Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wild Mushroom Foraging: How to tell Real Chanterelle from Fake Chanterelle

Well mushroom season is back again, finally, and we had our first outing yesterday. I'd heard from others that it was a good season already, and sure enough we weren't disappointed - sometimes we go looking and come back empty handed, but this time around I'm happy to say that we got a pretty good haul.

Boletes & Chanterelles
I've been foraging for wild mushrooms for years now, and have slowly built my skills so that I can identify mushrooms correctly. I still find it tricky to tell the difference sometimes though, I have to say, and usually find myself poring through my mushroom books once home just to make sure. Roger Phillips's "Mushrooms" (he has a website too at is my key tome, as it is for many others, but I also have several others from people like Carluccio. I actually keep the Phillips book in the back of the car with my mushroom knife - you never know when you might find something tasty!

How to Start Identifying Mushrooms

Learning how to identify mushrooms takes time above everything else, partly of course because mushrooms are seasonal, so you only have a few months in which to practice. I think there are two great pieces of advice I would pass on to any budding mushroom hunter:

  • First, get to know the major poisonous mushrooms before you know any others. There are actually quite a small group of common dangerous mushrooms, e.g. Death Cap, Panther Cap, Destroying Angel. Once you get your eye in and know what to look for it's relatively simple to spot them, and you can then be comfortable that you're protected from at least those deadly mushrooms that really will kill you.
  • Second, pick a small group (i.e. genera) of mushrooms and focus on that, so you can comfortably identity mushrooms within just that group. Once you start learning more about mushrooms you soon realise that there are many, many different structures within them that set them apart from each other, so mushrooms that previously seemed exactly alike will suddenly be quite obviously different. You learn that even things like size can be quite specific, sometimes it's possible to rule out a certain species based on size alone.

Identifying Real Chanterelle versus Fake Chanterelle

When it comes to identifying mushrooms, one thing that has taken me years to feel truly confident about is telling the fake chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis Aurantiaca) from the real chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius). Many books and websites will tell you that it's quite easy to tell the difference between these two, but that's not been the case in my experience, so I thought I'd share here what I know just in case others have been equally as frustrated.

Chanterelle (or Girolle as they're also sometimes known) are of course one of the very best edible mushrooms - the Italian would probably say they are the best I reckon - and we're lucky enough to know a few local patches where they grow. Mushrooms of course grow in the same spot year in year out, provided you don't damage the underground root structures (i.e. mycelium) when harvesting, so once you've found a good spot it's worth keeping it under your hat! Trouble is fake chanterelles very often grow in the same locality, so chances are you'll probably encounter both.

I've read books that say you can identify which is which by colour, but they often seem very very similar. Others say you can by smell, but whilst true chanterelles smell of apricots, I've often found fake chanterelles can smell a bit fruity too. In blind tests I've always been able to spot one from the other if I have both, but given a single species I'm not so sure I could tell by smell alone. Another point of difference seems to be that the fake has a hollow stem, but the trouble is you could possibly find a true chanterelle with enough maggot damage (the mushroom hunters nemesis!) to confuse I reckon.

For me there is one absolutely unmistakeable difference between the true chanterelle and the fake chanterelle - the gills. A true chanterelle has primitive gills, a fake chanterelle has true gills.

Now the trouble with that statement of course, at least the trouble if you're not familiar with mushroom structure, is that the chanterelle is not a fish. Gills, from a mushrooms point of view, are what runs from the stem to the rim under the cap of the mushroom. On your normal supermarket mushroom they're usually white.

I'm not going to go on at length about them here, as this is actually a really complex subject, but it's hopefully enough to say that the diversity and structure of the gills is an absolutely key part of identifying mushrooms. Some mushrooms don't even have gills, but have other structures in their place. The wonderful hedgehog mushroom (which is delicious by the way) has spines for example, not gills at all, making it almost impossible to misidentify, as mushrooms which have spines are a very small group.

