Bolete Mushrooms vs. Porcini Mushrooms

Bolete Mushrooms vs. Porcini Mushrooms
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Written by Carrie Woodward

Updated: June 28, 2023

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Have you heard about bolete mushrooms? This group of hundreds of different species contain many edible species, some of which are popular and delicious mushrooms that may be harvested from forests across the Northern Hemisphere. Among these are porcini mushrooms. 

Many people wonder if bolete mushrooms and porcini mushrooms are the same or different. The interchangeable way both of these names can be used is often confusing! This article will answer this question and equip you with the knowledge to explain the relationship between bolete mushrooms and porcini mushrooms. Here are some key points. 

Let’s learn more about these mushrooms together now! We will dive into taxonomic classification, uses, history, appearance, and more. 

Bolete Mushrooms vs. Porcini Mushrooms

CharacteristicBolete MushroomsPorcini Mushroom
SpeciesThere are many species called “boletes,” including more than 300 in the genus Boletus and many others in the genera of Leccinum, Suillus, Tylopilus and more. Some of the best-known species are Boletus edulis and Boletus aureus.Boletus edulis
GenusBoletus, Leccinum, Suillus, Tylopilus and many othersBoletus
FamilyBoletaceaeBoletaceae
ClassAgaricomycetesAgaricomycetes
DivisionBasidiomycotaBasidiomycota
KingdomFungiFungi
Common NameBolete mushroomPorcini mushroom, king bolete, penny bun, cep, steinpilz
OriginWorldwide except for AntarcticaMostly known in the Northern Hemisphere (Europe, Asia, North America), but may grow elsewhere
Description of FungusBolete mushrooms grow in many parts of the world. The mushrooms called “boletes” are amongst many different genera. The many species in Boletus typically are medium or large upright mushrooms with stout stems, sponge-like pores (rather than gills), and thick caps. They grow in soil. Many boletes are edible, but there are some species that are considered to be toxic. Porcini mushrooms are mushrooms in the genus Boletus. The term “porcini” typically refers to the species Boletus edulis, which also goes by many other names. Boletus edulis grows in forest environments and is a popular, edible mushroom that is harvested from the wild and can not be cultivated. The fruit body has a stout, white stem and convex to flat, light brown cap. When eaten, the mushroom has a mild, nutty flavor.

Descriptions of Bolete Mushrooms vs. Porcini Mushrooms

Bolete Mushrooms

Traditionally, the term “bolete” has been used to refer to many mushroom species in the genus Boletus. Species in Boletus grow across the world in countries of the Northern Hemisphere, where they appear in forest environments.

Today, “bolete” includes several different genera of fungi in the family Boletaceae, and some others in other families within the order Boletales. It is far from referring to only one genus. Oftentimes, the types of boletes are broken down into groups based on their genus, with three major genera that are relevant: Leccinum, Suillus, and Tylopilus

The majority of these species are mycorrhizal fungi and live in symbiosis with the root system of trees in the forest. Boletes were first defined by the mycologist Carl Linnaeus, who described this genus of mushrooms in 1753. This group was originally defined by the fact that the species in the genus are not gilled, but have pores instead. This is a major defining feature of the group of mushrooms.

In general, boletes are medium or large in size. The fruiting body of boletes is typically an upright mushroom with a stout stem, thick cap, and sponge-like pores rather than separable gills. Though boletes have caps that look similar to those of mushrooms with gills hiding underneath, rather than gills, they have tightly-packed tubes. This makes the tubes look like a porous surface that looks sponge-like. Because there are so many species of boletes, they can vary in their appearance significantly.

There are hundreds of species that are considered to be boletes, with many in the genus Boletus. Many species of boletes are edible, though some species are toxic and should not be eaten. There are even a few that may be considered deadly toxic.

Bolete mushrooms, Boletus aureus

Another well known bolete mushroom is

Boletus aereus

©LFRabanedo/Shutterstock.com

Porcini Mushrooms

The name “porcini” refers to one species  within the larger group of boletes, the species Boletus edulis. Boletus edulis is also known by several other names: the king bolete, penny bun, cep, or steinpilz, among others. This is an edible species that grows in forested environments and can not be cultivated, so is typically only harvested from the wild. Porcini mushrooms are famously harvested in Italy, but you can also find these mushrooms throughout Europe, parts of North America, and even some other countries such as New Zealand.

