Real mushroom x "mycelium"
We have been approached by quite a few people recently asking for more clarity about the differences between "mycelium" and real mushrooms and asking for some guidance to help them purchase what they really want, be it "mycelium" or real mushrooms. So, what is this debate about?
First and foremost, let's get the terminology right:
- Mycelium: Group of fungal filaments that germinated from fungal spores. Mushrooms are composed by mycelium. Moulds are composed by mycelium. Fungi (except for yeasts) are composed by mycelium.
- Myceliated grains: The market simply calls it “mycelium”. It is grains (usually brown rice) being decomposed by fungal mycelium that is involving the grains (inside and outside the grains). Think about a tempeh made with rice. It is impossible to separate the mycelium from the grains so they are dehydrated, pulverised and sold together. This is also called "mushroom mycelial biomass", "fermented mushrooms", "mushrooms grown on rice" or "mushrooms grown by the Paul Stamets method".
- Mushroom fruiting body: When the fungus has colonised a substrate, at some stage it decides it is time to reproduce. That's when it creates a reproduction apparatus holding their spores called mushroom. The real mushroom. It is basically composed by tightly packed mycelium and other specialised cells/structures to aid in the fungus reproductive journey.
Now, let's deep dive on a couple of things:
- Research and traditional use: Traditional Chinese medicine and independent academic studies published by respected publications we managed to find so far do not use myceliated grains. They use real mushrooms (the fruiting body). Some academic studies use REAL mycelium which is made in liquid medium like a kombucha mother. No grains - just real mycelium.
- Can mushrooms be grown on rice at all? Fully developed mushrooms do not come out when the fungus has only rice to eat. Mushrooms need food with wide C:N ratio - meaning, it needs high carbon materials like wood, straw, cardboard, brown leaves etc... The fungus can live on rice but it won't generate a fully developed mushroom in all its glory. At the best primordia (highly condensed mycelium preparing to produce a mushroom) or undeveloped/undernurished mushrooms.
- Starches: Mushrooms do not have starches at all. If you bought a product that has starches, it is not exclusively made of real mushrooms. It had something else added to it. Note that starches are polysaccharides - Hence, some products like to mislead people listing the concentration of polysaccharides in it. The best indicator of purity is fungal beta-glucans not polysaccharides.
- Beta-glucans % matter: Mushrooms (and all fungi for that sake) have beta-glucans in their cell walls so the amount of fungal beta glucans are a fantastic indication of product purity. Real mushroom powders without anything added to them would give you about 28% - 45% beta glucans. Myceliated grains are in the 6% - 15% mark. As beta-glucans have been correlated to health outcomes in multiple studies, smaller amounts of real mushrooms could do as much as 2x - 8x the amount of myceliated grains.
- There is no such thing as "pure mycelium" sold in the market. Nobody has developed a financially viable means of harvesting pure mycelium from liquid medium (like a kombucha mother) so, the next best thing is growing the fungus in grains and harvest the mycelium and grains all together.
- There is no such thing as "mycelium with traces of rice". It is always mostly rice with some fungal mycelium in it. But mostly rice as the iodine and beta-glucans tests can tell you.
- There is no such a thing as "mushroom harvested including the mycelium"- This phrase doesn't even make sense... A real mushroom is composed by mycelium so all mushrooms are mycelium. The best explanation I found for this phrase is an undernourished / undeveloped "mushroom" grown on rice that is harvested along with all the rice. Which is the very definition of myceliated grains... The alternative would be people growing fully developed mushrooms in wood / sawdust and including the wood / sawdust in the powder (as it is impossible to separate the substrate from the mycelium).
- Myceliated grains is extremely cheap to produce when compared to growing real mushrooms. The mushroom growing process usually goes through the following stages: fungus culture - grain spawn - fruiting. Growing myceliated grains cuts this process short at step 2. It is significantly easier, faster, less labour intensive, requires less space, less equipment and cheaper then growing real mushrooms. You can, actually, grow it yourself at home with a pressure cooker, some adapted mason ball jars and a wardrobe.
- Myceliated grains business case: If you are not buying directly from a mushroom farmer, you are most likely buying myceliated grains as it is almost impossible for both farmer and retailer to have healthy margins selling at affordable prices. Myceliated grains can be sold wholesale at low prices and retailers can make good money on that, particularly when they mislead customers calling it mushrooms and selling it at mushroom prices.
- How can you protect yourself? How to find out if you have been ripped off and paid $50+ on myceliated grains when you wanted real mushrooms? Your best alternative is to do an iodine tincture test to identify starches. Check our blog on that.
- Are myceliated grains better than real mushrooms? Myceliated grains is something that came up very recently as a budget alternative to real mushrooms so, there is not much research on it. Hence, we cannot categorically say which one is better. In my opinion, myceliated grains may offer some nutrients that are byproducts of grain decomposition that may be as nutritious as other type of ferments and, as such, has its functional value. When it comes to its potential health benefits, the potency just cannot be there as it does not have as much fungal mass as a real mushroom - For example, there are no reports of people eating rice myceliated by magic mushroom fungus and getting high. That's a very strong suggestion that myceliated grains don't carry all the potential of real mushrooms.
- Why mycelium became so popular? It is a low cost mushroom based product and provides a viable business case for retailers/distributers to purchase from farmers and resell them at good profits. Particularly when they call them mushrooms as sell them at real mushroom prices.
Finally, what is our position on the myceliated grains debate?
Our vision is to make all and any mushroom based products available to people and they can decide what they want regardless of why they want it.
We respect people's choice and we don't need to push specific types of products to people as we can make them all (real mushrooms, myceliated grains and liquid extracts). As such, we believe it is ok to produce and sell myceliated grains as long as:
- Myceliated grain products are clearly marketed as myceliated grains and not trying their best to "pass" as real mushrooms.
- Myceliated grains are sold at fair prices not real mushroom prices
- There is no sugar coating/misleading message: myceliated grains are mostly grains (usually rice).
- Myceliated grain products are not linked to independent academic studies done using real mushrooms.
Hopefully this article helped you have a better understanding of the difference between "mycelium" and real mushrooms, adds to your own research and helps you make an informed decision when you purchase your next mushroom based product.