Foraging Guide: Puffball Mushroom

Distinctive and delicious, puffball mushrooms are an easy-to-identify fungi suitable for the novice forager. They taste great in Japanese Ramen dishes.

4th November 2023 | Words by Dave Hamilton

There are wild foods such as nettles, blackberries, wild garlic, sloes and wild plums which can be foraged with little or no anxiety at all. Then there are the wild foods we feel are best left to the experts. Most mushrooms tend to get put into the second camp, despite many being as simple to identify as a blackberry or crab apple.

The puffball species is a great example of a good, edible mushroom that is easily identified by following just a few simple rules. The scientific name for the puffball is Lycoperdon, which amusingly translates to ‘wolf fart’, describing the clouds of smoke-like spores which burst out of the seemingly spring-loaded mature fungi.

Puffball Mushroom recipe

The two most common Lycoperdon or puffballs you’ll find in the UK are the aptly named Common Puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum and the Stump Puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme. The Common Puffball is a small, white mushroom with a noticeable stalk and a rounded head. The head of the Common Puffball is rough or slightly spiky. The Stump Puffball is a bit darker, often a little brown and forms clusters on tree stumps and roots. Stump Puffballs are particularly satisfying to forage as they can often be found growing in large clusters.


All puffballs are round, often almost ball shaped, sometimes with a little stem, sometimes without. Although they reproduce from spores like most mushrooms, they have no gills and no pores to shed their tiny, fungal seeds. Instead, mature specimens burst open to release millions of spores in puffy clouds.

For the forager it is the immature, non-sporing puffball which is most sought after. Once they start to mature, they can cause gastric upset, so are best left alone. To test if a puffball is edible, simply cut it in two. Inside you should find an entirely white interior, with no yellow, brown, grey or black inside. These colours indicate either mature or maturing puffballs, or in the case of those with a black centre, the toxic Earthball. The inside should be a little spongy to the touch and not at all hard. There should also be uniformly the same texture with no noticeable outer skin.

Puffball Mushroom Recipe

Novice foragers should leave alone any grey specimens which include the rare Dusky Puffball, a fungus which can cause very severe gastric upset. Finally, when very young, some poisonous mushrooms in the Amanita family can on rare occasions be mistaken for a puffball. Amanitas grow from an egg stage, which is rounded and superficially can look a little like a small puffball. However, mushrooms in the Amanita family have gills which should be visible when the mushroom is cut in two. Egg stage or young Amanitas when cut in two look a bit like a Paddy Straw Mushroom, those tinned mushrooms often used in Chinese restaurants. So again, look for a uniform, spongy white for the puffball and not an emerging mushroom like the poisonous Amanita.

Puffball ID Checklist

What you're looking for:

  • A round mushroom, with or without a stalk
  • No visible gills or pores
  • Uniform white colour inside and a bit spongy to the touch
  • No black, brown, grey or yellow inside
  • Ignore very grey specimens if you’re a novice forager
  • Make sure there are no gills and no tiny mushroom inside 

common puffball mushroom

Where to find them

Both the Stump and the Common Puffball are found in woodlands, whilst two more puffballs, the Meadow Puffball and the Giant Puffball are usually found on grassland. The Giant Puffball is perhaps the safest of all mushrooms, as it can only really be mistaken for a football or a plastic bag. This massive mushroom, which can grow to the size of your head, may reduce when cooking, but just one is enough to last for many meals.

Preparing puffballs

Unlike porcini or chanterelles, puffballs do not have a strong taste but are mild and pleasantly mushroom-y. What they lack in flavour they make up for in their ability to soak up anything they are cooked in. So, olive oil, butter, garlic, miso and chilli all make good partners for these versatile fungi. Alternatively, you can mix them with stronger-tasting mushrooms or substitute them for Paddy Straw Mushrooms in Chinese and Japanese dishes, especially soups.

puffball mushroom dish

Puffball Mushroom Ramen Recipe

Ramen is a noodle dish that has become a Japanese cultural icon. It originated in the Chinatown area of Yokohama city in the early twentieth century, subsequently spreading throughout Japan and then gaining popularity worldwide (especially after instant noodles were invented in 1958).

Simple to make and prepare, it consists of wheat noodles served in a broth, often flavoured with soy sauce and miso. Typical toppings including sliced pork, nori (dried seaweed), menma (bamboo shoots) and spring onions. Mushrooms are also popular, and this version uses foraged puffballs to make a tasty vegetarian ramen that works well as a lunch snack or a simple supper.

Serves 2


  • ½ a red pepper
  • Teaspoon of white miso
  • ½ a red onion (you can also use white or spring onions) 
  • Dash of tamari or soy sauce 
  • A large handful of puffball mushrooms 
  • A nest of instant dried noodles 
  • 100g tofu 
  • Fresh coriander
  • Tsp fresh ginger 
  • Splash of peanut or sesame oil for frying


    1. In a saucepan, lightly fry the onion in the oil until golden brown.
    2. Add the garlic and peppers and fry until the pepper starts to soften.
    3. Toss in the ginger and sliced puffball mushrooms. Stir-fry for a minute or so.
    4. Top up the pan with water and add the miso.
    5. Add the noodles and tofu and simmer until the noodles are cooked.
    6. Check for flavour and add the tamari if necessary. 
    7. Serve with fresh coriander. 

Dave Hamilton is the author of Where the Wild Things Grow: the Foragers Guide to the Landscape, published by Hodder and Stoughton. He has led the Guardian Masterclass in foraging and currently works as an instructor for Britain’s leading foraging course company, Wild Food UK.

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