What Are Puffball Mushrooms And Can You Eat Them?

TikTok has revealed a ton of exciting culinary trends over the years. Feta pasta, pesto eggs, protein coffee, and so many more foods have picked up a ton of traction thanks to this social media platform. But not every TikTok food trend is a fully formed recipe, and one notable ingredient that has recently taken the website by storm. TikTokers can't get enough of puffball mushrooms, massive white mushrooms that look like clouds. One video shows someone pulling one of these massive mushrooms out of a bag, then pan-frying and basting the fungus in butter.

Another TikTok video shows how puffball mushrooms grow in the woods and describes the proper way to cut and prepare these giant mushrooms. This one-of-a-kind ingredient can easily make cooking with mushrooms that much more fun and has the potential to inspire a ton of different recipes. If you can get your hands on puffball mushrooms, get ready to take your taste buds on a journey and engage with a seldom-seen ingredient with a unique taste.

What are puffball mushrooms?

If you end up finding puffball mushrooms in your area, get ready to engage with a very special ingredient. According to Delish, these mushrooms look like volleyballs that accidentally rolled into the forest. They appear across the U.S., but mostly make appearances in the Midwest. Foragers and home cooks can typically find the item in greatest abundance from the summer until October. Unlike other types of mushrooms, puffballs have the potential to grow anywhere where their spores land and can even move around a bit, as they don't attach to trees, per Forager Chef.

Due to their nature, this ingredient pops up in fields, forest floors, and hiking trails thanks to the fact that the mushroom constantly release spores that find their way anywhere the wind blows. This type of fungus encompasses a few varieties of white, volleyball-like mushrooms, including Bovista, Calvatia, Handkea, Lycoperdon, and Scleroderma (via Gro Cycle). While this fungus is edible, it has other uses, too: Tibetans traditionally used puffballs to make ink. 

If you want to find an edible puffball, make sure the flesh is thick, white, and solid. Additionally, check to make sure that the item looks like a white ball and doesn't resemble a typical mushroom cap. If any of these features seem off, you may have picked a related, poisonous mushroom and should avoid eating the imposter at all cost. Alternatively, if you find a puffball with a yellow or green center, the mushroom may have matured and is no longer considered edible.

Puffball mushrooms vs. button mushrooms

If you can get your hands on a massive puffball mushroom, you might wonder how it stacks up against a common store-bought fungus, like the button mushroom. According to The Star, both varieties of ingredients can taste rather plain on their own, but can effectively soak up seasonings, liquids, and fats. As a result, you can cook both in a similar fashion and use the items almost interchangeably.

The main difference lies in the size. Puffball mushrooms' massive size means you can slice massive chunks off of the fungus and serve them up as a main course. They're far too big to be cooked whole, like you can do with button mushrooms. These slices can get grilled or used in place of bread or pizza crusts to create unique takes on grilled cheese or gluten-free pizza. If you have a favorite mushroom recipe that calls for button mushrooms, feel free to substitute in pieces of puffball mushrooms for a meal you won't soon forget.

What do puffball mushrooms taste like?

Once you get a hold of a puffball mushroom, make sure you season it well and cook it correctly. Delish reports that the plain puffball has a plain mushroom taste and takes on the flavors of what you cook it with. One researcher even compared the ingredient to a savory marshmallow. The joy of this ingredient lies in its special texture. Some say that the mushroom almost melts in your mouth. Plus, the bigger the puffball, the softer their texture will be, making them more fun to get creative with.

According to Gro Cycle, not every type of puffball mushroom has a neutral taste. Some species contain a nutty, earthy flavor, as you might expect from a fungus sourced from the woods. This doesn't ring true for every puffball, so you have to experiment a bit to find the right species with the right taste for you. Either way, you can't go wrong with this unique spore.

How to cook with puffball mushrooms

If you want to cook a puffball mushroom, there are plenty of creative methods out there. Gro Cycle recommends that you brown the mushroom, unless you plan to add them into soup. Browning prevents the mushrooms from getting soggy. Thanks to the texture, you can batter and fry the mushrooms, or simply throw slices of the mushroom into a hot skillet with olive oil and sear each side, similar to a piece of chicken or steak. 

Since this item has the power to absorb the flavors of whatever you cook it with, puffballs make for an excellent substitute for tofu. As a result, puffballs go great in miso soup or tossed in teriyaki sauce.

If you're looking for other Asian-inspired puffball recipe ideas, one mycologist told Delish that he recommends cooking up this mushroom like a katsu by thinly slicing the mushroom, breading it, then letting it fry. Fans of the fungus have tried out a ton of different recipes, and in addition to turning the mushroom into pizza or fried steaks, some have even turned it into curry. When it comes to incorporating this ingredient into your weekly meal plan, the sky's the limit.

Where to buy puffball mushrooms

Puffball mushrooms can get anyone excited to cook, but getting your hands on this item proves a bit harder. For the most part, cooks have to forage for the mushroom in the woods or cultivate the edible species at home, per Gro Cycle. If you get lucky, Forest Mushrooms notes you might be able to find this product at Whole Foods, Kowalski's, Cub Foods, Coborn's, and Cashwise.

If you don't feel like getting in the car to search the forest floor or hit up you local grocery store, you also can get this item delivered straight to your home. Instacart carries puffballs, but they might not always have the ingredient in stock, so make sure you keep your eyes open for the mushroom. Due to its seasonal nature, you may not be able to consistently get puffballs from the same supplier every time, but there are enough options out there that you should still be able to get your hands on some when the desire strikes.

Nutritional information about puffball mushrooms

If you love cooking with mushrooms, you should have no problem adding puffball mushrooms into your diet. According to My Net Diary, two servings of this fungus contains 90 calories, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, 2 grams of fiber, and 570 milligrams of sodium. Like many other ingredients, these values may change depending on how you cook the item.

According to Gro Cycle, puffball mushrooms contain certain chemicals that might inhibit the growth of tumors — indigenous tribes across North America used the mushroom to slow bleeding, and it's used for the same purpose in Chinese medicine. Studies, such as one in the South African Journal of Botany, also confirmed that the mushroom can help facilitate wound healing. When you want to cook a recipe that involves mushrooms, make sure to find a puffball when you can for a culinary experience like no other. With any luck, you might just find your new favorite ingredient truly worthy of all the TikTok hype.