How To Find, Identify, & Prepare Pacific Golden Chanterelle Mushrooms
Learn how to find, identify, and forage Pacific Golden Chanterelles, one of the best wild edible mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest. This is the most comprehensive how-to guide on picking chanterelle mushrooms for British Columbia and Vancouver Island.
Table of Contents:
What Are Chanterelles?
"Chanterelle" is the common name for a group of around 90 fungi species. Chanterelles range in color from black, to white, to bright pink, and are usually distinguished by their vase-like shape and blunt gills. Many chanterelle varieties are prized throughout North America and Europe for their beauty and subtle flavour.
Vancouver Island is home to a number of chanterelle varieties, including the Pacific golden chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus). Vancouver Island's relatively mild weather makes for an abundance of chanterelle patches to discover, as well as a long growing season.
How To Identify Chanterelles
Chanterelles are relatively easy to identify. To identify a chanterelle mushroom, look for branching ridges running down a vase-like stem and dense, pale flesh. Chanterelle mushrooms are also much easier to spot than many other mushrooms due to their bright colours.
Keys to Identifying the Pacific Golden Chanterelle:
Chanterelle gills look like wrinkles. Often called "false" gills because they look like folds or wrinkles extending down the stem. These folds can be shallow and branching, or tightly bunched in parallel with each other. Look for "cross gills" making ladder patterns, especially near the margin.
Chanterelles are white on the inside. Chanterelle flesh is dense, white, and stringy, and darkens as it dries. In drier conditions, stems may become hollow with age.
Chanterelles are trumpet shaped. Chanterelles come in many shapes and sizes, although they generally narrow toward the base.
Chanterelle caps are wavy. The edges of Chanterelle caps are wavy and irregular. Tops are smooth. Younger specimens will be more "normal" with round convex caps.
Characteristics of Pacific Golden Chanterelles:
Colour: Pacific golden chanterelles appear in a range of similar shades, from bright golden yellow to light brown. Their gills can be yellow, peachy-orange, or pale tan in colour.
Cap: Chanterelle caps can grow into many strange shapes, some with interesting mutations. The tops of the cap are not scaly or "toothy".
Odor: None, to mildly sweet. Some describe them as smelling faintly of apricots.
Texture: The caps of fresher and dryer specimens have a soft velvety texture. The wrinkly underside often appears as a layer that peels or cracks away from the body of the mushroom.
How To Find Chanterelle Mushrooms
Where to Find Chanterelles
Finding chanterelles can be a frustrating experience for first-time foragers. However, once you find your first patch, you can return year after year for a reliable harvest. Chanterelles rarely grow in developed or urbanized areas, so some hiking is usually required to find them.
Pacific golden chanterelles tend to grow:
Under dense second-growth Douglas fir.
In mossy areas with sparse ground cover.
From damp ground made of coarse woody debris.
At the margins of salal bushes.
A chanterelle in hiding
A patch of chanterelles, unseen from the path
Pacific Golden Chanterelle Range and Habitat
The Pacific golden chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus) is found in conifer forests near the Pacific coast, from southern Alaska to northern California.
Pacific golden chanterelles generally thrive in wet, humid conditions, like foggy mountainsides and areas of high rainfall and on sites with relatively good drainage.
Chanterelles are also sensitive to local micro-climates. You might find chanterelles growing in a ditch, in a hole, or under a log, and nowhere else nearby! On Vancouver Island, the southeastern regions are generally too dry for chanterelles, but you may find them in modest numbers once you get more than 200 metres above sea level or in particularly wet conditions.
It is also unlikely to find Pacific golden chanterelles in open or sunny areas, grassy fields or meadows, or under cedars. They tend not to occur under very dense undergrowth either, or perhaps no one bothers to look because they don't want to wade through bushes.
Chanterelles can pop up in some surprising places, so keep your eyes open!
Chanterelle Tree Associations
The chanterelle mushrooms we see above ground are just a small part of the larger organism. Chanterelle mycelia are mycorrhizal, meaning they form a symbiotic relationship with certain plants. And they are ecto-mycorrhizal because they form on the outside of tree roots, helping them to obtain nutrients from and for the tree. This is why chanterelles are likely to grow where trees have difficulty getting the nutrients they need - like areas with mineral-rich soil or a lot of un-decomposed organic matter.
