Medicinal mushroom supplements may provide many nutritional health benefits when taken consistently. But they’re not all made of the same stuff. The labels for many mushroom powders, tinctures, and mushroom extracts are often unclear about the distinctions between the fruiting body vs mycelium.
Yet, whether the final product you’re consuming contains one or the other is more than just a casual piece of information.
As Naturealm reports, it’s actually the difference between whether your mushroom products have the active compounds you expect or are just filler. And though there is debate about the benefits of mushroom mycelium products compared to ones made from fruiting bodies, the contrast is pretty clear.
Simply put, the fruiting body is what you might call the actual mushroom. It is the formulation of all the various parts of a mushroom’s life cycle. The fruit is the part of the biomass that sprouts above the surface.
Per Om Mushroom, the fruiting body, consisting of stem and cap, “comprise the fungal organism’s reproductive structure”; it acts as the endpoint for all excess nutrients found during a mushroom’s growth and the starting point for the spread of spores.
As such, it’s where most of the bioactive compounds, like polysaccharides, amino acids and beta-glucans, can be found.
On the other side of the fence, er, ground, a mushroom has mycelia.
The mycelial structure is like the roots of a fungus. After spores land on a substrate, they grow into hyphae. When hyphae extend and meet each other, they link to become thin, porous strands of mycelium.
The role of mycelium is similar to any other vegetative root system: to grow by pulling water and good things from the soil until a fruiting body can form, then reproduce (via North Spore).
Because mycelium is constantly drawing in nutrients and pushing them toward fruit growth, this component stores precious few things, we could consider medicinal compounds. However, it’s not entirely devoid.
Since mycelium’s job is to help mushroom fruit grow from underground, Peak and Valley write that it also serves as the immune system for the entire biomass. Because of this, mycelia can be high in antibiotic and antiviral compounds.
When it comes to mushroom supplements, there’s a big difference in the growth, development, processing, and packing of mycelium-based products versus those made from fruiting bodies.
Mycelium, being the biological part that spreads from spores, needs a substrate to spawn. There are two ways that it’s typically provided.
According to Naturealm, commercial producers can grow mycelium on grain substrates. Brown rice, sorghum, or oat are a few common ones. In this case, the grain spawn becomes inseparable from the mycelium, so the two are ground together.
The result is a high-carbohydrate product billed as a “full spectrum” supplement — despite being empty of flavor, nutrients, and even color.
However, Real Mushrooms writes that supplement companies can make pure mycelium products from liquid substrates. This liquid fermentation results in a mycelium extract that isn’t as empty of things like beta-glucans, but it’s not nearly as what products made from the fruiting body offer.
Like coffee, fruiting body-based supplements can be blended from a single type or a mix of mushroom species, says North Spore. Various fruits — from chaga to maitake, turkey tail to shiitake mushrooms — can potentially offer a wide range of nutritional benefits. Common mushroom supplements also include cordyceps and reishi mushrooms.
Fruiting mushroom bodies are full of active compounds like triterpenes, which may promote liver function, and beta-glucans, which are high in antioxidants.
Supplements from fruiting bodies are produced in several ways.
Powdered fruiting body extracts are derived from dried mushrooms, which have had their compounds withdrawn via filtered hot water (a process that breaks down the cell walls) and spray-drying. Tincture extracts are developed when mushrooms are soaked in a solvent that pulls out the beneficial compounds.
There are a lot of reasons and methods for consuming medicinal mushroom supplements. Even though the fruiting body is regarded as the primary place for beneficial elements, there are some instances where a small bit of mycelium can help.
For example, erinacines, a compound that could be useful for neurological health treatment, is commonly found in lion’s mane mushrooms. Only, it’s not located in the fruiting body. Instead, this potentially valuable element needs to be derived from mycelium.
But even though there are certain instances where a bit of this material can be beneficial, it’s overwhelmingly recommended that you look for labels that show full-fruiting body extracts.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulations around labeling, but as it happens, enforcement is low on the list of priorities. Unfortunately, that leaves it up to consumers to ensure we get what we need.
However, there are currently two petitions filed with the FDA, one by Nammex and one by the Natural Products Association, that calls for mushroom products to be labeled according to which part of the mushroom, if they don’t use the whole mushroom, that they use. There are also calls to ensure that products with myceliated grain are labeled clearly as mycelium supplements, along with regulating the growing conditions of mushrooms we regularly consume.
In the meantime, there are steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the higher concentrations of high-quality mushrooms and their good stuff in your body. Make sure to look for a product that proudly brands itself as a 100% full-fruiting body supplement rather than one that champions the use of mycelium, “full spectrum,” blends, or worse: gives no information at all.
When possible, check the nutrition label for levels of beta-glucan or starch. A high count of one will tell you your product’s the real deal; a high count of the latter means you need a new supplement.
And, when in doubt, always check your research before making a purchase. The right company won’t need to hide its ingredients or process. Your immune system will thank you in the long run.