Why You Should Be Saving Your Mushroom Stems

The amount of food that's wasted every year is staggering. In the U.S., about a third of all food produced ends up going to waste or not being used to its full potential. Ultimately, this costs us both financially — to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars every year – and in terms of the climate impact of food production.

The most common victims of food waste are fresh fruits, vegetables, and other perishables. In some cases, people forget about them in the fridge and don't know whether they've gone bad. About 20% of food waste is, in fact, caused by confusion about expiration dates! But spoilage is usually obvious: Take mushrooms, for instance, which will turn slimy and wet when they've gone bad.

When it comes to fresh ingredients, food waste doesn't always mean an entire head of broccoli goes into the trash bin. When home cooks dump the extras from their cutting boards, they're also wasting food. Plenty of food scraps are perfectly edible, from potato peels to carrot tops, and they're full of nutrients, too. Mushrooms, again, are a good example: Next time you're cooking creminis or shiitakes and cut off the stems, don't get rid of them.

How mushroom stems can boost steak, stock, and everything else

Next time you're making a recipe that calls for mushrooms, you have a perfect opportunity to prevent food waste. First, clean them using Geoffrey Zakarian's tried-and-true method. Then, even if mushroom stems don't factor into this particular meal, they're easy to save and so convenient to have on hand.

Freezing your extra mushroom stems is easy. First, slice them up, and then squeeze them dry in a napkin or paper towel so they won't be soggy when they thaw. And a hot tip: If you can, reserve the juice that flows off and freeze that, too, so you can add it back to the mushroom stems when you're ready to cook.

Whether you're using frozen or fresh mushroom stems, there are plenty of handy uses for your spare fungi. Mash them up with roasted garlic and spread a thin layer over a hot steak before serving. Cook them down with caramelized onions for an omelet. Use them in chicken or vegetable stock for umami savoriness. Add them to dishes that contain ground beef, like meatloaf and chili, to add extra flavor and moisture. Your future self will thank you — especially given the mushroom shortage that's around the corner.