Evidence also suggests that ectomycorrhizal fungi protect seedlings from bacteria and herbivores. One study found that seedlings inoculated with ectomycorrhizal fungi were 840% more likely to survive!
Pacific golden chanterelles are associated with Douglas fir, western hemlock, and sitka spruce trees.
Because chanterelles rely on symbiotic relationships with certain trees, growing them is very difficult. As yet, no commercially viable method for cultivating chanterelles has been found. There are reports of success from spreading chanterelle spores in suitable locations, although this would probably require a few years for the first flush to appear.
When To Find Chanterelles
When is chanterelle season?
The best time for picking chanterelles is usually late fall, but foraging can start as early as July if there is enough rain.
The appearance of heavy frost spells the end of chanterelle season.
When to go chanterelle hunting.
The best time to pick chanterelles is after a week of relatively warm weather following rain. Chanterelles can last on the ground for many weeks. However, too much rain following a bloom can cause chanterelles to develop mold and rot.
How To Pick Chanterelles
Chanterelle Foraging Techniques & Tips
Chanterelles usually grow in dispersed groups, so if you find one, make sure to stop and look around for more. Within a single patch, individual mushrooms can be many metres apart. Check in each direction from the initial find, since you may be in the edge of a larger patch that extends away in only one direction.
Chanterelles grow up from under the ground, so they can sometimes be partially hidden under sticks, moss and logs. Getting lower to the ground, or changing your viewing angle, can reveal hidden chanterelles. Chanterelles tend to grow in ditches, under logs, and in cavities formed by sticks and leaves.
If you are foraging on a slope, walk down to to a lower elevation and look up. This will often reveal chanterelles that would otherwise be hidden.
In drier conditions, small chanterelles may become brittle, breaking apart when you try to pick them.
Should You Pick Or Cut Chanterelles?
The best way to harvest chanterelles is to pick them, then cut off and discard the base of the stem. Cutting and discarding the base, or "root", will prevent excess moisture or dirt from getting on your other collected chanterelles. Clean as much of the mushroom as you can before putting it in your carrying container.
You cannot damage chanterelles or diminish their fruiting capacity by picking. Picking individual mushrooms is like picking an apple off a tree, with little to no effect on the larger organism. However, try to leave the rest of the forest floor undisturbed.
Chanterelles can fruit in large quantities, so be optimistic and bring an extra container or two.
Pacific golden chanterelles were identified as a distinct species in 1997. Some sources still use the old designation: Cantharellus cibarius.
Pacific golden chanterelles are a very rich source of vitamin D.
The Pacific golden chanterelle is the official state mushroom of Oregon.
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Most false chanterelles or chanterelle lookalikes will share a handful of superficial features with actual chanterelles. The most common of these are the orange colouring, vase-like shape, and decurrent gills. Tearing open a suspected chanterelle lookalike will usually reveal the deception. "Normal" fin-like gills and flesh that isn't pale or dense are good indicators that you have a chanterelle lookalike, and not the real deal.
Some guides describe the difference between normal or true gills and a chanterelle's wrinkles by saying that the former are "removable" while the latter aren't. This is very ambiguous and somewhat misleading since the wrinkles on a chanterelle are part of a layer that can be rubbed or peeled away. As such, I think this so-called identifying characteristic should be ignored.
The False Chanterelle
Wooly Pine Spike
Jack O Lantern
Chanterelle Versus Wooly Pine Spike
Cap comparison: Chanterelle (left) and wooly pine spike (right)
Gill comparison: Chanterelle (left) and wooly pine spike (right)
Pacific Golden Chanterelle Versus False Chanterelle
Telling the difference between Pacific golden chanterelles and false chanterelles may seem hard at first. Chanterelle lookalikes share some superficial features with true chanterelles, like prominent gills that run part-way down the stem, and bright yellowish colouring.
However, true chanterelles are distinguished by their white insides, and having wrinkles (rather than fin-like gills). Another good indicator is their "heft". Chanterelles have a weighty feeling to them which their lookalikes lack. This feature may seem vague and subjective, but can provide a quick identification for more experienced foragers.
Scaly or wooly chanterelles have many of the above features, but their caps are covered in either orange scales or brown "teeth".
See below for some good examples of Pacific golden chanterelles...
