Mushrooms and truffles can be eaten either fresh or dried, the main difference between the two, apart from the very different intake amounts due to the water contained in the fresh ones, being the shelf life. Fresh mushrooms last only a few days if they are kept in the refrigerator, while fresh truffles last up to a maximum of 2 months if kept in a vacuum in the refrigerator, but often the actual storage time is shorter, about a month or less.
Sometimes you have fresh mushrooms or truffles and at the same time you have time to consume them immediately, but in most cases you harvest them when they are ripe and then consume them when the conditions are right, i.e. optimal set & setting. Fortunately, it is easy to store them for a long time so you can have them when you want, drying is the only method we need to know, it is simple and effective to keep them psychoactive without significant loss of potency, a method used for millennia and still valid today.
Other ways of preserving them, for example in honey or chocolate, still require drying, as fresh mushrooms cannot be put into these preparations, the water content would not allow them to be preserved anyway.
Three necessary pieces of information
The first and most important information to know is that psilocybe mushrooms do not dry in the sun like tomatoes! The sun is a powerful oxidant, think of the Goji berries that grow in the sun on the Tibetan highlands, they are naturally rich in antioxidants – which we benefit from by taking them – precisely because they need to defend themselves from the sun’s rays made more powerful and destructive by the rarefied air at those high altitudes, on average more than 4,500 metres above sea level. Mushrooms do not grow in direct sunlight, remember this, they are not like other fruits that need the sun instead. If you dry them in the sun, they oxidise and the active ingredient degrades, so avoid this carefully. This also applies to truffles, it is easier to imagine since they grow underground.
The second important piece of information is the water content in mushrooms and truffles, which drying must eliminate completely. If the product remains moist, even a little, the psychoactive principle will degrade in a short time.
Third essential information: never freeze fresh mushrooms or truffles, this is the best way to completely destroy the psychoactive principles they contain and then have to throw everything away. If you want to know more, read this research that will confirm this: https://tinyurl.com/3z5cm43c
While the first piece of information – do not sun-dry – is easy to understand, the second – which seems simpler – is actually the one that does the most damage because it is too often underestimated. I don’t know how many emails and messages I have received about dried mushrooms and truffles that did nothing! Cause? They had not been dried well. I have heard of entire harvests being thrown away, what a shame, I can imagine the sorrow.
So read well and stick strictly to my instructions, I care about the perfect preservation of your creatures.
How to know when they’re dry
Regardless of which drying method you use – we will see a few – the end result must always be this: mushrooms as dry and brittle as crackers, truffles as hard as pebbles. Let me explain myself better for each one.
Well-dried mushrooms will not resist the slightest attempt to bend them: they will break just as if you tried to bend a cracker, zero elasticity! If a mushroom seems well-dried and when you bend it it barely flexes, it means that it is not yet ready, it still contains enough moisture to make it – even if only slightly – elastic. A well-dried mushroom has no flexibility, in fact it breaks as soon as you try to bend it, only then are you sure that it is dry enough to keep for a long time.
Truffles are less easy to understand than mushrooms, there is no way of bending them to see if they are brittle, in this case hardness and lightness is the reference. Truffles are made up of about two thirds water, so you could weigh them at the beginning and check that the final weight has been reduced to one third, another way is to see if they become more elastic, i.e. if you drop them on a hard surface to see if they bounce. Both systems are not as clear and decisive as the ‘cracker’ effect of the mushrooms, I can tell if they are ready for storage by trying to score them with my fingernail, compared to fresh they become much harder. Let’s move on and you will see that as you continue reading you will have more elements to decide whether they are ready or not; let’s move on to drying methods.
Mushrooms are less dense than truffles, drying the latter at the same temperature takes longer than mushrooms, keep this in mind. There are two ways to dry: add heat, i.e. increase the temperature, or remove the moisture. Let’s start with my favourite system, drying with temperature.
The food dryer
With a few tens of euros/dollars you can buy a food dryer that you can also use for other foods, such as fruit, vegetables, meat, I have been using it for years and I am glad I got it, I have dried everything to perfection and above all I have never wasted even a mushroom! You need an appliance with adjustable temperature between 35°C (95 °F) and 70°C (158 °F), consisting of several perforated shelves to let the hot air pass through, which allows you to dry a considerable amount of product at a time. I once dried more than a kg of mushrooms in one go, never better spent the approximately 50 euro/dollar purchase.
At what temperature to dry? Here a discussion between experts opens up that will never find a solution, some argue that 70°C gets the result in the shortest possible time, a decisive factor in reducing the degradation of the content we are interested in, while others argue that the lowest temperature, 35°C, is less aggressive towards the more thermolabile content, so the time needed does not matter. Based on my experience I advocate the lower temperature and the longer time, because time is an important ingredient in so many things, in my opinion even here; but the decisive factor is that my mushrooms and truffles dried in this way have always turned out powerful, never had a problem in so many years.
Inside all fresh products there are temperature-sensitive components – mainly enzymes, the temperature above which they degrade is 42-44°C (107,6 – 111,2 °F), so I personally keep this value as a limit not to be exceeded. At low temperatures it takes longer, but I have always obtained perfect products to be stored without expiry date; if you are in a hurry – it can happen – you can force the time and set the machine to higher values up to the maximum, maybe you will lose something but you will obtain a very good result if they are well dried – read again the part about “crackers” and hardness of truffles – for this reason the latter are nicknamed “Philosopher’s Stones”.
