Oyster Mushrooms vs. Maitake Mushrooms

Oyster Mushrooms vs. Maitake Mushrooms
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Written by Carrie Woodward

Updated: May 13, 2023

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Both oyster mushrooms and maitake mushrooms are edible mushrooms that grow in the wild and may be incorporated into numerous recipes. This article compares and contrasts these two species so that you can learn the similarities and differences between them.

Quick Facts

  • Both oyster and maitake mushrooms are edible and grow in the wild, including in parts of North America
  • Oyster mushrooms are among the most commonly-consumed mushroom species in the world, while maitake mushrooms are rare and only recently began being produced
  • Oyster mushrooms serve to break down dead and dying wood, while maitake mushrooms are a mildly parasitic species that grow on living trees
  • Oyster mushrooms have a mild flavor, while maitake mushrooms are said to have a complex, nutty, or peppery flavor

We will cover where they grow, their appearance, taste, and some of the common uses for each. Let’s dive in to learn more about oyster mushrooms and maitake mushrooms now!

Oyster Mushrooms vs. Maitake Mushrooms

CharacteristicOyster MushroomsMaitake Mushrooms
Scientific NamePleurotus ostreatusGrifola frondosa
GenusPleurotusGrifola
FamilyPleurotaceaeMeripilaceae
ClassAgaricomycetesAgaricomycetes
DivisionBasidiomycotaBasidiomycota
KingdomFungiFungi
Common NameHiratake, oyster fungus, oyster mushroom, pearl oyster mushroomDancing mushroom, hen of the woods, kumotake, maitake mushroom, ram’s head, sheep’s head
OriginAsia, Europe, and North AmericaChina, Japan, and North America, primarily in the northeastern part of the United States and Canada
Description of FungusOyster mushrooms gained their name from their color, shape, and reportedly “briny” flavor. They are brown or gray in color, with caps in a fan or oyster shell shape, with cream-colored gills and short stems. Though they vary in size, many oyster mushrooms are medium or large and can reach between 2 and 10 inches in diameter. Oyster mushrooms are among the most popular edible mushrooms and can be foraged from woodland environments. Oyster mushrooms are bracket mushrooms, which grow in shelves on the sides of dead trees or fallen wood.Maitake mushrooms are edible mushrooms, which grow in brackets at the base of trees in dense clusters. The caps of maitake mushrooms overlap with each other. Individual caps can be less than an inch to nearly 3 inches across, but the combined clusters can be as large as 2 feet across. The mushroom caps are gray or brown and edible. Maitake mushrooms are parasitic and feed on tree roots, where the mushrooms’ fruiting bodies reappear year after year. Maitake mushrooms are edible and very sought-after.

Descriptions of Oyster Mushrooms vs. Maitake Mushrooms

Oyster Mushrooms

The species Pleurotus ostreatu is commonly known as the “oyster mushroom” or “pearl oyster mushroom.” Though there are several mushrooms that are called collectively “oyster mushrooms,” this species is one of the best-known. The oyster mushroom is an edible species of fungus in Pleurotus, a genus containing many different edible species. However, Pleurotus ostreatu is the most widely-cultivated and popular mushroom in the genus and one of the top mushrooms produced for human consumption in the world. 

Pleurotus ostreatu typically grows in shades of gray, off-white, or brown, with medium or large-sized caps that appear in multiples and look similar to the shape of a real oyster’s shell. The mushroom’s color and shape, plus the reportedly “briny” flavor of the mushroom, inspired the nickname “oyster mushroom.” In the wild, you can find oyster mushrooms growing on the side of trees and logs. Because they grow plentifully in the wild, some mushroom foragers will seek oyster mushrooms to harvest from the sides of dead or decaying hardwood trees and fallen logs. 

As one of the most popular edible mushrooms in the world, oyster mushrooms are a common ingredient in many recipes for soup, sauces, and other dishes, particularly in the cuisine of many different Asian cultures. Though widely cultivated in many countries of Asia, they also grow widely in the forests of North America and Europe. Various oyster mushroom species in the same genus grow throughout the world.

Oyster mushrooms Pleurotus ostreatus

Oyster mushrooms (

Pleurotus ostreatus

) have medium or large-sized caps that look similar to the shape of a real oyster’s shell.

©iStock.com/Igor Kramar

Maitake Mushrooms

The species Grifola frondosa goes by many different nicknames. You may know this type of mushroom as a “dancing mushroom,” the “hen of the woods,” or as a “ram’s head” or “sheep’s head.”  The word “maitake” is Japanese for “dancing mushroom.” Some stories say that the mushroom gained this nickname because when foragers would discover it in the wild, they would dance with excitement. 

