Enoki mushrooms are edible mushrooms that are very popular in Asian cuisine, especially in Japan. The delicately flavored, interesting looking fungi are also cultivated and sold in other parts of the world, although they are most widely used in Asian and fusion foods. Asian grocers and specialty stores often sell them, and they are sometimes also available in regular markets, depending on the region of the world that one is in.
There are actually two different kinds of enoki mushrooms, although both are botanically classified as Flammulina velutipes. One is a wild type, which looks and tastes quite different from the cultivated mushroom, which has been raised under specific conditions to modify its look and flavor. While both versions are perfectly palatable, many consumers prefer the cultivated mushrooms, since they have a more intense flavor.
The wild mushrooms are found naturally growing on the stumps of the enoki tree, and they are also known as enokitake or enokitaki. The mushrooms are golden to dark brown in color, with a dense velvety growth on the lower part of their stems, which leads some people to call them Velvet Foot mushrooms. After collection, the mushrooms can be eaten raw or lightly cooked, and they generally last only a few days in a paper bag under refrigeration, so they should be used quickly after harvesting.
When enoki mushrooms are cultivated, they are grown in dark conditions so that they are bone to cream white. The mushrooms are grown in special jars that encourage them to develop long stems as they reach for an overhead light source. As a result, cultivated mushrooms have long, trailing stems, which are typically used along with the caps. They are also called Snow Puffs or Golden Needles, in a reference to their color and shape.
To use the mild, slightly fruity flavor of these mushrooms in cooking, cooks should start by gently rinsing the mushrooms to remove surface dirt. Next, they should trim the bottom of the mushrooms off, as they come in thick clumps. Most cooks trim right where the mushrooms begin to branch off, so that each is separated from the base. The mushrooms can be tossed into foods raw for extra crunch and flavor, or lightly cooked.
In addition to being available fresh at the market, enoki can also be found canned in some regions. If canned, the mushrooms can be shelf stable for several months. Fresh mushrooms, on the other hand, should be carefully inspected for slime and mold before purchase, and used quickly.