They were all fairly easy to care for, but some performed way better than others
By Alex Frost
The gray, gnarly-looking mushrooms lurking in the last row of the salad bar have never been that appetizing to me. In fact, I avoid them at all costs. So, when I decided to test at-home mushroom growing kits my expectations were very low. How could these boxes of mushroom starters, logs covered in what looked like yeast and grime, ever produce something that seemed edible?
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that after babying these mushrooms for weeks, I actually wanted to try them, and further surprised to really enjoy them. Maybe I’d been eating the wrong kinds, maybe growing them from nothing into full-fledged pizza toppers had me invested. But more likely, it was hearing about the immense health benefits from William Li, MD, scientist, and author of the New York Times bestseller “Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.” After hearing his information, the curly, pink oyster mushrooms growing in front of me seemed to transform in my mind from a vegetable I should eat, to a gift from nature falling more into the preventive medicine category. Turns out I was a little late to this personal discovery.
“Mushrooms have been eaten for thousands of years both for their medicinal value but also for their culinary value,” he says, pointing to the benefits of beta-D-glucan, a form of soluble fiber. “It does a lot of really interesting things . . . it actually helps our blood vessels be healthier. [It’s] good for our circulation. That’s important . . . whether you have coronary artery disease, heart disease, and frankly, any condition where you might want to have healthier blood vessels.”
Consumer Reports nutritionist Amy Keating adds that they have additional benefits, including antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and can even take the place of meat in a main dish thanks to their unique, savory “umami” flavor. “As far as growing your own, the benefits could be that it is more cost-effective, you’ll certainly be supporting local, and you’ll be certain they contain no pesticides and are as fresh as they possibly can be,” she says.
Li points to a 2013 study by John Hopkins University that also showed participants who replaced one meat serving with white button mushrooms helped participants with type 2 diabetes or obesity lose weight. They also showed lower blood pressure readings compared with their meat-eating counterparts. Li says this works because the fiber in mushrooms supports a healthy gut microbiome. “When they are well-fed, the gut microbiome produces their own metabolites so that when we feed our gut microbiome, it’s kind of like feeding a pet dog or cat—they pay us back . . . with love . . . by releasing natural chemicals into our bloodstream called short chain fatty acids,” he says, adding that these help lower cholesterol, help our metabolism, and burn body fat.
With all the potential health benefits, at-home mushroom growing kits help you easily access this powerhouse food to integrate it into your diet multiple times per week. Here’s how to get started, and the best kits to try.
Editor’s Pick: North Spore Blue Oyster Mushroom Spray & Grow Kit
Photos: Alexandra Frost
Mushrooms typically grow in the wild on logs, Li explains, and that’s how they will grow in your home too, except in a much prettier package. The North Spore box in particular features trendy fonts and artwork in a black-and-white design that will blend in almost anywhere in your house, without being an eye sore like some of the other options. The instructions are printed right on the box, with pictures and contents clearly listed. Unlike some of its competitors, getting started simply involves cutting a slit in the side where indicated, and spraying water onto the log. Other kits had to be soaked in water overnight first, which was more cumbersome.
North Spore mushrooms took around eight days to start growing, which was slightly longer than some other options, but once they began it was just two days until harvest time. So, you have to put in over a full week’s work, spraying twice daily, up front, but then you see the results quickly after the baby mushrooms appear.
In our taste test, these mushrooms were juicer than the others, which some might like and others might not. Also, as with other homegrown mushroom kits, North Spore warns to cook your mushrooms thoroughly with heat, and start by eating small amounts to make sure you aren’t allergic.
This brand also produces many mushrooms on the second round of growth compared with the first—90.7 grams the second time, compared with 147 grams on the first (there are 28.3 grams per ounce). Other kits didn’t fare as well with regrowth, with some producing only about a third of the yield as the first round.
