throughout North America were treated as conspecific with each other and with the European yellow chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius). However, throughout the twentieth century, mycologists have noted that yellow chanterelles found in North America not only are morphologically distinct from European species, but also exhibit variation at regional scales across North America (Redhead et al. 1997 and references therein; Dunham et al. 2003 and references therein). Feibelman et al. (1994) found that North American chanterelles with C. cibarius-like morphology exhibit significant length variability in the nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (nrDNA ITS), suggesting that this general morphology might mask a species complex (although variable ITS length can be present within a single species and, conversely, reproductively isolated species can show low variability in ITS regions, Dunham et al. 2003 and references therein). Feibelman et al. (1997) noted that regional morphological differences suggest that C. cibarius is a species complex. Redhead et al. (1997) used morphological and genetic data to identify the yellow chanterelle most frequently harvested from the North American Pacific Northwest forests as C. formosus, a species once thought to be rare in the region. Dunham et al. (2003) analyzed ITS and microsatellite data from C. cibarius complex samples from the west coast of the United States as well as from Europe. Based on their results, they distinguished an additional new species, C. cascadensis.
The prominent golden chanterelle of California's oak woodlands was recognized as a new species, Cantharellus californicus, by Arora and Dunham (2008) (the authors note that this is the largest Cantharellus species in the world, with individual sporocarps commonly weighing 1/2 kilogram or more when mature). Arora and Dunham also discuss the commercial harvest of this species and compare its ectomycorrhizal host associations with other Cantharellus in California. Preliminary data suggest that putative C. cibarius from eastern North America may include cryptic species as well (Dunham et al. 2003 and references therein). Available data suggest that some North American chanterelles are indeed best treated as varieties of a single species, C. cibarius, with both Old World and New World representatives. However, it is possible that additional sampling and analysis may lead researchers to conclude that true C. cibarius (i.e., mushrooms conspecific with C. cibarius from Europe, where it was originally described) in fact do not occur in North America, although closely related species clearly do.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Many chanterelles are picked and processed in the Pacific Northwest of North America and exported to Europe. Chanterelles are one of the top three commercially harvested and exported edible wild mushroom crops in western North America (the others being morels [Morchella spp.] and matsutake [Tricholoma magnivelare]), with a value of millions of dollars. (Redhead et al. 1997) After many years of unsuccessful efforts to cultivate chanterelles, Danell and Camacho (1997) reported some early success, but more than a decade later cultivation techniques are still under development.
Cantharellus cibarius, commonly known as the chanterelle, golden chanterelle or girolle, is a fungus. It is probably the best known species of the genus Cantharellus, if not the entire family of Cantharellaceae. It is orange or yellow, meaty and funnel-shaped. On the lower surface, underneath the smooth cap, it has gill-like ridges that run almost all the way down its stipe, which tapers down seamlessly from the cap. It has a fruity smell, reminiscent of apricots and a mildly peppery taste (hence its German name, Pfifferling) and is considered an excellent edible mushroom.
Chanterelles are common in northern parts of Europe, North America, including Mexico, in Asia including the Himalayas, and in Africa including Zambia. Chanterelles tend to grow in clusters in mossy coniferous forests, but are also often found in mountainous birch forests and among grasses and low-growing herbs. In central Europe, the golden chanterelle is often found in beech forests among similar species and forms.
At one time, all yellow or golden chanterelles in western North America had been classified as C. cibarius. However, using DNA analysis, they have since been shown to be a group of related species. In 1997, the Pacific golden chanterelle (C. formosus) and C. cibarius var. roseocanus were identified, followed by C. cascadensis in 2003 and C. californicus in 2008. C. cibarius var. roseocanus occurs in the Pacific Northwest in Sitka spruce forests, as well as Eastern Canada in association with Pinus banksiana.
Chanterelles are relatively high in vitamin C (0.4 mg/g fresh weight), very high in potassium (about 0.5%, fresh weight), and among the richest sources of vitamin D known, with ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) as high as 212 IU/100 grams fresh weight. Scientific research has suggested that the golden chanterelle may have potent insecticidal properties that are harmless to humans and yet protect the mushroom body against insects and other potentially harmful organisms.
Though records of chanterelles being eaten date back to the 1500s, they first gained widespread recognition as a culinary delicacy with the spreading influence of French cuisine in the 1700s, where they began appearing in palace kitchens. For many years, they remained notable for being served at the tables of nobility. Nowadays, the usage of chanterelles in the kitchen is common throughout Europe and North America. In 1836, the Swedish mycologist Elias Fries considered the chanterelle "as one of the most important and best edible mushrooms."
Chanterelles as a group are generally described as being rich in flavor, with a distinctive taste and aroma difficult to characterize. Some species have a fruity odor, others a more woody, earthy fragrance, and still others can even be considered spicy. The golden chanterelle is perhaps the most sought-after and flavorful chanterelle, and many chefs consider it on the same short list of gourmet fungi as truffles and morels. It therefore tends to command a high price in both restaurants and specialty stores.
There are many ways to cook chanterelles. Most of the flavorful compounds in chanterelles are fat-soluble, making them good mushrooms to sauté in butter, oil or cream. They also contain smaller amounts of water- and alcohol-soluble flavorings, which lend the mushrooms well to recipes involving wine or other cooking alcohols. Many popular methods of cooking chanterelles include them in sautés, soufflés, cream sauces, and soups. They are not typically eaten raw, as their rich and complex flavor is best released when cooked.
Chanterelles are also well-suited for drying, and tend to maintain their aroma and consistency quite well. Some chefs profess that reconstituted chanterelles are actually superior in flavor to fresh ones, though they lose in texture whatever they gain in flavor by becoming more chewy after being preserved by drying. Dried chanterelles can also be crushed into flour and used in seasoning in soups or sauces. Chanterelles are also suitable for freezing, though older frozen chanterelles can often develop a slightly bitter taste after thawing.
The false chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) has a similar appearance and can be confused with the chanterelle. Distinguishing factors are color (the true chanterelle is uniform egg-yellow, while the false one is more orange in hue and graded, with darker center) and attachment of gills to the stem (the true chanterelle has ridges or wrinkles, which can be quite deep, but not true gills). Though once thought to be hazardous, it is now known that the false chanterelle is edible but not especially tasty, and ingesting it may result in mild gastrointestinal distress. The poisonous species in the genus Omphalotus (the jack-o'-lantern mushrooms) have been misidentified as chanterelles, but can usually be distinguished by their well-developed unforked gills. Omphalotus is not closely related to chanterelles. Other species in the closely related genera Cantharellus and Craterellus may appear similar to the golden chanterelle.
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