The black morel is an umbrella name for several varieties of edible fungus. The most important one is Morchella elata, which is common all around the world and was actually the name given to all black morels until 2012. Today, several species of the Morchellaceae family are recognized. M. elata and most members of its genus are some of the most popular edible mushrooms and are sought by harvesters for their great taste.
All morels share a distinctive cap with a conical shape, with a spongy texture and covered in a pattern similar to a honeycomb. The stem is well-attached to the cap and is long and hollow, with a lighter color than the cap. In the wild, several Morchella varieties can be found.
Morels enjoy fertile sandy soils with good moisture and most of them grow in forests, especially brown, yellow or black morels. When fully mature, morels have a height of about 6 inches. The harvest time depends on the area, in coniferous forests in subarctic climates; zones that are destroyed by wildfires during the summer will produce a lot of morels the following spring.
Mushroom pickers without a lot of experience can sometimes confuse black morels with Verpa bohemica, or the false morel. The major difference is that its stem is only loosely attached to the cap, unlike the one of true morels.
The cap of black morels, also known as the pileus, has a height of 2 to 8 cm and a diameter between 2 and 6 cm. It is shaped like a narrow cone but can also be more rounded, either obtuse or ovoid. Young black morel mushrooms have hairy caps and the color is initially grey or ochre, in rare cases black or pink.
As the mushroom ages, its cap turns brown or black at the edges, while the pits actually become lighter. The margins initially overlap the stipe attachment but this is uncommon for mature specimens. The surface of the pileus is covered by a pattern of ridges and ribs, while the interior is hollow. It has a distinctive earthy smell, typical of mushrooms.
The stem is between 2 and 7 cm long, with a diameter of 1.5 to 3 cm. It is hollow and tends to have a constant width. It can be hairy and the base presents longitudinal folds. The color can be white, pink, ochre or black, usually lighter than the cap. The tiny spores are no larger than 19.0-24.0 x 11.0-15.0 µm, with a smooth surface, an ellipsoid shape and a color that varies from creamy to brown.
Similar to other edible mushrooms, black morels supply B-complex vitamins, as well as the rare vitamin D. They also provide many other nutrients, such as the minerals copper, phosphorus, iron, potassium, manganese and zinc, as well as proteins and fibers. Mushrooms are well known for the large amount of bioactive compounds with antioxidant, antiviral and immune boosting effects that can even prevent the development of cancer.
Anemia is a disease that starts when an insufficient amount of oxygen is supplied to cells, due to the low level of haemoglobin or red blood cells. Some cases of anemia are caused by genetic factors or other issues but the WHO estimates that about half of all cases are due to a low supply of iron. Anemia leads to a lack of energy but also more severe problems like brain issues or poor immunity.
Since about 20% of all oxygen used by the body goes to the brain, iron is vital for a proper brain function and without it a normal supply of nutrients becomes impossible. In time, it will have negative consequences on the memory and other mental functions. Iron deficiency is especially serious in kids, since it can cause them to be slow learners and display cognitive and psychomotor abnormalities.
Copper is an essential mineral that plays many roles in the body. It is a strong natural anti-inflammatory agent that can fight arthritis and the stiff or painful joints related to it. It reduces the pain, repairs the tissues and improves muscle strength. Some people who suffer from arthritis even wear copper bracelets due to the belief that it can reduce the symptoms.
The thyroid gland needs several minerals in order to function properly and a good supply of copper, zinc, potassium and calcium will prevent hyperthyroidism and other similar issues. The lack of any of these minerals can harm the thyroid gland, which in turn causes fatigue, poor appetite, weight loss or gain.
Without vitamin D, the body is unable to absorb calcium, which is the building block of bones. The compounds that play an active role in controlling the level of calcium are parathyroid hormone and calcitrol. Without vitamin D, bones become weak and the risk of fractures and diseases such as osteoporosis is increased. Rickets, osteomalacia and other bone problems are also more likely without this vitamin. The amount of phosphorous in the blood is controlled by vitamin K.
Vitamin D is normally produced inside the body because food sources are very rare. A lack of this nutrient causes many problems but has a great impact on mood swings and can increase anxiety, PMS symptoms, depression and insomnia. Without enough vitamin D, the production of testosterone and estrogen is also affected.
An important mineral found in black morels is zinc. This nutrient is needed by the liver function, it can eliminate debris from this organ, which boosts the absorption of nutrients and reduces the level of free radicals. Zinc greatly helps with liver repair and can heal related infections, preventing a number of chronic diseases.
