True morels are safe to eat after they’ve been properly cleaned and cooked. Cooking breaks down hydrazine, a mild toxin found in morchella fungi. As with any fungi, consuming decayed morels can potentially lead to indigestion and consuming false look a likes can lead to poisoning.
Some people might experience a mild allergic reaction if they’re not used to eating this kind of fungus, so many culinary experts recommend trying a small portion of sautéed morel before consuming any large quantity of it. Once you know how you react to them, you can normally increase the amount you eat in a sitting.
Morchella fungi, like morels, are believed to contain a toxin called hydrazine that would be safely broken down during the cooking process. Strangely, it seems that nobody has actually been able to isolate this in a morel before, but cooking them still sounds like good advice.
It might be unsafe to eat morels while drinking alcohol. While a dinner of morels and fine Champaign probably sounds pretty fancy, a number of people have reported developing really bad upset stomachs from this combination.
Some people believe that drinking hard liquor while eating morels might give you even worse indigestion, but this still shouldn’t cause you to suffer any long-term effects. Unfortunately, there are some morel-like fungi that are pretty toxic.
Are There Poisonous Morels?
No true morel remains toxic after cooking, so it’s safe to eat nearly any member of the Morchella family. There are, however, four fungi sometimes called false morels that look just like them but are poisonous:
- Verpa Bohemica: Sometimes called the early false morel, you can tell it’s not a real one because it’s hat-like cap extends far over its stem
- Verpa Conica: Since they have a round cap on the top of a long stem, these are sometimes called bell morels
- Gyromitra: With 15 different distinct varieties, this irregularly shaped fungus has earned the name deadly false morel
- Pholiotina rugosa: These regular lawn mushrooms are sometimes confused for morels, but they’re quite toxic
Real morels tend to be completely hollow when cut. If you slice a morel and find some tissue inside of it, then there’s a strong possibility that it’s toxic.
Technically, all morels have at least a little toxin inside of them, though how much is up for debate. As long as you make sure to prepare them the right way, you shouldn’t run into any serious issues.
Can Morels Kill You?
Clean true morels can’t kill a healthy person, though eating raw ones can cause an upset stomach. A minority of people might experience an allergic reaction when eating them, though the effect normally isn’t deadly.
Eating morels with a noticeable amount of decay on them can cause a form of food poisoning, but the same could be said of any type of food. Make sure to cut away any areas that look moldy.
Some people have reported problems eating morels that grow wild in decommissioned apple orchards. These have enough lead and arsenic in them to potentially kill a person, especially if they have a preexisting medical condition.
More than likely, you won’t run into these, but it’s a good idea to avoid morels that grow around apple orchards that have been around a while. The problem seems to stem from the use of an inorganic pesticide that was once used by the farming industry.
As gross and unsafe as it sounds, apple farmers used to treat their trees with lead arsenate to keep away bugs. Eventually, morels growing in old orchards have accumulated this old substance and become toxic.
Otherwise, you shouldn’t run into many issues as long as you make sure to clean them first and cook every true morel you pick.
How Poisonous Are False Morels?
False morels can be toxic enough to cause liver failure and ultimately death. Hooded false morels contain a toxin called gyromitrin that can cause cancer even if you were able to somehow boil it enough so that it wouldn’t cause liver failure on contact.
A few of these fungi, like the Carolina big red false morel, are technically edible. You’d probably find that they aren’t as tasty as real morels, but they can be safely consumed.
In theory, the most famous false morel called the Gyromitra esculenta is edible. However, it’s difficult to get it to this point so it should normally be considered a deadly false morel.
Gyromitra esculenta fungi are a big problem for those who are just starting out, because they look close enough to genuine morels to fool even relatively established collectors. Consumption of them can lead to delirium, coma and even death in less than a week.
If you believe that you’ve consumed an unsafe false morel, then you need to get medical attention immediately. This kind of situation could quickly get ugly.
What Do False Morels Taste Like?
Most false morels aren’t edible, but they would have a taste that resembles that of a raw true morel when eaten. A few species, like so-called bell morels, tend to have a very bitter taste.
Some mushroom collecting experts tend to recommend that anyone who tastes an extremely bitter fungus spit it out right away to avoid consuming something that’s potentially dangerous.
While Gyromitra esculenta is fatal when eaten raw and has a slightly odd taste, it’s a delicacy when prepared correctly. Due to the fact that many people don’t prepare it all that well, you might never get a chance to taste it since a number of governments have gone so far as to ban it!
You’re probably not missing much, though, since chefs tend to cover them in parsley, chives, pepper and dill anyway. That would seem to suggest that they’re lacking in flavor.
Carolina false morels aren’t often eaten because it’s easy to confuse them for toxic varieties, but you can actually eat these. They taste somewhat like a more traditional morel, especially if you fry them or cook them in any sort of fat.
Most enthusiasts would agree that true Morchella morels are much tastier, however.