The Quickest Grower: Forest Origins Pink Oyster Mushroom Grow Kit
Photos: Alexandra Frost
When you embark on a new project you’ve never tried before, you might spend some time wondering if you are doing it right. In this case, staring at your mushroom project day after day without seeing progress could be discouraging, but not with Forest Origins. Just four days after setting this kit up, baby mushrooms were growing. Forest Origins also has an easy and basic process, with low maintenance setup, and no presoaking necessary. It comes in a small package that is compact and has an X mark to show beginners exactly where to cut. For this and the other products, it can help to have a sharp pair of scissors or a blade knife available at first, and a fork to “wake up” the product by scratching the surface as directed to get growth started.
The first batch was ready to harvest from days 7-10, quicker than some other options. Don’t be deterred by the moldy, ugly look of these products before you get started. It’s normal. But for people concerned with how this will look in a main room or next to other décor, this option just has a bag, not a fancy box, so it’s a bit less put-together for display purposes.
These mushrooms were vibrant variations of pinks and creams upon harvesting, about medium-sized compared with their competitors, with a rough texture. They were slightly dryer than other mushrooms, but as someone who prefers veggies this way, this was a plus. These mushrooms also need to be quickly harvested as there is a short amount of time between realizing how perfect and fresh they are, and then seeing them wilting a bit just the next day.
Li explains that pink oyster mushrooms have five times more beta-D-glucan than other types, making them a more desirable type if you are seeking the health benefits he mentioned. “White button are kind of like the starter kit—it has some good stuff in it—but if you want to kind of step up and graduate to a much higher level, shiitake mushrooms, crimini mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, now you’re getting into the stratosphere of this beta-D-glucan,” he says.
The Highest Producer: Hodgins Harvest OrganicPink Oyster Mushroom Grow Kit
Photos: Alexandra Frost
If you are looking for volume, and you want to gift your neighbors, kids, parents, and everyone else you see with a bag of these tasty mushrooms, Hodgins Harvest is the way to go. It produced double the next highest producing kit (North Spore), with the first yield coming in at 302 grams on day 12. The mushrooms themselves are large and flowery, and seem very unintimidating to try for a beginner who isn’t sure if they even like eating mushrooms, and they are kind of pretty. The high yield comes with some work, though, as this kit needs sprayed 2-4 times per day, compared with 1-2 times with other kits. But the extra spritz leads to some seriously large mushrooms, and quite a few of them. This kit was also one of the higher producers on the second round of growth, yielding just over half the weight of the first round of mushrooms again.
The kit itself is one of the largest and heaviest, and it was fun but not so easy to incorporate the purple and black packaging into my décor. This kit is unique because it has a solarium-type plastic piece that covers the hole where the mushrooms grow, unlike most of the others that grow uncovered. This cap, which looks exactly like the lid to an ICEE you get at a gas station, doesn’t fit perfectly and slides out sometimes, which can be confusing for first-time users.
One of the coolest features of this kit is the built-in indicator that let you know if you are drowning your mushrooms through overspraying. It instructs users to watch for mist evaporating on the humidity dome (the ICEE lid) before misting again. This is one of the more specific versions of the instructions. I’d appreciate more kits offering these details or benchmarks to help new growers navigate best growing practices. For example, a few of the kits could give more specifics on when to harvest, rather than assuming everyone knows what a full-grown mushroom looks like. Hodgins also does this well.
The two downsides of this product are that it’s very heavy, and that it is slow-growing, but both are worth it if you can be patient, and if you are able to carry the product initially (then you can leave it in one place).
Other Mushroom Growing Kits We Considered
Two other kits didn’t perform as well.
Back to the Roots Organic Mushroom Grow Kit
Photos: Alexandra Frost
This budget buy is a reliable, smaller producer, yielding 35 grams, but a good option for people who don’t want to invest as much into a larger, more expensive kit. Their #GrowOneGiveOne campaign asks users to take a picture of their growing product, share it, and use their hashtag, resulting in the company donating a kit to a classroom of your choice. This dedication to furthering growing lessons in schools, and STEM education around the country is valuable, and worth considering the brand.
