CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Morel mushrooms are considered by many food enthusiasts to be a local delicacy, only showing up for a brief period and in certain locations every year. People who know where to look for the mushrooms often guard their “hunting grounds” closely, being careful not to reveal the location. They can be eaten many different ways, but health experts say they need to be washed and fully cooked, in order for them to be safe.
The Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday that morel season has peaked in some parts of the state, while other areas are just starting to see a surge in morel discoveries. Spokesperson Joe Wilkinson said anyone hunting morels also need to be careful about picking or eating “false morels,” mushrooms that are similar in structure, but are not safe to eat.
Dr. Ryan Sundermann, emergency physician at St. Luke’s ER, said true morels, though generally non-toxic, need to be fully cooked to be eaten safely.
“If they’re eaten raw, but especially if they’re partially cooked, they can release something called hydrazine, which is actually a propellant; it’s in rocket fuel and some foaming agents,” Sundermann said.
For the initiate morel hunter, there’s also some identifying qualities they need to be on the lookout for.
If you can still find them, true morels have large, bulbous caps, with a distinct brain-like appearance.
Once you finally have your mushrooms, Dr. Sundermann recommends washing them thoroughly.
“Animals like mushrooms just like people do, and mushrooms grow in dirt, and where there are mushrooms there are animals, especially wild foul, like turkeys. Salmonella’s out there.”