Saturday, October 3, 2009

Eating Chilean wild mushrooms (hongos silvestres Chilenos)

 Last year about this time, I saw a man in La Vega, Santiago’s central market, selling these odd little golf-ball like things from a large basket.

 “What are they?” 

Dihueñes, wild mushrooms, 6,000 pesos per kilo.” (about $5 a lb.)

“What do you do with them?”

“Make a salad with cilantro and onions, muy rico.”

“Give me a quarter kilo.”

Having managed to forget the name by the time I got home, I spent a few hours on the internet looking for what I had found.  They were Dihueñes (Cyttaria spp.), that fruit in the spring and are collected September through November when it is “common to find them in local markets or from street vendors in the Central-Southern zone of the country.”[1]

And, as it turns out, I was not the first gringo to find them interesting.  Charles Darwin, traveling in Tierra del Fuego in June, 1834 wrote:

There is deserving notice from its importance as an article of food to the Fuegians. It is a globular, bright-yellow fungus, which grows in vast numbers on the beech-trees. When young it is elastic and turgid, with a smooth surface; but when mature, it shrinks, becomes tougher, and has its entire surface deeply pitted or honeycombed, as represented in Plate 55.
 This fungus belongs to a new and curious genus (…Cyttaria Darwinii: the Chilean species is the C. Berteroii.) …How singular is this relationship between parasitical fungi and the trees on which they grow, in distant parts of the world! In Tierra del Fuego the fungus in its tough and mature state is collected in large quantities by the women and children, and is eaten un-cooked. It has a mucilaginous, slightly sweet taste, with a faint smell like that of a mushroom. With the exception of a few berries, chiefly of a dwarf arbutus, the natives eat no vegetable food besides this fungus.[2]

I followed the vendor’s advise (and a recipe I found) and made a salad with onion, cilantro and vinaigrette.  As Darwin noted, they are a little slippery, with a flavor that might be described as subtle:  go lightly with the onion and vinaigrette or that is all you will taste. 

The Mapuche of south-central Chile suggest that you try Dihueñes  in empanadas, as in this recipe below from Cocina Mapuche.[3]

In the process of reading about my Dihueñes, I discovered Carlos D. Cisterna Lagos excellent article “Explotación de Hongos Silvestres en Chile[4] (“Exploitation of Wild Mushrooms in Chile”) from which I have summarized most of what follows.  Several of the photos are also from Hongos de Chile. 

My first surprise was that:

Chile has become one of the major world exporters of wild mushroom, exceeded only by China, Russia and Poland.  With returns of over 50 million US dollars a year, it is without doubt, the most important activity related to non-lumber forest products. As many as 40 thousand people between Valparaiso and Magallanes participate directly in mushroom collecting or processing for more than 35 exporting enterprises.  Some communities are completely dedicated to this activity during fall and winter, for example Empedrado (Region VII), considered the capital of wild mushroom collecting in South America.

The major species are:

The dark pine mushroom, callampa del pino oscura [5](Suillus luteus), and..

the light pine mushroom, callampa del pino clara (Boletus granulatus).

These two mushrooms of northern hemisphere origin are found in plantations of Monterrey Pine in south- central Chile, and were presumably introduced accidently with the trees.  The dark pine mushroom, the most collected Chilean mushroom, produces up to 3 tons per hectare from late fall through early spring.  The light pine produces less and is somewhat earlier.  The two are usually collected and dried together and sold mixed as Callampas. They are widely available in Chile, where supermarkets sell 35 gm (1¼ oz) packages for around 750 pesos ($1.40) and the tostaduria sells 100 gm. for under 1000 pesos $1.85) [6]   Callampas comprise about 90% of Chile’s mushroom exports.[7] 

They can be used in the same was as porcinis or other dried mushrooms:  rehydrated and added to pasta sauce, stews, soups, etc., or see these dried mushroom recipes.  To really appreciate their flavor, try the risotto.  

Red Pine Mushroom - Callampa Rosada (Lactarius deliciosus)

This is another introduced mushroom of northern hemisphere origin, and as its scientific name indicates, one of the most desirable. It is found in spring—or as late as June in the far south—in pine plantations.  It is sold fresh or in brine:  If you find any fresh ones in Santiago, please let me know. 

Black morel, Colmenilla (Morchella conica)

Occasionally while living in Illinois, morel mushrooms would come up in my back yard along a roadway embankment.  They weren’t Morchella conica, but probably were yellow morels.  One way or another they were wonderful and I look forward to finding fresh morels in a Chilean mercado someday.  They are a spring mushroom, found in both pine plantations and native forest, usually in disturbed or burned areas.  They are exported dried, but may occasionally be found in markets in south central Chile—and maybe someday in La Vega.  I’ll be looking.  (And, FYI, morel recipes abound on the web.)