Maitake mushrooms are edible mushrooms that grow in parts of China, Japan, the United States, and Canada. In these countries, they usually grow at the bottom of dead or decaying oak trees. There, they grow in brackets and dense, rose-shaped clusters, in which the caps of individual mushrooms overlap with each other. Though these individual caps may be less than an inch or just a few inches across, when layered together, the clusters can reach up to 2 feet across! You may harvest the mushroom caps, which are gray and brown, to eat. 

The maitake mushroom is a parasitic species, which feeds on nutrients from tree roots. Year after year, you can find the edible fruiting bodies of the mushroom reappearing in the same location as before. They develop in old forest environments and grow almost exclusively on oak trees.

Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa)

Clusters of maitake mushrooms (

Grifola frondosa

) can reach up to 2 feet across.

©Lorenzo Martinelli/Shutterstock.com

Oyster Mushrooms vs. Maitake Mushrooms: Key Differences

Though both oyster mushrooms and maitake mushrooms are edible and grow in forested, woodland environments where they appear in brackets on trees, there are several ways in which these two species are quite different. Let’s discuss their different flavors, appearance, growing needs, history, and environments in more detail now.

History and Origins of Oyster Mushrooms

As one of the most widely-cultivated mushrooms in the world, oyster mushrooms are a popular addition to recipes from numerous cultures and culinary traditions. While some mushrooms are difficult to cultivate, oyster mushrooms are relatively easy to grow. This has prompted many people to begin cultivating them for themselves or searching the forests where they grow natively. 

Historically, oyster mushrooms rose to greater popularity in Europe during World War I and the years following. Amid food shortages, scarce availability of animal protein, and subsistence measures, Germans began cultivating oyster mushrooms as a nutrient-dense food. Oyster mushrooms have a pleasant, meaty texture and have numerous vitamins and minerals, so they remained a good food supplement and rose to prominence in the global mushroom economy. The cultivation of oyster mushrooms continued to rise throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Today, they are a meat alternative with many health benefits, which can also offer umami flavor to many different recipes. 

In the global economy, oyster mushrooms are the second-most popular mushroom for people to eat and are second by production amount. The first and most widely grown is the species Agaricus bisporus, which is known as a “button mushroom,” “cremini mushroom,” or “portobello mushroom” at different stages of maturity. Oyster mushrooms are particularly beloved in Asia, where many farmers grow them for local consumption and export. China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines are all top producers of oyster mushrooms. 

However, oyster mushrooms do still grow natively in forest environments. They can be harvested from the wild today, including in many parts of the United States.

Oyster mushrooms growing out of a dead tree.

Oyster mushrooms still grow natively in forest environments, where they can be harvested from the wild today.

©iStock.com/lensblur

History and Origins of Maitake Mushrooms

Maitake mushrooms grow natively in certain regions of North America and Asia, including China, the northeast part of Japan, and the eastern part of the United States and Canada. Historically, maitake mushrooms were harvested in China and Japan for both their culinary attributes and for medicinal purposes related to their high levels of antioxidants and beta-glucans. In the 1980s, cultivators in Japan began growing maitake mushrooms, with mass production taking off toward the end of the 20th century. Annual production has continued to increase as maitake mushrooms have grown in popularity, though it is still a relative newcomer to the global stage. 

However, to this day, maitake mushrooms can still be harvested from the forest environments where they grow natively in the United States and Canada, as well as in China and Japan.

Maitake mushrooms

Historically, maitake mushrooms were harvested in China and Japan for both their culinary attributes and medicinal purposes.

©iStock.com/ueapun

Oyster Mushrooms vs. Maitake Mushrooms: Appearance

Oyster mushrooms are most often medium-sized with fan- or oyster-shaped caps. They grow in groups on wood. The caps are off-white, brown, or gray, and have short, nearly invisible stems, and creamy white gills. If you want to forage for oyster mushrooms in the wild, look for clusters that grow on the side of dead trees, fallen logs, or stumps of decaying wood.  

In comparison, maitake mushrooms also grow in clusters, but they tend to clump together in overlapping patterns to form a rosette-looking appearance. Instead of looking for an individual mushroom fruiting body, look for large rose-shaped clusters that can reach up to a few feet across. These will grow at the base of oak trees. Unlike oyster mushrooms, which have white gills extending down the stem, maitake mushrooms have pores that begin in a gray color and gradually turn white. These pores are in the place of gills. 

When cut open, the interior of the maitake mushroom is white and firm.

Maitake mushroom, Grifola frondosa grow in an overlapping cluster

Maitake mushrooms clump together in overlapping patterns to form a rosette-looking appearance.

