Red Pine Mushrooms: A Complete Guide

Freshly cut red pine mushrooms
© Dan Gabriel Atanasie/Shutterstock.com

Written by Sandy Porter

Published: December 13, 2022

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Commonly known as the red pine mushroom or the saffron milk cap mushroom, this stunning, orange-red mushroom stands out among the wild edible mushrooms that you can forage for across the globe. They’re widespread but not always easy to find, though, so you’ll definitely need to know the best ways to identify them, else you might just walk right past them hidden among the trees.

Classification

Freshly cut red pine mushrooms

A close look at the mushrooms

©Dan Gabriel Atanasie/Shutterstock.com

In the genus Lactarius in the Russulales order, the Red Pine Mushroom, or Lactarius deliciosus, or Saffron Milk Cap mushroom is a rare delicacy that’s beautifully colored and highly favored among chefs. You may also hear of this fungus called pine mushrooms, or, in North America, the orange latex milky. They are also called red pine mushrooms in some cases. The mushroom grows in many nations and is typically found in October after the end of end of rainy seasons of the summer.

The species was officially described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753, originally placing it into the wrong family, the Agaricus. The belief is that Linnaeus it for being a Mediterranean milk cap, based on its looks and aroma, but English mycologist Samuel Frederick Gray move it to the proper genus in 1821.

Note that these mushrooms are not the same as Matsutake mushrooms, which are also commonly referred to as pine mushrooms.

Where Do Red Pine Mushrooms Grow?

Young red pine mushrooms growing in forest

Red pine mushrooms love conifer forests.

©Stock Holm/Shutterstock.com

There are many varieties and species of milk cap mushrooms that are confused with red pine or saffron milk cap mushrooms. The true red pine mushroom is native to Europe and has been growing here as far back as we have records. The mushroom grows wildly in forest and woodland floors only, with a mycorrhizal relationship with trees. This means they have a symbiotic relationship, rather than a parasitic one, and it mutually benefits both the tree and the mushroom.

The red pine mushroom prefers pine forests, oak forests, and spruce forests, but can be found in coniferous woodlands and sometimes among other hardwoods.

The mushroom was spread to Asia in early times, while later years resulted in the mushroom being transported and planted in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and other regions of the world. There are specific species that look remarkably similar, though, in North America, which grow natively in the region. They are often mistake for red pine mushrooms.

Are Red Pine Mushrooms Safe to Eat?

Saffron milk cap mushrooms

They aren’t always vivid orange.

©OlegSavchenko/Shutterstock.com

Red pine mushrooms are considered a delicacy – so that means they are safe to eat! However, there are some toxic lookalikes, including the birch milk cap. It’s important that you either purchase them from reliable retailers and foragers or, if you forage yourself, that you can identify the differences between the true red pine mushrooms and toxic imitators.

What do Red Pine Mushrooms Taste Like?

The small to medium sized mushrooms have dense, firm, crunchy textures and taste a bit like a mix of fruity, nutty, earthy, and woodsy flavors. The fruitiness is primarily in the aroma.

How Are Red Pine Mushrooms Used?

Plate of pickled red pine mushrooms

Plate of pickled red pine mushrooms

©BearFotos/Shutterstock.com

The flavorful mushrooms have a very earthy vibe to them, and their texture lends itself to replacing meat in meals to make them vegan or vegetarian. Because of these factors, they often are slow-cooked, grilled, broiled, or steamed as the primary ingredient of a given dish, to help soften them, or they may be cooked into stews and soups, added to curries, cooked alongside meat on the grill, or added to pasta dishes. They may be chopped and added into stuffings, braised with roasts, added to salads, stir fried, added to grain bowls, or sauteed with vegetables, herbs, and olive oil, pickled, or stewed.

The mushrooms release a milky orange latex when they’re sliced, so they often color soups, rice dishes, pasta dishes, or cream-based sauces, turning them that hint of saffron orange.

Health Benefits

Crates of saffron milk cap mushrooms

The delicacy is highly coveted and therefor lucrative.

©FotograFFF/Shutterstock.com

Not only are red pine mushrooms an excellent culinary choice, but the fungi are loaded with healthy nutrients. They are a favored source of beta-carotene (that’s where that orange coloration comes from!), which converts into absorbable Vitamin A for the body. They also contain Vitamin D, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, and calcium.

It should be noted that this coloration may cause a slight orange or yellow tinge to urine after consumption of the mushrooms. This is a temporary thing and is not the sign of problems. It is simply an inconsequential side effect of the beta-carotene in the mushrooms.

There have been several studies conducted on the health benefits of saffron milk cap mushrooms, as well, noting the benefits of these nutrients when added to the diet consistently. These are generally that eye health is supported, muscle health, bone health, and similar system functions may be improved slightly. The mushrooms cannot replace medications, however, in treatment of any of these conditions.

How Much Do Red Pine Mushrooms Cost?

Red pine mushrooms are fairly expensive, but not in the highest cost range of wild mushrooms. They often run between $1.50 and $10.00 per ounce. You should be able to find them for sale online, often in dried form, as well as in some specialty produce sections, import shops that cater to European shoppers, and sometimes at farmer’s markets.

