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False morel

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False Morel
Image:FalseMorel.jpeg
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Fungi
Phylum:Ascomycota
Class:Ascomycetes
Order:Pezizales
Family:Helvellaceae
Genus:Gyromitra
Species:G. esculenta
Binomial name
Gyromitra esculenta

The false morel is a mushroom, similar in appearance to the "true" morel, that is often eaten but may be poisonous. The beefsteak mushroom (Gyromitra esculenta) is a popular false morel of the lorchel (Helvellaceae) family. Other species are also known as false morels: Gyromitra infula (the elfin saddle), G. caroliniana, G. gigas (snow morel); Verpa bohemica, V. conica, and others. Verpas are also known as early morels or thimble morels.

False morels are eaten because only some people exhibit poisoning symptoms on first ingesting them; others may not show symptoms for many years; still others may never exhibit any symptoms. One explanation for this phenomenon is that it is caused by varying levels of toxin in the mushroom, but it also appears to be governed by a metabolic sensitivity in some people.

Many experts argue that false morel mushrooms should never be eaten by anyone. When consuming a morel for the first time (false or true), mycologists recommend eating only a small quantity, such as half a cap, and waiting 24 hours, to test for sensitivity. While sensitivity to false morels is uncommon, consumption of greater amounts by a sensitive individual is likely to necessitate medical treatment. As of 1964, a total of 160 deaths from false morel poisoning had been reported worldwide. Sensitivity is apparently not a hereditary matter, further confusing the question of toxicity.

Aficionados of false morels describe them as one of the choicest of all culinary mushrooms. They are popular in Scandinavia, where they are sold commercially (after treatment to remove most of the toxin), and the upper Great Lakes region of North America.

The "false morel" is so named because of its resemblance to the true morel (members of the genus Morchella). Gyromitras resemble a brown brain, while the true morel looks more like a pitted gray, tan, or brown sponge. Certain subspecies of false morels can reach masses of several kilograms. Verpas have wrinkly or wavy caps that are attached at the top of the stem and form a skirt. Both verpas and gyromitras have solid stems, while true morels have hollow stems.

Chemistry

Missing image
Gyromitrin.gif
gyromitrin

False morels contain a chemical called gyromitrin which is metabolized to monomethylhydrazine (MMH), a powerful reducing agent often used in rocket fuel. In addition to having immediate toxic effects, MMH is believed to be carcinogenic. To help try to nullify the effects, some recommend parboiling the mushroom twice, in order to evaporate the gyromitrin; it gives off a chocolate scent. However, that scent is the toxin itself, so even breathing the smell of the cooking mushrooms can be dangerous.

External link

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