One mushroom highly prized by the Japanese and Chinese is “matsutake.” Japan has had a long love affair with it. However, only few people are able to eat it due to its expensive price. There are times when prices drop a little lower if there’s an optimal amount of rain, and that is probably the best season to eat it.
Matsutake are a certain kind of mushroom which grows under trees or on the roots of red pines in and outside of Japan, measuring around 10-20 cm in length. They’ve been enjoyed in Japanese cuisine since ancient times. Matsutake are often associated with trees, as they usually grow under pine trees. They can be found in other countries such as China, Korea, Laos, Finland, Canada, Sweden, and USA; and they are considered special because of their strong scent.
The best time to pick matsutake is the season between September to October. It is best to harvest them when their caps are not yet open. When they caps do open, the scent fades away.
Matsutake are difficult to find due a wide variety of factors, including the specific length requirements and the rarity of the terrain in which they grow, meaning that they only grow in a relatively small number of forests. On top of that, Japanese matsutake has had a lot of problems because of Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, a pine-killing nematode that has sharply reduced the number of matsutake that can be found in Japan. As a result, prices of Japanese matsutake are incredibly high.
Matsutake can go as high as $2,000 per kilogram, though usually the highest price will be $1,000 per kilogram during the beginning of the season. However, imported matsutake are relatively cheaper at $90 per kilogram.
Prices do fluctuate widely all throughout the year depending on harvest time. The top matsutake producer in Japan is Nagano Prefecture, although some may say that the great city of Kyoto offers the best matsutake in the country.
If you are looking for some of most expensive matsutake on the market, a trip to the food sections of department stores like Mitsukoshi and Isetan is a must.
There are many ways to prepare matsutake but you can try the traditional Japanese ones such as grilling it, preferably on top of the table with a charcoal grill for even better the aroma. You can gently steam-cook it with dashi stock in a ceramic pot or prepare it the easiest way by cooking it with a small amount of rice.