Identifying and Eating The Shrimp Russula Mushroom (Russula xerampelina)

A little about the Shrimp Russula, a common edible wild mushroom in BC & PNW. Identifying, foraging and eating this mushroom, plus mycology resources.

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In this post, I’ll be talking a little bit about the Shrimp Russula (Russula xerampelina), also known as the Crab Russula or Crab Brittlegill. Russulas are one of the most common mushrooms you’ll find in BC and the Pacific Northwest. Though many russulas are edible, most are considered uninteresting to eat. The Russula xerampelina, the group of related subspecies mushrooms under the Shrimp Russula section, are a notable exception with its shrimp-y or crab-y aroma. 

Disclaimer: I’m just an enthusiastic mushroom forager who is learning more about wild edible mushrooms in BC and the PNW. I’d rate myself as a mushroom amateur and/or beginner-intermediate enthusiast. I’m not a mycologist, zoologist or expert field guide. This is just a lay-person article about sharing what I’ve learned about the Shrimp Russula subspecies group and my experience eating it. It is not a comprehensive text or positive identification guide. I’ve shared the resources I used and recommend at the end.

Identifying Characteristics of the Shrimp Russula (Russula xerampelina)

Russulas have a unique cell structure composed of rounder cells, sphaerocytes, and typical elogonate cells that give them their characteristic brittle texture. They break apart like chalk. The Lacterius genus also share this brittle texture, but they exude a latex fluid, hence their common “milk cap” name. 

Shrimp russulas have variable coloured caps. They are most easily identified when red to maroon to purple. The gills are white or off-white, and can deepen in colour with age. Their stalk may also be tinged pink. They stain yellow to yellow-brown when bruised. 

Learn more: Guide to Wild Edible Mushroom Foraging (BC & PNW)

One way of identifying whether a russula specimen is worth harvesting or not is by tasting a small amount of the mushroom. It’s not recommended to swallow any raw mushrooms ever, but chewing a small amount of russula gills and spitting it out can help you in identification. Pepper-y or spicy tastes indicate that the russula is not edible (not recommended for eating by mycology experts). Non-edible russulas may cause tongue burning or gastronomical distress, or even uncontrollable vomiting. Don’t put more than a pea-sized amount in your mouth and spit it out after a quick chew.

Spore prints can help positive identification, too. Just pull the cap off and put it on some paper, gill-side down, and leave it undisturbed. You should be able to see a spore print within 2-24 hours, depending on when you picked the mushroom. Shrimp russulas have creamy, yellowish or orange-yellow coloured spores. 

I hope these fun subspecies characteristics are interesting to read about. For positively identifying the shrimp russula, check out the mycology resources listed at the end of this post.

Eating the Shrimp Russula

cooking and eating shrimp russula in a cast iron pan

I wanted to eat the Shrimp Russula because I’ve heard a lot about it. I’m always curious about new flavours and new foods. And it’s fun to be learn and forage for new edibles.

To cook, I sliced a younger shrimp russula cap and cooked it over medium heat with a sprinkle of salt. I didn’t add any oil or butter because I wanted to taste the true flavour of the mushroom. I did have to add splashes of hot water periodically to soften and fully cook the russula and to prevent burning. Russulas’ brittle texture can prevent them from absorbing water. Dry sautéing them isn’t necessarily the best way to cook them, unlike chanterelles and other wild mushrooms.

Shrimp Russulas have a great seafood aroma, very distinct and appealing. Its seafood/shrimp/crab flavour tasted similar and was good. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of fresh russulas because of their brittle texture. I think they are better eaten in other ways. Next time I collect shrimp russulas, I’ll dehydrate and either powder them for mushroom seasoning or rehydrate them to flavour soups, broths and stews.

Safety note: As with any new food, it’s best to eat a small amount of a cooked edible species before eating a large amount (like in a meal). This tests for idiosyncratic food sensitivity that can occur even with edible species or subspecies groups. For example, some people are allergic to peanuts, even though they are obviously edible.

Shrimp Russula Resources

I’m not a mycologist or field expert and I rely on trustworthy sources. Here are the resources I used:

This post was published on October 26, 2020.

Posted by Arielle

Arielle is a passionate urban homesteader and hunter located in Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.

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