Like most other boletes, porcini mushrooms are mycorrhizal. The mushrooms live in a mutually-beneficial relationship with the roots of trees in their forest home. When you find a porcini mushroom poking up outside of the soil near the base of trees, you can know that it is gaining nutrients from the root system of the living trees and helping enrich the tree as well.

Porcini mushrooms have stout, white stems and convex, light brown caps, as well as pores like most other boletes. They are a delicious, popular mushroom that offers a mild, nutty flavor when harvested and cooked.

Boletus edulis, porcini mushroom

The name “porcini” refers to one species within the larger group of boletes, the species

Boletus edulis.

©NetPix/Shutterstock.com

Key Differences

As we have begun to explore, porcini mushrooms are just one species within the larger group of hundreds of boletes that grow in forests across the world. The rest of this article will dive deeper into the details of porcini mushrooms and how they compare to other species that are known as boletes. Let’s learn more about these details now.

Bolete Mushrooms vs. Porcini Mushrooms: Background

History and Origins of Bolete Mushrooms

The genus Boletus, which contains hundreds of species now called “boletes,” was originally described by described by Linnnaeus (L.) in 1753, but some sources will attribute this to a Swedish mycologist called Elias Fries in the early 1800s. This genus was created to separate the pored mushrooms from the gilled ones. Most of the species in the genus are mycorrhizal species. These live well in symbiosis with trees, and help the tree species obtain nutrients and other resources from the soil. In return, the trees provide the nutrients needed for the boletes to feed. 

Historically, nearly all of the mushrooms called “boletes” were classified in the Boletus genus. Today, many of these species have been split into new taxonomic classifications. These classifications are still hotly debated within the scientific community. Species in the genus of Boletus are still being examined and broken down into new groupings based on both macroscopic and microscopic morphologies and DNA analysis. It is exciting to see these new scientific discoveries!

History and Origins of Porcini Mushrooms

As one species within the larger grouping of “boletes,” porcini mushrooms have long been prized and eaten by humans, dating back to ancient times. Porcini mushrooms are often associated with Italy, where they do grow bountifully. For years, porcini mushrooms have had an elevated position in gourmet cooking and are particularly important to Italian cuisine. There is evidence that the porcinis were eaten by the Greeks and Romans all the way back in ancient history, during which time it was already valued for its cultural, nutritional, and medicinal benefits.

Bolete Mushrooms vs. Porcini Mushrooms: Characteristics

Appearance of Boletes

In general, boletes have a few common characteristics. The various bolete species have a central stem (also called a stipe), a cap, and most have pore tubes rather than gills. Boletes have a fleshy to tough texture. While they have flat or rounded caps, some species often have a “cracked” appearance on the cap. Additionally, because most boletes grow in a mycorrhizal relationship with trees, they are found growing on the soil near the base of particular tree species. The particular tree species in question may depend on the species of the bolete, though they tend to appear near oak and hemlock trees in moist, mossy areas. 

Generally speaking, you may identify boletes with different appearances at differing stages of maturity. Boletes have curved tops when they are young, which then grow flatter over time. Many species are light brown or red, and have white flesh, which is dense in its immaturity, but becomes softer over time. 

Boletus chrysenteron

Boletes have a fleshy to tough texture with flat or rounded caps that often have a “cracked” appearance.

©Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock.com

Appearance of Porcini Mushrooms

Because porcini mushrooms are a particular species, and not an entire genus, family or even order of hundreds of different species, it is a bit easier to describe their appearance. These mushrooms typically have brown, convex caps, which grow atop thick, white stipes with reticulation. They can range in size and can be either small, medium, or very large. They have thick stems and caps that can reach as big as 11 or 12 inches in diameter. Though the caps are sometimes flat, they can also form the quintessential “mushroom” umbrella shape. However, there is a big difference between porcini mushrooms and other, similar-looking species. Underneath the cap, porcini mushrooms do not have spiky gills. Rather, they have pores. 

Like other bolete species, porcini mushrooms grow in the soil of forest environments, so look for them near beech, pine, hemlock, and spruce trees.

Bolete mushrooms, Boletus edulis

Underneath the cap, porcini mushrooms have spores instead of spiky gills.

©Holger Krisp, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

Bolete Mushrooms vs. Porcini Mushrooms: Growing Conditions

Most bolete mushrooms are mycorrhizal. This means that they live in symbiosis with the trees nearby. Because of this, you will find boletes growing in the soil above tree root systems, from which they gain nutrients. If you want to find boletes, look in woodland areas, often near the edges of a forest, underneath hardwood or conifer trees. 

