Chanterelle is the common name of several species of fungi in the genera Cantharellus, Craterellus, Gomphus, and Polyozellus. They are the among the most popular of wild edible mushrooms. They are orange, yellow or white, meaty and funnel-shaped. On the lower surface, underneath the smooth cap, most species have gill-like ridges that run almost all the way down its stipe, which tapers down seamlessly from the cap. Many species emit a fruity aroma, reminiscent of apricots, and often have a mildly peppery taste (hence its German name, Pfifferling). The name chanterelle originates from the Greek kantharos meaning "tankard" or "cup", a reference to their general shape.
Though records of chanterelles being eaten date back to the 16th century, they first gained widespread recognition as a culinary delicacy with the spreading influence of French cuisine in the 18th century, when they began appearing in palace kitchens. For many years, they remained notable for being served at the tables of nobility. Nowadays, the usage of chanterelles in the kitchen is common throughout Europe and North America. In 1836, the Swedish mycologist Elias Fries considered the chanterelle "as one of the most important and best edible mushrooms."
Chanterelles as a group are generally described as being rich in flavor, with a distinctive taste and aroma difficult to characterize. Some species have a fruity odor, others a more woody, earthy fragrance, and still others can even be considered spicy. The golden chanterelle is perhaps the most sought-after and flavorful chanterelle, and many chefs consider it on the same short list of gourmet fungi as truffles and morels. It therefore tends to command a high price in both restaurants and specialty stores.
There are many ways to cook chanterelles. Most of the flavorful compounds in chanterelles are fat-soluble, making them good mushrooms to sauté in butter, oil or cream. They also contain smaller amounts of water- and alcohol-soluble flavorings, which lend the mushrooms well to recipes involving wine or other cooking alcohols. Many popular methods of cooking chanterelles include them in sautés, soufflés, cream sauces, and soups. They are not typically eaten raw, as their rich and complex flavor is best released when cooked.
Chanterelles are also well-suited for drying, and tend to maintain their aroma and consistency quite well. Some chefs profess that reconstituted chanterelles are actually superior in flavor to fresh ones, though they lose in texture whatever they gain in flavor by becoming more chewy after being preserved by drying. Dried chanterelles can also be crushed into flour and used in seasoning in soups or sauces. Chanterelles are also suitable for freezing, though older frozen chanterelles can often develop a slightly bitter taste after thawing.