Photo by AlexandreGibo via Getty Images

Maitake to me, baby

Kat Kinsman
May 04, 2018

If I had Jeff Bezos' money, I would spend it on so many great things. The world's richest fella is reportedly having a bear of a time figuring out how to deploy his Amazon billions, but I feel like I'd be such a good rich person. After getting everyone in the world fed, housed, and properly healthed up, I'd start in on the fun stuff. There would be so very many water slides everywhere, plus free seltzer, public puppy-cuddling pits and frequently sanitized nap chambers, and I would sprinkle maitake powder on absolutely everything I ate.

Maitakes—also known as hen of the woods or sheep head mushrooms—have long been my favorite fungi. These feathery, firm-based Grifola frondosa are found clustered at the base of trees, usually oak, and when they're sauteed in just a little oil and butter until the outermost fronds are crisp and the interior flesh is tender, they're one of the greatest taste thrills in my universe. They're also usually hella expensive, sometimes hard to find, and fade pretty quickly so I use them sparingly, as a special treat.

But if I had those Bezos bucks, not only would I hire someone as my personal mycologist / chef; I'd buy a mountain of maitake powder and ski down it every day, mouth-first. I didn't even know this miraculous substance existed until a week or two ago when I came face to face with it at my favorite specialty food store, Kalustyan's. It's as straightforward as it sounds—a powdered form of the mushroom I so deeply dig—and I have yet to find a non-delicious way to use it. Maitake powder lends the same earthy, nutty, toe-curlingly savory flavor to eggs, potatoes, and roasted vegetables as its fully hydrated counterpart, and I'm just imagining what will happen when I mash it into compound butter and infuse it into olive oil.

Truffled products, especially oils, are so often a sucker's game. They're often made with a compound called 2,4-Dithiapentane, which may be derived naturally, but could also come from petroleum—rarely from actual truffles. The much better-tasting maitake powder is the real deal and while it's not nearly as expensive as truffles, at $4.99 for an ounce (at least where I bought it), it's easy to blow through a bag pretty quickly if I'm not careful, and it can become a pricey habit pretty quickly for those us without sufficient restraint.

The amusing thing is that maitake powder is primarily sold on on Bezos' own Amazon as a health supplement rather than for culinary use since it's purported to possess immunity-boosting benefits and boost blood sugar balance. The kicker: It's mostly sold in capsule form, so plenty people ingesting for wellness purposes it will never know the flavor freakout they're missing. You, however, can consider yourself personally enriched.

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