The Gyromitra esculenta is one of several fungi species that are also known as false morsels. They are widely found in both Europe and North America.
Gyromitra esculenta normally sprout in sandy soils under coniferous trees during the spring and early summer. Its fruiting body (mushroom) has quite a distinct look from a regular mushroom. It has an brain-shaped cap which is dark brown in colour. It can reach up to 10 cm tall and 15 cm wide. It is perched on a white stipe, which is 6 cm high.
Gyromitra esculenta is potentially fatal if it is eaten raw. However, it still remains a popular delicacy in Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and the upper Great Lakes region in North America. It is popular in some areas east of the Pyrenees, however it is illegal to sell Gyromitra esculenta to the general public in Spain. It can be sold as a fresh item in Finland, however warning signs and instructions on how to prepare the Gyromitra esculenta correctly must be present. In Finnish cuisine, it is eaten in soups, omelettes, or sauteed.
In areas that enjoy eating Gyromitra esculenta, it is parboiled before preparation. However, recent evidence suggests that even parboiling the Gyromitra esculenta will not actually make it entirely safe to eat. Therefore, this raised concerns of risks even when it is considered to be prepared properly.
When a false morsel is eaten, its principal active agent which is gyromitrin, becomes hydrolysed into a toxic compound called monomethylhydrazine (MMH). The toxins affect the central nervous system, liver, and sometimes the kidneys. Symptoms of Gyromitra esculenta poisoning include diarrhea and vomiting for several hours after it has been consumed. This is followed by lethargy, dizziness, and headaches. Some cases may also lead to delirium, coma, and then death after 5 to 7 days.