The Milkcap Family
Through this guide we’re going to take a look at the milkcap mushrooms, how to general identify the family as well as some of the most common ones we’ll find when out foraging. We’ll also be looking at some of our absolute favourite milkcaps for eating and adding to the fungi cooking put!
The Milkcap mushrooms or Lactarius is the most common mushroom family in the UK with around 70 species native to these shores. They are closely related to the brittlegiils and get their name from them because they leak ‘milk’ or latex when they are damaged.
The liquid is used as a defence mechanism against insect attacks and is a key feature when it comes to identification.
Other features to look for are:
- they are all mycorrhizal (growing with tree species so in woodlands or at least close to a tree)
- they have brittle flesh
- many have concentric circular bands on the caps
- They all produce milk
Identifying a member of the family can therefore be quite easy but trying to pinpoint the exact species can sometimes be trickier.
There are a few gourmet milkcaps for example for Saffron Milkcap, there are a few that can be dried and used as a spice, the Curry Milkcap for example but most are either too spicy or too bitter to eat.
The general rule of thumb for Milkcaps is to taste a small amount of the milk, if it is mild, sweet or mushroomy in flavour it is edible. If the milk is spicy or acrid, avoid it.
The Milkcap to be wary of:
The exception to this rule is the Fenugreek milkcap, which tastes quite nice but will upset your stomach if eaten in any great quantity.
Cooking with milkcap mushrooms
In parts of Eastern Europe many of the spicier milkcaps are parboiled and packed in salt as a means of preserving them and improving their flavour.
The other edible ones (after doing the edibility test) I often chuck into my general mixed mushroom cooking pan and are a great addition to any recipe calling for edible mushrooms, apposed to those recipes calling for toxic mushrooms haha
Common Milkcap mushrooms we find:
Here are some of the more common brilliant species:
The Saffron Milkcap mushroom is one of the most exciting wild mushrooms to forage, when damaged it produces a vibrant orange latex-like liquid and is a great edible.
Description of the Saffron Milkcap Mushroom
This is a choice edible mushroom, medium to large, orange and funnel-shaped, with brown concentric circles on the top if the cap with occasional green spotting. The stem is orange with darker orange spots or pitting. this mushroom-like the other milkcaps exudes a milky latex when cut or damaged. The milk of the Saffron Milkcap starts carrot orange and then turns swampy green.
Convex cap with a depression in the centre. Orange with darker concentric rings. Green areas especially on aging or bruising.
Light orange with darker spots or shallow depressions . Sometimes theres green markings on there too.
Gills carrot coloured and eventually bruising green. Gills running slightly down the stem (Subdeccurent) and crowded.
Slight Mushroomy smell
Pale yellow to orange
The False Saffron Milkcap Mushroom is the one thing that is often confused with the Saffron Milkcap Mushroom, not to worry though, they’re both edible
Lactarius deterrimus is a large milkcap with carrot-coloured gills and greenish tints as it matures. A distinctive feature is the latex (‘milk) exuded from cut or torn gills, which changes from carrot-orange to dark red as it dries.
Identifying Features for False Saffron Milkcap:
Orange with concentric darker or lighter lines with green patches. Starting convex but soon developing a depression in the middle and becoming ‘funnel’shaped.
Orange and smooth unlike the pitted stem of the Saffron Milkcap.
Orange and slightly subdecurrent, fairly crowded and bruising green.
The milk is bright orange, turning to blood red after sometime then eventually turns green.
I really hope this quick milkcap guide has helped build up our understanding of milkcaps and how to go about safely identifying them in the future.