©Artvoyt/Shutterstock.com

Oyster Mushrooms vs. Maitake Mushrooms: Growing Conditions

Oyster Mushrooms

The oyster mushroom is a saprotrophic species. This means that oyster mushrooms gain their nutrients from growing on dead and dying trees. Saprotrophic mushrooms feed on decaying organic matter, such as wood, and play a very important role in the decomposition process of forests. You will find oyster mushrooms on standing dead trees, fallen logs, or limbs of dying trees. There, they serve to help break down dead or dying wood tissue. This is not the same as what parasitic species do. Oyster mushrooms do not kill live trees by attacking living tissue. Instead, they help to clean up material in the woods that is already dead. 

Oyster mushrooms gain their nutrition from feeding on the wood of hardwood trees. Occasionally, you may also see them on conifer species. Starting in the spring, oyster mushrooms develop on the sides of trees, and can become large clusters that last from the summer into the fall months or early winter season. You will find oyster mushrooms growing throughout North America, though they are notably absent from the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

You can even try cultivating oyster mushrooms for yourself! Oyster mushroom grow kits are widely-available, and because they are resilient and grow well in cooler temperatures, they are fairly easy to cultivate. 

Oyster mushrooms on the fallen stump

You will find oyster mushrooms on standing dead trees, fallen logs, or limbs of dying trees.

©iStock.com/Paola Iamunno

Maitake Mushrooms

While you may see oyster mushrooms growing on the side of dead trees or logs in a North American forest, you should look toward the base of oak trees to find maitake mushrooms. Maitake mushrooms primarily appear in the temperate Eastern forests of the U.S. and Canada, as well as in similarly temperate climates in Japan and China. 

Maitake mushrooms gain nutrition from the roots of living trees. However, while oyster mushrooms serve to break down the already dead or dying wood, maitake mushrooms are different. This species can serve a similar saprobic function as an oyster mushroom, by breaking down decaying wood. However, it is also a parasitic species that extracts nutrients from live trees. However, it is only mildly parasitic. Because maitake mushrooms need living trees to provide nutrients, maitake mushrooms are not swift killers. It benefits the maitake for the tree hosts to survive longer. 

Because of that, it can take multiple years for the maitake mushroom to slowly kill a tree entirely. This also means that you can return to the same tree in a forest year after year to find and harvest maitake mushrooms again and again.

Maitake mushrooms fruit during the summer and into the early fall. Because they continue to grow from year to year, you can return to the same place. If you intentionally seek to cultivate maitake mushrooms, you can expect to see their “fruit” appear near the base of trees for over seven or eight years! You may harvest them by pulling and twisting the mushrooms once they are several inches long, usually in the autumn months.

Maitake mushroom, hen of the woods

Maitake mushrooms gain nutrition from the roots of living trees and can often be found at the base of oak trees.

©CampSmoke/Shutterstock.com

Oyster Mushrooms vs. Maitake Mushrooms: Scent and Taste

Oyster mushrooms are sometimes said to have a somewhat seafood-like taste that is briny and savory. However, it is also described as having a slight licorice- or anise-like taste. When cooked, oyster mushrooms are chewy and meaty in texture. This makes them a great addition to soups and sauces since they will hold up.

In comparison, maitake mushrooms have a strong, earthy flavor that is sometimes described as peppery or nutty and very savory. They emit an earthy, almost woodsy, pleasant aroma. Because they are harvested in such large clusters, maitake mushrooms can be cooked together in small clusters, sliced, or ripped up. This highly sought-after mushroom is relatively rare. If you are lucky enough to find it, you will enjoy complex, nuanced flavors. These come out when the mushrooms are sauteed on a stove with just a small about of oil or butter. 

Oyster Mushrooms vs. Maitake Mushrooms: Health Benefits and Use

Oyster mushrooms offer many different nutritional benefits for those who consume them on a regular basis. They provide fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals like zinc, iron, niacin, potassium, and folate. Certain researchers claim that eating oyster mushrooms helps to regulate blood sugar, boost immunity to diseases, and improve heart health.

Maitake mushrooms are a good source of vitamins B and C. They also contain other nutrients like copper, potassium, fiber, and more. They are rich in antioxidants and can support immunity, digestion, and heart health.  

In Summary

Oyster mushrooms and maitake mushrooms are two edible mushrooms that can be found and harvested from around the world. However, oyster mushrooms are much more readily accessible and popular while maitake mushrooms are rare. Both are nutritious and tasty in a variety of recipes. While oyster mushrooms are a more common ingredient, foodies claim that maitake mushrooms offer a more complex flavor and are more of a delicacy. This article provided some of the key ways you can identify each one in the wild. Why not go search for them in the woods of North America now?


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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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