The Science Behind Why It’s Impossible To Overcook Mushrooms

When you’re new to the kitchen one of the most common issues people run into is the tendency to over their food. Most foods don’t do too well with being overcooked. Rice becomes sticky and lumpy, pasta becomes soft and mushy, meats dry out and vegetables break down to almost nothing. However, there is one common kitchen ingredient that can stand up to the cooking process like no other and defy this overcooking trend. Mushrooms

While mushrooms definitely have an ideal cooking process – for example cooking them in a dry pan to brown off before cooking them in oil or butter which would encourage them to lose more of their water content – overall, they are more resistant to heat. This is all down to a complex carbohydrate called Chitin which is also found in the cell walls of fungi and in the beaks of cephalapods. Chitin is a polymer and it’s insoluble even in boiling whatever and this allows mushrooms to comfortably withstand temperatures without breaking down. 

Video Credits: America's Test Kitchen/YouTube

For comparison, the molecular structures of plants and meat are very different. The proteins in meat are soft and malleable when raw but with prolonged heat, the moisture is pushed out of the cell structure leaving room for the proteins to tighten and make the meat tough and chewy. In the case of vegetables, the hemicellulose and pectin that hold their cell walls together quickly break down when heated allowing them to become soft and mushy. 

The larger molecular structure of the mushroom cell well wall ensures that even after long periods of sustained heat, mushrooms will maintain most of their initial structure. But that doesn’t mean they need to be cooked for a long time, in fact, they only need around 5 minutes of cooking to become tender and edible. What this means for cooks is that mushrooms might be the ideal ingredient to work with. 

Additionally, mushrooms have a high water content and are almost 80-90% water. Similar to vegetables like tomatoes and spinach which reduce and shrink noticeably when cooked, mushrooms gradually lose their moisture content as they cook and that also helps to form a protective shield, ensuring that while they may look a lot smaller than when they started, they still haven’t quite dried out. 

If you’re prone to burning things or have a lot of dishes to make simultaneously, mushrooms may offer the simplest solution and alleviate some of your worries and kitchen stress. Naturally, there are exceptions, don’t expect to leave them for hours on high heat and come back to intact mushrooms, but generally speaking, it would require extreme circumstances to overcook your mushrooms.