Chanterelles are unusual in that they have primitive gills, and that's exactly what it sounds like. Normal mushroom gills are thin and papery, well formed and uniform. Primitive gills are more like ridges on the surface of the mushroom underbody, they tend to be more haphazard and are an extension of the underbody itself, rather than a thin sheet of material protruding from it.

But enough words from me, I'm going to let my pictures finish this post. Below are a number of shots I took of two mushrooms, the first on the left is a true chanterelle that's destined for risotto. The second mushroom on the right is a fake chanterelle that's destined for the recycling bin. Hopefully the difference between their two gill structures is clear!

Update, August 2018

Just back from a lovely walk through the woods as the season slowly shifts from Summer to Autumn, and it looks like it's amazing season for one of these two - but unfortunately it's the false chanterelle! They absolutely carpet the ground in some spots, and to the casual eye look very much like chanterelles, but on closer inspection it's obvious they're not. I picked one particularly good specimen and shot a video back home which hopefully adds a little more detail about this gills business, check it out below, as well as a few more pictures.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great description & photos! I found a couple of fake chanterelles with a nice, fruity scent. The hollow stem that you described sealed the deal as a fake.

Rich said...

Thanks, good to know it was useful. Real Chanterelles seem to be doing pretty well this season, hope you find the real deal soon.

My preferred way to eat them is in scramble egg, delicious for an extra special breakfast.

Leap said...

Looking at the photographs the mushrooms on the left look quite clearly as if they have forks running down through their gills.
This is normally an indication that they are Faux Girolle.
Faux Girolles may not have the mild scent of apricots or the superb taste, BUT they are definitely safe to eat.

Anonymous said...

Isn't another way to tell its a true chanterelle is to split the stalk, if it's white inside, it's ok?

Rich said...

Thanks for comments. Not so sure forks are such a firm sign, in fact I'd say they're very common in true chanterelle. Here's another site with some pictures, and more details:

For the stalk, false usually have a hollow stem, or at least some gaps, and true has solid - which is usually white, as you say.

BT2010 said...

I'm sorry to be so dense but I still cannot tell, from the photos, the difference between false gills and real gills. They both look substantially the same to me. Is it possible to explain the difference in some other way? I have read dozens of descriptions of this 'difference' and am still none the wiser.

Rich said...

I don't think you're being dense, if I'm really honest I've always known that it's still hard to tell the difference in these photos. I really should take a new set next season, try and improve this!

The key is the idea of a ridge in the flesh (primitive gill) as opposed to a flap of material (normal gill). Look particularly at the way the gill in either case runs up the stem and attaches to the cap. You should notice that for the false chanterelle the connection between the gill and the cap in particular is very thin, almost like a sheet of paper hanging down. For the true chanticleer it's much more like a ridge, as if it was a ridge of mountains or hills, a much broader connection with the cap.

Hope that helps, will try and get some more shots this autumn when we're out and about picking again in earnest.

Anonymous said...

I am with the dense guy, picked some yesterday and did not like the blade like gills. Still hard to tell from photos. The ridge by cap opposed to a papery thin makes more sense now. I threw out the mushrooms I picked. Thanks for artical.

Anonymous said...

what about those cinemine chantrelles they seem to have true gills like the false ones?

Rich said...

Never heard of those, sorry! Can you post some links or further info?

Alison Cross said...

I found loads of these little mushrooms this morning, under beech trees, growing in moss, next to a path (Scotland) I brought some of them home - they most definitely have solid stems when you cut through them .... the biggest one is about 4.5cm in diameter but the rest are about 1cm in diameter and don't all have that 'inside out umbrella' look to them yet ...... bin or eat?!

Rich said...

Hi Alison,

They certainly sound like the real McCoy, the right size and location and they certainly grow prolifically in Scotland from what I hear. The clearest indication is the gills versus ridges issue under the cap, make sure they're primitive gills, i.e. they're actually ridges in the flesh rather than separate thin gills protruding down.

I'm actually in Italy at the moment, and was foraging yesterday in the mountains. Here's a picture of some chanterelles I found there:

They made a lovely omelette :-)

Hope that helps,


we said... the false chanterelle so smells.fruity? Thank you

Rich said...

