The Basics

I guess the best way to start is by re-stating that mushrooms are fabulous things!

Of course I am extremely biased as a long time mushroom lover since I was kid (you can read more about that in the "About Us" page) - but who wouldn't be fascinated by those things popping out of nowhere, showing off in different shapes / colours, debuting in the most whimsical of nature's sceneries and frequently pictured alongside fantasy tales?

It seems they finally made their way into the mainstream and, more than ever, people are getting to learn about them and how they can help people. 

As part of this whole new world, mushrooms as functional food is what we would like to focus on and a glossary might be a good way to help people decipher what they read about mushrooms.

There are lots of terminologies used in the mushroom market that can scare someone who ran away from their biology classes or is impressed by scientific/technical words. Let’s go through some of them:

  • Fungus: The kingdom of fungi (plural for fungus) groups organisms that are somewhere between plants and animals. Fungi don't make their own food like plants - they are somewhat predators that decompose organic matter with very powerful enzymes. Amongst them we have moulds, yeasts and mushroom forming fungi. The later is the one we are interested on. 
  • Hyphae: Plural for hypha. Moulds and mushroom forming fungi are filamentous organisms that keep getting longer and branch across all directions. These filaments are called hyphae.
  • Fruiting body: A mushroom is the reproductive structure of a filamentous fungus that grows underneath it. The filaments are called hyphae (plural for hypha). Fruiting body is the technical name used instead of “mushroom".
  • Spores: Mushrooms produce spores that are dispersed in the environment to find a spot where they will grow hyphae (filaments) that, in the future, will develop mushrooms that will produce spores and the cycle repeats. Leaving aside some technicalities, we can think of a spore like a mushroom seed. Spores are located under the mushroom cap so, if you are eating the mushroom fruiting body, you are also eating spores.
  • Mycelium: the network of hyphae underneath the mushroom that is entangled with the medium they have grown on and within. In the mushroom marketing world, this term has been appropriated to describe grains colonised by a mushroom forming fungus. Due to their level of entanglement, the mycelium cannot be separated from the grains (or any medium) they grown on/within.
  • Extracts: In the herbal / mushroom context, extracts are a concentrated form of a particular herb / mushroom. Think of it like a fruit juice. Extracts are the “juice” of something. Besides mechanical pressure, there are other ways of extracting compounds from food and using solvents is a common technique that works well for mushrooms. The solvent "pulls" compounds they can dissolve out of the food. For example, a coffee is the water extract from coffee beans. We also use ethanol/alcohol to extract some compounds that are not soluble in water but are soluble in ethanol.
  • Water Extract: In the context of mushrooms, water extraction is used to extract polysaccharides - a sugar that all mushrooms have. In a nutshell, this is usually done by simmering mushrooms in water for some time.
  • Ethanol Extract: In the context of mushrooms, ethanol extraction is used to extract terpenes and phenolic compounds (hericenones / erinacines for example) from mushrooms.
  • Dual extract: In the context of mushrooms, when both ethanol and water extracts are performed and mixed together
  • Growing medium: In the context of mushroom cultivation / farming, this is the media used to feed/grow the fungus. The fungus will grow a network of hyphae / mycelium all over/inside the medium and decompose it using powerful enzymes. Mushrooms are experts in decomposing complex organic matter such as wood and that’s where they flourish best. The fungus can also grow and colonise grains but the mushrooms coming out of them will never reach full maturity. Due to their level of entanglement, the mycelium cannot be separated from its growing medium.
  • Culture: dense colony of microorganisms. When you go to the doctor and they want to check if you have a specific bacterial infection, they take a swab from somewhere in your body and send it to a lab to make a “culture” of it. The lab takes that swab, rub it against a food source that is loved by a specific organism the lab is interested in detecting and, if these organisms are there, voila! They will flourish in high numbers. We can see these colonies with the naked eye taking particular shapes and colours on petri dishes. They can be stunning. In the context of mushroom cultivation, if we cut a bit of a mushroom and put on a food they like, they will grow and you will have a mushroom culture. There are some challenges in this process but, in a nutshell, that’s how it works.
  • Propagation: In the context of mushroom cultivation, is the sequence of cultivation techniques used to go from culture to fully developed fruiting bodies. For example, a simple propagation cycle goes like this:  fungus culture -> colonised/myceliated grains -> supplemented wood (or other “high carbon” material like straw, cardboard etc…)
  • Polysaccharides: Complex sugars - most abundant type of carbohydrates found in foods. Studies have been isolating polysaccharides from mushrooms and finding they support the body in different ways, particularly Beta-glucans, a type of polysaccharide.
  • Terpenes: Compounds found in plants / animals that are responsible for the aromas, flavours, and colours associated with organisms. In the context of mushrooms, studies have suggested terpenes can support some body functions.
  • Hericenones/ Erinacines: Compounds found in lion’s mane that studies have suggested may promote the production of NGF (nerve growth factor)

Of course this is not a definitive list of the mushroom lingo - Just something that should be able to help people understand the basics of mushrooms in the context of functional foods. This will also help people better understand future articles that will use these terms.

If you have questions, heard about something you think might be good to add to this list, feel free to reach out to us.

Denys Oliveira - founder