Chicharrón (Gyromitra antarctica)
This South American mushroom has no common English name, but a close North American relative is the “false morel.” They occasionally kill people. The Chilean species is said to be of “low toxicity,” and to loose its poisons when well cooked or dried. Dried, it is exported to Europe.  I won’t be trying this one fresh.

Coral fungi, Changle (Ramaria flava)

A fall and winter mushroom of native forests in the Lakes Region of Chile.  They are not exported, but street and market vendors are said to be common in season in Temuco, Pucón, Chillán, Concepción, Temuco and Valdivia.  



They are eaten in empanadas and in other fresh mushroom preparations. People from the region are enthusiastic about them, based on comments a fellow blogger received about them:

I’m from Coronel and, for your information; there is a señora here who serves a plate of changles for only 500 pesos.  It’s one of the most delicious things you can eat, and I doubt that a chef could give a recipe more attention. Janny

I’ve tried to try as many of the diverse products of this area as possible and one of my favorites is changle simmered with onion, minced chives, a dollop of thick cream and a touch of white wine. ¡Buen provecho !  Yudi

Gargal (Griffola gargal)

A spring mushroom of the pine plantations, the gargal is considered one of the best of Chile’s wild mushrooms.  It is usually sold fresh or in brine. A similar species of the same genus is native to the US where it is called “hen of the woods.”

 Hongos de Chile

Loyo (Boletus loyo)
This is a Chilean and Argentinean mushroom of a world-wide genus that includes the Italian porcini.  In Chile it is a late summer and fall mushroom of the native southern forests.  It can grow large, up to three pounds or so and “…due to its delicious, nut-like taste it is traditionally collected and consumed by native Chileans and can be occasionally purchased on local markets during the season.”[8]  I’m looking for this one too.

See reference [9]

[1] Cisterna Lagos, Carlos D.  2006-07 Explotación de Hongos Silvestres en Chile. (c) Carlos D. Cisterna Lagos, 2006 -2007 On line at
[2] Darwin, Charles.  Voyage of the Beagle, Chapter IX.  The Complete Works of Charles Darwin, on line at  The illustration is from
[3] Portal de as culturas originarias de chile Ser Indígena, Gastronomía, Cocina Mapuche on line at For information on preparing empanadas in the “traditional way” see
[4] Cisterna Lagos, op cit.
[5]Callampa” = mushroom from Quechuan.  The term is also used in Chile for settlements of poor people that “spring up like mushrooms” on the outskirts of citgies. See
[6] For comparison, in the US a 1 ¼ oz packet of Chilean dried mushroom costs about $3.50, domestic dried mushrooms cost around $5 and European porcinis, around $9.
[7] Mercado y Comercialización de Productos Forestales No Madreros en Chile, 4.3 Caracterización comercial de los Hongos, on line at
[8]Palfner, Götz. Boletus loyo.  Macrofungi from Chile on line at
[9]Plant and mushroom intoxications are an uncommon event, but can seriously compromise those that ingest them. Despite its low incidence, public and medical community education is essential to prevent and manage these intoxications efficiently.”  Manríquez O, Varas J, Ríos JC, Concha F, Paris E. 2002.Analysis of 156 cases of plant intoxication received in the Toxicologic Information Center at Catholic University of Chile. Abstract on line at


  1. Jim: thanks for posting. We will be visiting Chile in a couple of weeks, and since hunting edible mushrooms is one of our hobbies here in the Pacific Northwest, I was wondering what, if any, edible mushrooms were available in Chile. Your is far and away the best information I could find on the web.

    Steve Hendricks

  2. Thanks, Steve. I hope you enjoy your visit to Chile—and good luck with the mushrooms.


  3. Wow, I never knew that variety of mushrooms existed here. Will give them a go - with caution! Thanks again for the great blog.

  4. Thanks Tamara,

    And if you find any interesting ones, let me know.


  5. This was the coolest process. Thanks for sharing. Now if only I liked the taste of mushrooms...

    cubensis spores

  6. I guess you've already seen this, but anyways, it's interesting:

  7. Thank you Agustin, I had not seen it. "It" is A PDF of Fungi Austral: Guía de campo de los
    hongos más vistosos de Chile, a 200 page field guide to the most attractive Chilean mushrooms illustrated with excellent photos and drawings and including symbols for "eatable," "eatable with caution," and "toxic" for those whose Spanish literacy might be weak. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!


Sorry, no more anonymous posts. I was getting too much spam. Email me (see my profile) if you would like to comment and have no account. Jim