Enokitake, also known as Flammulina velutipes, is a type of edible mushroom found in many parts of the world including North America and Asia. Enokitake actually comes in two forms: a wild form and a cultivated variety, which look radically different. The cultivated variety is far more flavorful and interesting, although the wild form is perfectly edible. Cultivated Enokitake is very popular in Chinese and Japanese cuisine, and can be found fresh and canned in many markets.
The cultivated form of Enokitake is a mushroom that is white to pale yellow in color with a long, thin stem and a very small button cap. Cultivated Enokitake is also sometimes called “golden needle mushroom” because of the shape. The color and form of the mushroom are a result of the way in which it is cultivated, in long dark jars. Deprived of sunlight, the mushroom is unable to take on any color, and grows a long stem in an attempt to reach daylight. The result is a slightly crunchy Enokitake, with a fruity or yeasty flavor that many people find quite delightful.
Wild Enokitake looks very different, and is sometimes known as Velvet Foot because of the texture of the stem. In the wild form, Enokitake has a broad brown cap which can reach a width of three inches (seven centimeters). The cap of the mushroom is moist and somewhat sticky as well as slightly convex, although it will flatten out as the mushroom grows older. The stem is black and velvety in texture.
The Velvet Foot is perfectly edible, although a little watery and bland. However, mushroom gatherers need to collect with caution, because the winter fruiting mushroom resembles several poisonous species. A true Velvet Foot will make a white spore print, and will be characterized by the velvety stem and the growth pattern of the mushrooms, which usually appear in clusters on rotted wood. Always collect mushrooms with an experienced guide, as well as a high quality collecting manual.
Cultivated Enokitake is delicious in stir fries and other Asian inspired dishes. The mushrooms are reasonably durable and can stand up well to cooking, or be added closer to the end to allow the crunch and flavor to stand out more. When preparing cultivated Enokitake for cooking, the roots of the mushrooms should be trimmed from the stalks and the mushrooms should be gently brushed or washed and patted dry if they are going to be used immediately.