These mushrooms had little taste, compared with competitors, and were a bit chewier. The mushrooms were gray and looked less flowery than other kits, and more like mushrooms you might see growing in your yard, with a very round head.
This product is a bit higher maintenance, being the only kit that needs to be presoaked overnight in the sink. Aside from that, it was a comparable process to the others. It also had a bit more of a yeasty, sour odor to it than the others right from the start. It also was a bit of a struggle to pop out the “cut out” to get started, and required scissors and some muscle, as opposed to other kits.
Root Mushroom Farm—Golden Oyster Mushroom Growing Kit
Photos: Alexandra Frost
This kit yielded some of the more tasty mushrooms of the kits, and had an average size product yield at the end of the first growth. The box setup had more overwhelming directions than other kits, and emitted a strong odor. There is also some confusion with how much to spray. This is the only kit with the added humidity tent, which is basically a plastic bag over the mushrooms. While this appears to aid with growth, it also makes it much less visually appealing if you are hoping to watch your mushrooms grow in a main location in your home. If your goal, though, is to continue to produce mushrooms, this one made it to the third yield faster than all the other mushroom kits, and produces substantial amounts with each regrowth (around 60 grams the second time, which was very close to its first yield).
One interesting fact about this type of mushroom is that the brightness of the gold color corresponds to the intensity of light you provide it, according to the directions, but you also have to be careful not to overexpose it. This can be a hard line to walk if you are a beginner.
How We Evaluated Each Mushroom Grow Kit
Packaging and Appearance
The initial packaging and appearance of the kit set the stage for how capable I felt in being able to actually grow mushrooms from a box. I analyzed the directions, the initial appearance, the weight and dimensions of the package, and also how trendy or distracting the box might appear in a main room. This matters if you want to continue using your mushroom kit for multiple yields, as it can become a long-term eye sore in your home, or can contribute to the décor.
Ease of Setup
The most work you have to do on a mushroom kit is on the first day, when you are getting the kit set up. So, we looked at how simple or time-consuming this process was, including how quickly and easily you could puncture the bag or box, expose the mushroom log, and whether additional steps like soaking were necessary. The easiest kits didn’t require any additional tools, such as forks, knives, or scissors. However, scissors or a knife did make it easier to open most of the kits. The easiest kits had a perforated cutout portion of the box.
Ease of Care
All of the kits need spraying, but some are a bit more high maintenance than others. I evaluated how easily a beginner can care for them, and whether they need more attention each day than your pet. Also, I analyzed how specific the directions were when it came to caring for them, watching for indicators for too much or too little water, light, and time.
Growth Timeline and Harvest Yield
Most mushroom kits start showing some progress around a week after setup, so I kept an eye on how long they would take to grow baby mushrooms. Nobody wants to start a cool project only to have to wait forever to see results. Then, I watched the timeline between baby mushroom growth and when they were ready to harvest. Finally, I started to grow a second batch to see how they did with multiple batches. I also weighed each product’s yield to see which would be the highest producers.
Appearance and Taste
I watched the mushrooms grow into large, beautiful, colorful produce that would attract even the most skeptical mushroom taster. I also did a taste test by trying them each as a pizza topping, cooking the mushrooms per Li, and for optimal safety, using heat. Finally, I analyzed which ones were the most flavorful and which tasted bland, or like you weren’t really eating mushrooms at all. In the end, their appearance and taste made them most appetizing, or not.
This product evaluation is part of Consumer Reports’ “Outside the Labs” reviews program, which is separate from our laboratory testing and ratings. Our “Outside the Labs” reviews are performed at home and in other native settings by individuals, including our journalists, with specialized subject matter experience or familiarity and are designed to offer another important perspective for consumers as they shop. While the products or services mentioned in this article may not currently be in CR’s ratings, they might eventually be tested in our laboratories and rated according to an objective, scientific protocol.
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