Photos Of Pacific Golden Chanterelles
Other Types Of Chanterelle Mushrooms
The common name "chanterelle" is applied to mushrooms from five genera: Cantharellus, Craterellus, Gomphus, Turbinellus, and Polyozellus.
Funnel or Winter Chanterelle / Yellow Foot (see below)
Pigs Ear/Violet Chanterelle Gomphus Clavatus
Shaggy/Scaly/Wooly Chanterelle Turbinellus kauffmanii
Shaggy/Scaly/Wooly Chanterelle Turbinellus floccosus
Note: The species above have different identification characteristics, and different potentially poisonous lookalikes. Don't consume any mushroom without extensive research and advice from an expert.
Shaggy chanterelles, also known as scaly vase chanterelles, were removed from the genus Gomphus and reclassified as Turbinellus. They are considered poisonous for many, so eating them is definitely not recommended.
Winter Chanterelle Identification:
Winter chanterelles (AKA yellow foot chanterelles) are much smaller and thinner than Pacific golden chanterelles. Their stems are tall and narrow relative to their caps, and are mostly hollow. The underside of a winter chanterelle cap shows the characteristic chanterelle veins or wrinkles.
Winter chanterelles vary in colour from bright orange to dull brown on top, and gills that are pink, grey, tan, or lighter yellow. The stems are often bright yellow, but can also become dull with age. Younger specimens have a distinct "belly button" on top of their caps, but they eventually roll upwards, becoming trumpet-shaped as they age.
How to Find Winter Chanterelles:
Winter chanterelles grow in small, dense clusters spread out over the forest floor. They prefer dark and wet conditions, so look for them growing from moss over rotting wood or tree roots.
Winter chanterelles usually appear in the fall and can be found through the winter as long as the weather is relatively warm (especially in southwest British Columbia).
Craterellus tubaeformis or Craterellus lutescens
Winter chanterelles in British Columbia are somewhat ambiguous between Craterellus lutescens and Cr. tubaeformis. It's also unlikely the species which we call Cr. tubaeformis in BC is the same as the original European variety. Craterellus neotubaeformis has been suggested, but remains unofficial (Source).
Winter Chanterelle Look Alikes
There are many potential lookalikes for winter chanterelles as there are many small, light-brown-orange mushrooms that grow on rotting wood. For example, Lichenomphalia umbellifera are small, yellowish, with a dimple on top and broad decurrent gills. Luckily, they tend to fruit at different times.
Various members of the Xeromphalina group, including Xeromphalina campanella (golden trumpet) look similar to winter chanterelles.
Lichenomphalia is another group that looks similar. They tend to be smaller, more delicate, less bright, and have striate (lined) caps to the point of being frayed. However, as with regular chanterelles, the key is in the gills. Once you learn to spot the distinctive wrinkles under the cap (as opposed to simply broad, decurrent gills), there is no mistaking them.
Chanterelles can occasionally be found in the summer. These are probably "rainbow chanterelles", Cantharellus roseocanus.
Rainbow chanterelles grow in small tight clusters, with short stubby stems. Their tops are somewhat pale and mottled.
The overall shape is more like a regular mushroom and they are more likely to be slug-eaten (based on limited experience).
How To Cook Chanterelles
Once you get your chanterelles home, the first step is cleaning. A brush and a wipe usually get them clean enough (especially if they were found and kept in good condition). Washing with water will cause them to get waterlogged, requiring extra drying before cooking (see below).
How to Cook Chanterelles
Cooking chanterelles can be tricky. They're easy to overcook, ending up a soggy, limp mess.
Most sources will recommend "dry sautéing" for chanterelles. "Dry" because you don't use oil or butter. However, if your chanterelles are already very moist, dry sautéing won't make much of a difference.
So, before cooking, make sure to dry your chanterelles. You can leave them out in a warm, dry place, put them under a fan, or in a dehydrator. Storage in a brown paper bag in the fridge is also good for drying out chanterelles.
Once suitably dry, sauté the chantrelles, stirring constantly, until they start to emit a pleasant nutty smell, and begin to darken a deep reddish-brown. If timed correctly, they'll retain sufficient firmness when served.
Preserving Chanterelles: Dry, Pickle, or Freeze
For storage, chanterelles can be frozen after cooking, dried, or pickled. When completely dried, chanterelles are suitable for soups, or ground up as a seasoning.