Hi - personally I've smelt some fruit in the false ones before, but as I said it's the ridges that really make the difference. Real chanterelle = ridge, false = gills.

It's not a bad time for foraging as it happens. I was out in the woods this weekend, and found a nice little crop. Went very well with some local eggs and fresh thyme.

Note the ridges on the one nearest the camera, that's what you're looking for.

Anonymous said...

My false Chanterelles glow in the dark. Hint: Let your eyes adjust to the dark for a little while. You will see a slight glow (or bio-luminescence) coming from the mushrooms.

Carole M said...

The pictures (which are NOT left or right, but on this site are in a top-bottom column) do NOT help me note ridges vs gills.....I have a bowl full but am waiting for's 7:41 pm on August 17, 2016, but this may not be a live site? Carole Mitchell

Rich said...

Hi Carolle - this is a live site, but I haven't had much time for posting in the past couple of years. Hopefully that will change soon!

It is tricky to spot the difference between ridges and gills, next time I find a false chanterelle I'll write a new post - but they're not that common, not as common as the real chanterelle anyhow. It's all about the way the flesh simply rises up from the main body of the mushroom as an extension of the centre, rather than as separate waves of flesh (i.e. gills). Smell, colour, size, etc. can all vary, but this ridge thing does not.

Here are a couple of other pictures of the true chanterelle - I was on holiday in Italy recently, and found these in the Italian alps with my in-laws (who happen to be Italian):

Note the way the ridges also run down the stem, there's no distinct ring where the stem stops and the ridges begin. That's a good indicator of true chanterelle.

As you're probably realising with mushroom foraging, it's all about gathering lots of different bits of data about the mushroom in order to identify it. Unfortunately there's rarely any black and white way of knowing at the end of the day (short of using a microscope on their spores), but that's partly what makes it fun. Just make sure you can spot the bad ones though!

ScotlandTam said...

Hi can I send you some photos of chanterelles that my friend picked for me in the Highlands of Scotland - I just want to check they are okay! I will also include another very large mushroom she included. How can I post the photos?

Rich said...

Hi - you can send me pictures if you like, but I have to say identifying from images alone it's nigh on impossible to be sure. Identifying mushrooms is all about looking at where you find them (e.g. with what trees), how they're growing (e.g. are they emerging from a sack), their texture (e.g. are they brittle), their smell (e.g. do they have a sweet or nasty aroma), and other characteristics, and then using all these different bits of data to make a judgement. I think it would be wrong of me to give you an answer at a distance - I wouldn;t want to risk your health!

Anonymous said...

Good but facts are a bit hit and miss..Here why jack o lantern are the mushroom with the hollow stem that sort of sweet smelling, almost sicken sweet..False Chanterelle have no odor and are darker in the center and lighter on the edges with a swollen base at the very bottom of the stem...I have read hundreds of articles and I have these facts right...if I don't please show me to be wrong...

Gail Gardner @GrowMap said...

What helped me most to confirm real Chanterelles are not false is that the real Chanterelles pull apart like string cheese.

Hold the cap and pull it apart and you'll see what I mean. If it easily splits apart and looks like string cheese inside, that's a real one.

Rich said...

Nice call, I know exactly what you mean! Then again, I'm not sure I've ever tried that with a false one :-) Has anyone seen any true chanterelle yet this year? I know they're up in some places in the country, but down in Devon I've not seen one make an appearance yet.

Art BuMPs said...

Do chanterells have an inedible stage like puffballs?

Rich said...

Not in the same way, they can get a little woody when they're old, but that's about it. Great season for them at the moment, I've been finding lots - but also a fair few false chanterelles as well. Interestingly, the false ones have been growing in pine woods nearby where we find the real ones (which prefer beech), which is what they're supposed to do. Another possible indicator that what you've found isn't a true chanterelle.

Jon Hudson said...

What about the transverse wrinkles between the primitive"gills" of chanterelles? A useful I'd feature?

Rich said...

Good call, Jon, you don't see such structures on the false chanterelle it's true.


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