Zinc plays other roles in the body as well, so a poor supply has additional negative consequences. Scientists have discovered that low levels of this mineral cause digestive issues, for example prophylaxis or diarrhea. It can also provide an overall immunity boost, which helps the body defend against many different conditions.
Black morels are rich in B-complex vitamins, which are required for most body functions. Vitamin B2 is needed for good vision and prevents eye disorders like cataract, glaucoma or keratoconus. Drops that have a content of riboflavin can be applied directly in the eyes to treat such diseases.
Vitamin B3 is important for a healthy heart. It can keep the level of LDL cholesterol at a safe level, which prevents many heart diseases and can reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks. It is especially helpful to people who suffer from dyslipidemia. In addition, vitamin B3 also reduces the amount of triglycerides and boosts the level of HDL (healthy) cholesterol. Heart diseases are one of the main causes of death today.
Black morels have excellent nutritional qualities, in both fresh and dried form. They provide a great mix of minerals, vitamins and essential antioxidants, while being very low in calories. A serving of 100 grams of mushrooms only contains 31 calories.
Of all known edible mushrooms, black morels have the highest amount of vitamin D. 100 grams of morels have a content of ergocalciferol (vit.D2) equivalent to 206 IU of vitamin D, which represents 34% of the total daily requirement for this nutrient. Due to its critical role in calcium absorption and bone development, this vitamin soluble in fat has been compared to a hormone.
The body doesn't need a lot of copper but this trace element is required in the structure of many enzymes that act as antioxidants at cellular level, against the free radicals produced by the metabolism. Neurotransmission and the production of blood cells also need copper.
A serving of just 100 grams of black morels supplies 43 mg of calcium and 194 mg of phosphorous, equal to 28% of the daily recommended dose. Since vitamin D, calcium and phosphorous are the main building blocks of bones, including black morel mushrooms in your diet will greatly improve their health.
Zinc is another trace mineral with multiple uses. It is particularly needed in cell metabolism but also for a strong immune response, fast regeneration of mucous membranes and the development of reproductive organs.
Niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) and all other B-complex vitamins are found in good amounts in black morel mushrooms. These key vitamins are individually needed for various body functions but also work together, especially in the cellular substrate metabolism as co-factors for essential enzymes.
Black morels are very rich in antioxidant agents that protect body tissues from the destruction caused by free radicals. Modern medicine focuses on these compounds since they are thought to prevent many chronic and lethal diseases. Among others, they might reduce the risk of cancer and serious heart conditions.
Fresh black morels are considered a delicacy in many cuisines and are prized all over the world. French chefs are especially fond of it. Raw mushrooms are edible but you should always consume them cooked in order to avoid digestive problems. The pits on their surface are commonly full of sand and dirt, so wash them carefully.
For the best results, keep them for a few minutes in cold water with added salt, then throw away the water and rinse them one more time to remove the remains of salt as well. To improve shelf life, don't wash them unless you plan to cook the black morels right away.
Drying the black morels doesn't change their taste but you will have to rehydrate them. Use lukewarm water to soak them for about 20 minutes; they will increase in size until they regain their initial shape. A paper towel is the best choice to remove extra water, and then you can slice them according to your needs.
Black morels can be used in many recipes and pair well with meat, poultry, fish or rice. They can be cooked in the oven, seamed, stewed or braised. A simple and delicious traditional recipe is to just fry them in butter in a pan, with garlic, cloves, salt and pepper. Black morel slices are a great addition in many dishes like pizzas, soups, risottos or pastas.
Unlike shiitake or button heads, the black morel is a wild mushroom that cannot be cultivated and must be harvested from forests. In the United States, the season of black morels starts at the end of April and ends in June. Mushroom pickers eagerly await their season every year and look for signs that black morels are about to appear.
After a spring rain causes lilacs, bluebells and dandelions to bloom, mushrooms gatherers will usually start looking for them. In order to easily harvest black morels, a small knife is used to cut them under the cap.
Inexperienced pickers should not try to gather black morels on their own and should go with someone who knows these mushrooms well. Fresh black morels are commonly found in farmer markets during their season.
The fresh black morel mushrooms must be consumed as soon as possible. If you plan to preserve them for later, place them in a paper bag in the fridge and either dry or freeze them. Plastic bags should be avoided, since they make the black morels sweat and perish even faster than usual.
In dried form, black morels can be used after several months, which allows them to be exported. They last even longer when frozen, especially if they are braised, steamed or sautéed in advance.