Seven years ago I picked my first white chanterelle. Now, just this week, they were finally published in an academic study.
This post has no relation to penis envy (Psilocybe cubensis) or any psychedelic (magic) mushrooms.
Look up white chanterelles up in a guide book, and you'll see pictures of Cantharellus subaldibus. You'll also see in guide books that white chanterelles do not grow in the Midwest.
Mushroom species haven't been studied as intensely as other things, we're now learning more and more about fungi, their ecological importance, and, the most exciting for mushroom hunters: dissemination and differentiation between species using genetic sequencing.
I was really excited that the white chanterelles I harvested could be an undescribed species: a holy grail of mushroom hunters. So, I wrote a post on white chanterelles years ago.
Year after year, I kept finding my white chanterelles in the same patch near other golden chanterelles (a patch of C. phasmatis, a species described by Tom Volk, along with a few others in his study in 2013).
Andrus informed me he was working to sequence the albino mushrooms, and asked if I would send in some dried specimens.
I mailed samples and waited. Eventually Andrus sent me his findings, three years later.
Many mushrooms have an albino mutation
Here's the cliff notes on their results. Essentially the white chanterelles I pick are not a new species. They're a sort of atypical, albino mutation of C. phasmatis.
To make it more interesting, the phenomena happens not only to C. phasmatis, but other species of chanterelles as well (see the image of C. enelensis alongside their normal coloration.)
White black trumpet mushrooms are also possible. I have two friends that pick them in California.
Do they taste different?
Yes, albino mushrooms taste different than the normal ones. Andrus and I discussed eating and flavor. Both of us agree the albino versions taste different.
The chanterelle aroma and flavor is there, but it is more subtle, they are only lightly perfumed, and have a more delicate, savory quality to them.
In the article, the difference in taste is postulated to be from specific terpenes (compounds responsible for how many plants smell) that the albino mushrooms lack.
Similarly, I taste the same difference and muted flavor when I eat white lobster mushrooms (much more common in my experience than white chanterelles) alongside regular lobster mushrooms.
This is a small detail and the average person will be unable to notice the difference in the mushrooms unless tasted side by side. Even then, they would need to be familiar with the flavors of the Cantharellacae.
You can be a citizen scientist, too
The case on the white albino chants is closed, but there are undoubtedly other fungal puzzles out there to unlock. The real takeaway here, as I see it, is a comment on the state of fungal research and the increasing importance of citizen science.
Amateur mushroom hunters have long been one of the driving forces behind mycology, and normal people like you and me, without phd's, can help contribute to our expanding knowledge of the natural world, just by looking down at the ground with our hungry forager's eyes, primed to notice things that seem out of the ordinary.
Slow down outside, and stop to smell the mushrooms. You never know what you might find.