Chanterelles will keep for just over a week (10 days) if kept refrigerated in a paper bag. Dried or frozen mushrooms can be kept for up to a year if conditions are ideal.
The best method for the dry preservation of Pacific Golden Chanterelles is to thoroughly dry them, seal them in an airtight (preferably vacuum packed) container, and then place them in the freezer.
Frequently Asked Questions About Chanterelles
Questions About Chanterelles
Are chanterelle mushrooms psychedelic?
While chanterelles do have a certain "magic" to them, they are not hallucinogenic. However, Paul Stamets reports one anecdote of a woman experiencing an intense "trip" after eating chanterelles (See: Stamets 1996).
Are chanterelle mushrooms edible?
Chanterelles are considered a choice edible mushroom. However, as with most wild mushrooms, they should not be harvested from potentially contaminated areas, and should be cooked before being eaten.
Are chanterelle mushrooms good for you?
Chanterelles are healthy and nutritious. They are rich in vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5, vitamin C, vitamin D, and Iron.
Can chanterelle mushrooms be eaten raw?
Chanterelles can be eaten raw, but this may cause stomach upsets. They taste better cooked anyway.
Are chanterelle stems hollow?
Chanterelle stems are mostly solid, but can develop a narrow hollow section near the base of older specimens. Winter chanterelles have mostly hollow stems.
Are chanterelle mushrooms low FODMAP?
Chanterelles are generally considered to be a high-FODMAP food.
Are chanterelle mushrooms bad, or poisonous for dogs?
Chanterelles are probably safe for dogs to eat.
Can you grow chanterelles? Can chanterelle mushrooms be cultivated or farmed?
Chanterelles require a delicate balance of conditions to grow. Because of this, no one has yet found a way to effectively and reliably cultivate them.
Do chanterelles grow in the spring?
There have been isolated reports of chanterelles growing in the spring. If altitude and rain combine to make fall-like conditions, it is possible that this may trigger chanterelles to fruit.
Why are chanterelles so expensive?
Chanterelles cannot be commercially grown, so all chanterelles sold in stores have to be harvested from the wild. The difficulties and costs associated with wild harvesting make chanterelles more expensive than other store-bought mushrooms.
How do you pronounce, or say "chanterelle"?
"Chanterelle" is usually pronounced shan-trell.
What does "chanterelle" mean?
The word "chanterelle" comes from the Greek word kantharos, meaning "cup".
What are some other names for chanterelles?
Chanterelles are known as "girolles" in French, and "pfifferlinge" in German.
What do chanterelles taste like?
The flavour of chanterelles is mild, and variously described as nutty, buttery, or slightly sweet. Many sources also describe an apricot-like smell or taste, although this is probably more prominent only in some varieties.
How fast do chanterelles grow?
Pacific Golden Chanterelles grow at a rate of 2 to 5 centimetres per month. Source
Can I plant Cantharellus formosus?
Because chanterelles require a precise set of conditions to grow, propagating them is very difficult. Some success has been achieved in lab-like conditions, but simply planting chanterelle mycelia is unlikely to work. However, you could spread chanterelle spores, and if the conditions are right, you could get chanterelles growing after a few years.
How long will chanterelles keep?
Fresh chanterelles will keep for just over a week, or around 10 days, if kept in the fridge. If you are storing chanterelles in a fridge, keep them in a paper bag to promote drying.
Are false chanterelles edible? Can you eat false chanterelles?
The "false chanterelle" is considered edible by some, but it is not very palatable and some sources describe it as simply poisonous. So consuming the most commonly known false chanterelle is not recommened.
However, the edibility of false chanterelles also depends on which false chanterelle you are referring to. In general, all false chanterelles are to be avoided as reports of their toxicity and edibility vary. And besides, true chanterelles are both tastier, and more abundant, so trying to eat false chanterelles is pointless.
Summary: How To Find Pacific Golden Chanterelles
Step 1: Live in British Columbia, Washington, or Oregon.
Step 2: Learn to identify chanterelles by their gills, colour, and shape.
Step 3: Wait for warm weather following a September rain.
Step 4: Find a dense stand of second-growth Douglas fir trees.
Step 5: Go bush-whacking, and stay safe!
Step 6: Look for bright yellow under the sticks and moss.
Step 7: Keep looking and don't give up.
You made it! All that's left is to go out and do it.
And let me know if you have any success.