A note for truffles: do you have any doubts that they are well dried? Let them dry another day or two, at low temperature there is no problem, the surface exposed to warm air has no problem, internally there will be moisture extraction but no oxidation. I say this because I have waited even more than two years before consuming them and they were perfect, powerful and I would even say memorable!
If you have an oven – better if it is ventilated – check the minimum temperature, it is often 60°C (140 °F), sometimes less, always choose the lowest temperature. Place the mushrooms or truffles on a sheet of baking paper, which you will place on the grill – not on the metal plate – so you reduce the points of contact with the hot metal, which is very heat-conducting. If possible, select the ventilation function, leave them halfway up in the oven with the door open but not wide open, as long as it is not closed and there is a vent for the air to bring out the moisture as it is extracted. Check them often, turn them occasionally, they will be ready in a short time. I can’t tell you an exact time, it depends on the size of what you are drying, but checking if they are ready is easy, hard to go wrong. The smaller mushrooms will be ready first, when they are dry you can take them out, the larger ones you can leave them in for as long as necessary.
This method is an afterthought compared to the ideal of the desiccator, but it works perfectly if you have time to check frequently.
Arrange the mushrooms on a cardboard and place it on the hot radiator, if you also have a fan to move the air it is better, turn them every so often and check them, this also works but requires more attention on your part. Moving the air helps the extraction of moisture, just the heat of the radiator through the cardboard is not the most effective way to dry them properly, a little air helps to get the drying needed.
And for truffles? Honestly I have never tried it, they are denser and this makes it less easy to extract the moisture, I am afraid the heater is not enough to give you a satisfactory result. On the other hand, the temperature of the radiator can also be high enough to damage the active ingredient if there is direct contact between the metal and the mushroom or truffle, the high thermal conductivity of metal can overheat them and damage them, be careful, that’s why I recommend placing them on a cardboard that acts as a separator, a bit like baking paper on a grill in the oven.
The heater is fine in the winter season, in summer the ideal would be a hanging net – or alternatively an absorbent material such as paper towels – on which to place the mushrooms, and a fan; almost always this is sufficient to obtain a good result, but pay attention to the ambient humidity, humid heat is not good for drying mushrooms properly, even more difficult is for truffles which are denser. Dry them with a net and fan and then pass them briefly in the oven for the final extraction of residual moisture, it takes little time and is well spent to get the desired result.
Drying with hygroscopic salts?
I don’t like this method, I have received several messages from readers who have had problems and lost their crops, on paper it works but I find it more complicated than the others I have described in the previous paragraphs. This method uses the feature of certain substances to absorb moisture, so if you put mushrooms or truffles in an airtight container with the hygroscopic substance, they will dry out at room temperature.
I’ve never used it and I can’t explain something that I haven’t tried directly, I don’t know how much salt to use (Epsom salt) depending on how many mushrooms, plus if I have a few ounces, or kilos, of mushrooms to dry I need more containers, more grids to keep the mushrooms separate from the salts… I don’t care. Search the net and if you really want to, try it, in my opinion nothing is as good as a simple and effective food dryer, if you use it correctly you will always get a perfect result.
Drying truffles with hygroscopic salts is even less easy and slower, the truffle is denser than the mushroom so the risk of imperfect drying increases, all the more reason to prefer the dryer.
The only use of Epsom salts that seems interesting to me is to improve storage, if you put the already well-dried mushrooms or truffles in an airtight container and add the salts (or silica gel bags), then I don’t see a problem; mushrooms and salts should not be in contact with each other, keep them carefully separated, for example in a small jar kept open inside the airtight container in which you store your supplies or separated by a net/grid on which you place what you want to store.
If you have fresh mushrooms or truffles you have to store them in the refrigerator and consume them within the expiry date, a few days for mushrooms or a few weeks for truffles if they are in a vacuum-packed bag. Vacuum-packed mushrooms? I don’t think it extends the shelf life, plus I’m afraid that the pressure of the vacuum will crush them and they will become a kind of mush, mushrooms don’t have the consistency of truffles.
If, on the other hand, you have dried them properly, you have several possibilities to keep them happily for a long time. The absolute best way is to put them in a vacuum bag and then in the freezer. The vacuum pack costs more or less the same as the food dryer, a few tens of euros, but in addition to this use you will discover many other uses that make it a purchase you will appreciate over time: meat, fish, cheese, there are many perishable products that improve their shelf life in the refrigerator or freezer with vacuum protection.
Dried mushrooms and truffles stored in this way keep well for many years, you can literally forget about them and when you discover them again they will always be ready for use.
Alternatively, you can store everything in an airtight jar in a dark, cool and dry place, for example in the fridge. Remember that you must prevent moisture from getting into the jar, so check that the seal is effective and above all this: when you want to take some mushrooms out of the jar, wait until the glass reaches room temperature before opening it! If you open it while it is still cold, condensation will also form inside the jar, right where your sensitive little mushrooms are. If you then close the jar and put it away again, the moisture condensed on the glass inside will migrate into the mushrooms, and there its deleterious action will begin. Remember this, it is simple but important, moisture is our enemy.
Finally, you can store everything in an airtight jar but this time in a dark place at room temperature, e.g. locked inside a cupboard. If the mushrooms are well dried (I know I’m repeating myself) and in the dark, even then they will last a long time. How long? I have never tried, but research says there are no problems, avoid light, especially sunlight, and humidity, then rest assured, what you have prepared will wait for you for a long time without any problems.
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