How to Identify Red Pine Mushrooms

Hand holding red pine mushroom up to reveal underside

The gills are close together and distinctively orange.

©Burning Bright/Shutterstock.com

These mushrooms are considered small to medium in size, with their caps typically between 2.3 to 7.8 inches in diameter, connected to short stems that are just 2 to 3 inches tall. The mushrooms are found in various shapes throughout their life cycle. Young mushrooms have a convex cap with curled edges, possibly with a depressed center. Mid-life, the mushrooms become trumpet-shaped “vases” with straight, flat edges.

The caps have a granular surface that’s mostly dry, except when wet, when they become sticky and have visible concentric rings. If they become bruised or damaged, they will also develop a green tinge. Beneath the cap, the gills are crowded and bright orange. When they’re cut, they release a white to orange latex-texture liquid, which turns green and drips off as it is exposed to air. The stems are dotted with tiny, shallow orange pits, are hollow, and smooth.

In the USA, they are commonly found under Eastern White Pine from August to October or during their regional season. They are often hidden beneath pine needles.

How to Forage for Red Pine Mushrooms

Red pine mushrooms just after the rain

Look for them after the rain for best results.

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Foraging for mushrooms can be an interesting challenge, but especially beneficial when you’re looking to try out some rarities. Some are moderately easy to find, like hen of the woods, others look similar to popular species but aren’t the ones you’re looking for. So, here are some tips to help you find the true red pine mushroom.

Bring the Right Supplies

First, be sure you have the right foraging tools and supplies. You’ll want to bring along:

  • A knife or shears for cutting mushrooms – never pull them up the roots!
  • A large basket or bin – for carrying those glorious fungi home
  • Magnifying glass – to help look for those up-close details that could help you see the difference between edible and dangerous mushrooms
  • A notebook and pen – for making foraging notes
  • A GPS-enabled phone – to help you find the car again and to pinpoint locations of found mushrooms for repeated foraging later on
  • Waterproof clothing and shoes – mushrooms love the rain, even if you don’t

Become an “Expert” in Red Pine Mushrooms

Because there are lookalikes that are both safe and dangerous, you’ll want to become highly familiar, or an amateur expert on red pine mushrooms. This can be achieved by reading up on them, studying images, asking questions, and similar tasks.

It’s highly recommended that you begin foraging with groups, clubs, or mycologists to help you become this expert so that you may safely and correctly identify the mushrooms you’re hunting for.

There are also apps and books that can help you specifically read up on red pine mushrooms and be able to identify them clearly. This is a great place to start before you actually harvest any of these delicacies from the ground.

The species that is extremely similar to the red pine mushroom and grows in America is known as the false saffron milk cap (Lactarius deterrimus) and will be found in similar areas as the true red pine mushroom. They are edible, but they retain a bitter flavor, even after cooking, which makes them far less appealing than true red pine mushrooms.

Becoming this “expert” is particularly a good idea for any mushroom species that has toxic lookalikes. Red pine mushrooms do, indeed, have these, so it’s highly recommended that you first and foremost consult a mycologist, a literal expert in the field of mushrooms. They can help you learn the traits of the mushroom species of choice and the lookalikes to avoid harvesting toxic fungi.

Look For Mushrooms After Heavy Rains in Conifer Forests

Make sure you head to conifer forests, particularly pine or spruce, as these are conifer lovers. You’ll also want to head out after heavy rains, as mushrooms are more visible within 24 hours of rainfall.

Red Pine Mushroom Trivia

Red pine mushrooms gathered and soaking in water

They need to be thoroughly cleaned before use.

©Daria Nipot/Shutterstock.com

Saffron milk caps are one of the first known varieties of mushrooms to have been used for culinary purposes, meaning they’ve literally been a part of human diets for millennia. You can find a fresco featuring these vibrant mushrooms in ancient ruins the Roman ruins of Herculaneum. This is one of the earliest works of art, as far as we can tell, to feature a fungus.

The red pine mushroom is one cultivar in the larger milk cap family of over 500 species. Many of the mushrooms look similar and have often been mislabeled as saffron milk caps. The true red pine mushroom is native to Europe and considered high delicacies in Europe, particularly Spain, and in Russia.

The autonomous community in Spain, Catalonia, particularly favors red pine mushrooms, naming them Rovelló, which means “the rusty one” in Catalan. The favored way to prepare the mushroom here is to cook the mushrooms on low heat, cap down, then mix with olive oil, fresh herbs, salt, and garlic. There’s an annual tradition to forage with the family in search of the fungi, and the joke is that this foraging is the unofficial sport of the region.

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About the Author

Sandy Porter is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering house garden plants, mammals, reptiles, and birds. Sandy has been writing professionally since 2017, has a Bachelor’s degree and is currently seeking her Masters. She has had lifelong experience with home gardens, cats, dogs, horses, lizards, frogs, and turtles and has written about these plants and animals professionally since 2017. She spent many years volunteering with horses and looks forward to extending that volunteer work into equine therapy in the near future. Sandy lives in Chicago, where she enjoys spotting wildlife such as foxes, rabbits, owls, hawks, and skunks on her patio and micro-garden.

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