Maitake ("dancing mushroom") is one of the major culinary mushrooms in Japan (Grifola frondosa). Its Japanese name goes back to the fact that people who found this precious mushroom used to dance for joy. In English it is also known as "Hen of the Woods" because a clump of maitake looks a bit like the fluffed-up feathers of a hen.
[Maitake. Photo Ad Blankestijn]
An autumn fungus, maitake grows in clusters on the base of oak, beech or chestnut trees. It is a parasite of the tree, from which it gets its nutrients, but it does not harm the tree and tends to grow every year in the same spot. Maitake have characteristic gray-brown, wavy caps, which form large clusters of rosettes. The caps are 2 to 10 cm, the clusters can be 15 to 60 cm broad. It is not unusual for the whole maitake to weigh 4 or 5 kilos.
The flesh of maitake is firm and white and has a mild taste. In Japan it is used in rice dishes (maitake gohan, rice with maitake), soups and simmered dishes.
Maitake was originally harvested from the wild, but since in 1979 cultivation techniques were developed, it is now grown by inoculating the mycelium into plastic bags filled with sawdust. After the mycelium runs out of food an opening is made in the bag so that the fruiting body can form.
Maitake has been an ingredient in Chinese and Japanese medicine for centuries and is said to have many health benefits.
Grifola frondosa, the Hen of the Woods.