Porcini mushrooms grow in multiple parts of the world, where you may find them on the forest floor near the bases of hemlock, birch, pine, or spruce trees. Though they originated in parts of Europe and North America, tree cultivators have accidentally introduced them to new environments, including New Zealand and South Africa.

Porcinis thrive in humid, damp environments. Typically, the fungus sprouts with a fruiting body (what most people identify as the mushroom) during the summer or fall months. Look for them in the forest soil during this season and harvest by gently twisting them out of the ground to get as much of the mushroom as possible.

Bolete Mushrooms vs. Porcini Mushrooms: Scent and Taste

Though the taste of bolete mushrooms varies by species, porcini mushrooms are among the most well-known in this group. Generally, people describe the taste of porcini mushrooms as rich, nutty, and earthy. The mushroom has a meaty texture, so though the flavor is somewhat delicate, this mushroom is resilient to cooking and can complement other strong flavors and textures.

In the world of boletes, some are technically edible but are not enjoyable to eat. Some species are considered toxic, while others are simply not delicious. If a mushroom tastes bitter, you may find that it is a sign that the species is not edible. In any case, do not eat any mushroom if you are not entirely sure that it is edible, and also stick to the advice of experts when foraging for mushrooms in the wild.

Bolete Mushrooms vs. Porcini Mushrooms: Health Benefits and Uses

As is the case with many mushroom species, eating bolete mushrooms can have many positive health impacts. Porcini mushrooms in particular offer rich amounts of dietary fiber, no cholesterol or fat, and lots of vitamins and minerals. The health benefits of eating porcini mushrooms can include gaining antioxidants, possibly fighting cancer cells, consuming vitamin D, getting protein, regulating blood sugar, maybe boosting the immune system, and hopefully improving digestion. Porcini mushrooms also contain vitamin B, selenium, and zinc, among other vitamins and minerals.

For a long time, porcini mushrooms have had a respected place in the cultures of many European countries, particularly that of Italy. Because porcini mushrooms can not be cultivated, they are often harvested from the wild to be dried and later reconstituted in hot water before adding them into a recipe. Fresh porcini mushrooms may be cooked in a pan with oil or butter, added to a side dish, baked with a meat such as steak or chicken, or used as an ingredient in many other recipes.

As a traditional ingredient in many Italian dishes, porcini mushrooms are often added to various pasta and rice dishes. You may be familiar with the addition of porcini mushrooms to delicious and savory risotto recipes. They bring an earthy flavor to many different kinds of sauces and even gourmet cooking. Though you may find their seasonal availability forces you to use dried and reconstituted mushrooms, when fresh, you can sauté, fry, grill, or stew them for delicious flavor. If you have to use dried, using the reconstitution liquid with your stock in risotto can add even more flavor to an already amazing meal.

Risotto with porcini mushrooms

Porcini mushrooms are a popular ingredient for many risotto dishes.

©iStock.com/Lisovskaya

Warnings When Foraging for Mushrooms

However, there are also a few things to look out for to ensure you are safely consuming mushrooms and not accidentally ingesting inedible species. If you identify a bolete with red or blue coloration in the pores, it may be a toxic species. Don’t eat it! This sign can be common in some of the toxic bolete species and could well make you sick. You may also slice the mushroom in half. When you do this, it is common for the mushrooms to “bruise” and turn a blue color. If this happens, do not eat it. You should also look out for the pores to change color and look green or blue. If you see this occur, it is not a porcini and do not eat the mushroom unless you can ID it.

In general, you can recognize mushroom poisoning from symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Depending on the mushroom these may appear not long after you eat the mushroom or with some of the deadly mushroom can take many hours, if not days. If this is the case, immediately consult a medical professional.

In Summary

There are many species called “bolete mushrooms,” including the edible and popular porcini mushroom. In the summer and autumn months, you may find porcini mushrooms in your local grocery store. Alternatively, if you are in the woods foraging for mushrooms, look for porcini mushrooms or one of its close relatives growing in the forest soil! These mild, nutty-flavored mushrooms may look nondescript, but they are a classic ingredient that has been enjoyed for years and offers numerous nutritional benefits. 

This article explored the relationship between the broad category of hundreds of bolete mushrooms and the very specific, individual species of porcini mushrooms.


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About the Author

Carrie is a writer and fan of all types of plants and animals. Her apartment is home to more than dozen different houseplants and she aspires to adopt more in the near future. You can find Carrie taking long walks or reading a book under the trees in the park.

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