Science: Why You Literally Can’t Overcook Mushrooms

Science: Why You Literally Can’t Overcook Mushrooms

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Not many ingredients are as forgivable as mushrooms when it comes to internal temperature and cook time. We steamed portobellos, beef tenderloin, and zucchini and compared their textures over the course of 40 minutes. They only ingredient that stayed texturally steady? Mushrooms.

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Cooks often lump mushrooms into the category of vegetables, which, aside from being a taxonomy faux pas, can be problematic in the kitchen. While these fungi display characteristics of both meat (their savory flavor, for instance) and vegetables (their high water content) they are unique in important ways. Chief among these differences is their ability to maintain a pleasant texture over a wide range of cooking times. We set up the following experiment to illustrate how mushroom texture changes with cooking in relationship to a green vegetable and a cut of beef.

We cut 1/2-inch-thick plans of portobello mushrooms, zucchini, and beef tenderloin and spaced them out evenly in a steamer basket. We set the basket over boiling water in a large Dutch oven, covered it with a lid, and steamed the samples for 40 minutes. At 5-minute intervals we used a CT3 Texture Analyzer to test the tenderness of each sample and then graphed the data as a function of tenderness over time.

After 5 minutes of steaming, the tenderloin, portobello, and zucchini required 186, 199, and 239 grams of force, respectively, to be compressed 3 millimeters. Tasters noted that all of these samples were tender. This picture changed rapidly with 5 more minutes of steaming: at the 10-minute mark, the tenderloin, portobello, and zucchini samples required 524, 195, and 109 grams of force, respectively. Tasters found the tenderloin to be tough and leathery, and the zucchini overly soft. The portobello, on the other hand, remained largely unchanged.

Over the course of the next 30 minutes, the tenderloin continued to toughen, eventually turning a whopping 293 percent tougher, while the zucchini decreased in firmness 83 percent and turned mushy and structure-less. The portobello, meanwhile, increased in firmness just 57 percent over the same period of time; after a full 40 minutes of cooking, tasters found the mushroom to be properly tender.

While many foods we cook require precise attention to internal temperature and cook time, mushrooms are remarkably forgiving. The key to their resiliency lies in their cell walls, which are made of a polymer called chitin. Unlike the proteins in meat, or pectin in vegetables, chitin is very heat stable. This unique structure allows us to quickly sauté mushrooms for a few minutes or roast them for the better part of an hour, all the while achieving well-browned, perfectly tender specimens.

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20 Responses

  1. H0rridRex says:

    Fire destroys everything.

  2. John Doh says:

    You misused the word ‘literally’. Look it up, please.

  3. Midora "Third Tiger" says:

    That’s not how you use the word “literally”

  4. loladas9 says:


  5. Pink Philosopher says:

    scribub me chanle for gud kabage/cancer

  6. Frederic Lebel says:

    Did you know that if you put any type of mushroom in one of your nostril,
    you might lose the respect of your friends?

  7. f!rstbl00d says:

    “It’s RAW!!” – Gordon Ramsay

  8. X. Y. says:

    I just literally watched this video.

  9. C. Cudder123 says:

    Isn’t chitin found in insects too?

  10. connor RSPS says:

    I put the mushroom in the fire… Burnt.

  11. Isagail Carshuen says:

    They might not overcook, but they’ll taste like crap so please cook
    mushrooms properly.

  12. The savage monster says:

    I hate mushrooms

  13. Shadower1337 says:

    Or you can say its literally a fungus as well.

  14. Reilly says:


  15. Ray Jay says:

    So if I threw a mushroom in a volcano it wouldn’t over cook?

  16. Grzegorz Koski says:

    too bad mushrooms are disgusting and belong in garbage bin, nice try

  17. teitake says:

    It is possible to overcook mushrooms. Why do they think the concept of
    “overcooking” only applies to the texture? It also applies to taste and
    flavor as well. Enzyme that destroys umami stops working at 60C while
    enzyme that increases umami stops working at 70C which means that heating
    too quickly passed 70C overcooks the mushrooms. To avoid overcooking
    mushrooms, one should cook mushrooms between 60 and 70C.

  18. Blarf says:


  19. Arthur Perez says:

    eye that was really funny result with :‑)

  20. Laura Cox says: