They are an essential part of every Asian household and are arguably more critical than the regular can of baked beans found in the pantry.

The dried, pre-packaged mushrooms can be a plethora of ingredient that gives numerous Asian dishes a distinctive flavor and are frequently used in stews, soups, and stir-fries.

When we dump some of them into hot water in a bowl to refresh them before cooking, the majority of us do not give them a second thought.

Although there are risks associated with eating wild mushrooms that are not safe, like Death Cap, which is responsible for the majority of lethal poisonings in the world, Some may be wondering whether there are the same risks when cooking with dried mushrooms prepared by a commercial company.

Most instances of people eating poisonous mushrooms are those who go foraging by them or with a non-experienced guide.

Nelson Wong, mushroom importer

“The chances are almost zero,” says Nelson Wong, owner and the founder of J’s Garden, a retailer and importer of mushrooms from China.


Wong was among the first importers who visited Yunnan, located in the southwest region of the country, and brought a variety of species like matsutake and porcini mushrooms into Hong Kong. “First, [mushrooms like] shiitake are cultivated in controlled environments with zero chance of other species being mixed in the bag.”

If you soak dried porcini mushrooms for a few hours, the Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety recommends keeping them in the fridge. Photo: Shutterstock

He continues: “The pre-packaged mushrooms still comprise between 6 and 15 percent water. Therefore, based on the humidity and storage conditions, there’s a possibility that mold could develop.

“But the health risks are like [those for] any other ingredient that grows mould and can be less than those for carrots and button mushrooms, because dried shitakes are usually eaten cooked.”

A pamphlet for public service issued by Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety (CFS) entitled “Food Poisoning Related to Mushrooms” provides the same guidelines and states: “While dried edible mushrooms do not contain toxins, soaking them promotes bacterial growth if not handled properly.”

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The government agency advises cooks to store mushrooms in the refrigerator overnight to soak them and avoid using dried mushrooms with signs of spoilage, like discolored spots, an unusual scent, or a slimy texture.

Wong declares: “Most cases of people who consume poisonous mushrooms occur when they hunt for them on their own or with a guide who is not experienced which can lead to hospitalisation. In very few instances do the consumption of foraged mushrooms cause death.”

The CFS brochure also recommends against eating foraged mushrooms. It offers the same guidelines as Wong: “Do not pick wild mushrooms for consumption, as distinguishing edible mushrooms and inedible species or their toxic metabolites is difficult.”

Chan Siu-Kei, dubbed in Hong Kong as the “father of fungi,” was the first chef to use the exotic mushrooms of China in a banquet-style menu at the Celestial Court Chinese Restaurant at the Sheraton Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui in the year 2000.

Hong Kong chefs Jayson Tang (left) from Man Ho restaurant and “father of fungi” Chan Siu-kei. Photo: Man Ho

“When I visited Yunnan where I was born, the locals were only eating mushrooms with hotpot. The Hongkongers would only eat dried shiitake, and the Japanese typically grill Matsutake,” Chan says. Chan, who is retired.

“There weren’t a lot of people using porcini, matsutake, termite mushrooms in Chinese cuisine or had even heard of Yunnan black truffles at all.”

Chan, along with his kitchen, who is responsible for roasting meats, created dishes of roasted suckling pork filled with glutinous rice and truffles of black. A recipe Chan has developed together with Jayson Tan, who is chef-in-chief of Man Ho. Chinese chef at Man Ho will be ready to be ordered at that restaurant at the JW Marriott hotel in Admiralty until September 30.

Crispy roast suckling pig stuffed with pearly barley as well as Yunnan truffles cooked by Chan Siu-kei, a veteran chef, and Jayson Tan of the Man Ho Restaurant. Photo: Man Ho

Lee Man-sing is also a big fan of Yunnan’s wild mushroom. Lee Man-sing, the group Chinese executive chef at Mott 32 Restaurant situated in Central, Hong Kong, states: “I have spent more than ten years working with wild mushrooms. I have visited Yunnan in person several years ago.

“Not all mushrooms are poisonous; ones like matsutake are safe to eat raw and termite mushrooms are also safe to eat with any cooking method.”

He recommends cooking the porcini mushrooms thoroughly in order to make them more digestible.

The recent CNN video interview featuring US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sparked a “magic mushroom” trend in China following her report of eating in Yunnan in Yunnan, where she enjoyed a meal that contained the jian shou qing, a kind of hallucinogenic mushroom. The mushroom has since been sold all over China.