Digueñe (Cyttaria espinosae) is a parasitic mushroom which grows in groups on southern beech and oak trees. In the local language it is also called “lihueñe”, “quideñe”, “pinatra” or “caracucha”. It is round, white and about the size of a golf ball (between 2 and 6 cm in diameter). When it matures, it loses its white color and reveals the bright orange spore-containing ascus.
The harvesting period is between September and November, but it can be harvested only once it loses its white color. To detach it, one has to make a circular movement, while pulling. The mushrooms which grow on tree branches have to be detached with the use of a bamboo cane or another tool, being careful to hit the mushroom but not the branch.
The flavor is somewhere between sweet and bland and the texture is rubbery and a little slimy.
It is ideally consumed raw, in salads with lemon. However, there are recipes of digueñe where they are sautéed in a pan, with scrambled eggs and used to stuff empanadas. They are part of the traditional gastronomy of the Mapuche community.
They are harvested mostly for domestic consumption, and can be also found for sale on local markets, in road-side stalls or in front of the houses of the area it grows in, in the south of Chile.
Digueñe is at risk of disappearing due to the deterioration and transformation of ecosystems, especially because of the reduction of the native forests in which it grows, but also because it is cooked and consumed less than it once was.
Image: © Anabella Grunfeld