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Mycelium vs. Fruiting Body: The Power of the Whole Mushroom

Upon researching the benefits of functional mushrooms, and how to take advantage of them, you've probably come across the "mycelium vs. fruiting body" debate. You likely have questions such as: Is one more beneficial than the other? Should I be consuming supplements that make use of the whole mushroom? 

When deciding which functional mushroom products to purchase, it's best to be as informed as possible. 

The stalk and cap that come to mind when you think about a mushroom are called the fruiting body; they comprise the organism’s reproductive structure. Below the surface, however, is a web of mycelial fibers that support and produce the fruiting body. Each of these structures has its own function in a mushroom’s life cycle. They also have some unique benefits for those seeking to get the most from a mushroom supplement.

In the lion’s mane mushroom, compounds found in the mycelium and the fruiting body have been reported to stimulate the synthesis of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) and to promote NGF-induced neurite outgrowth

While the fruiting body is the most recognizable part of a mushroom, the belief that it is the only part with any value is incorrect. Consider lion's mane, which is known for having nutrients that support nerve health and brain function. Research has shown that there are distinct compounds in the fruiting body and the mycelium. The benefits of consuming lion’s mane are greatest when one consumes both parts of the mushroom, rather than one or other.

In a study to determine the effects of compounds found within lion’s mane, hericenones were isolated from the fruiting body, and erinacines isolated from the mycelium. Below are the findings from the study: 

  • The compounds were found to promote nerve growth factor (NGF) biosynthesis in the observed rodents’ cultured astrocytes (cells in the central nervous system). 
  • By isolating and testing each compound’s effect individually, researchers discovered that while the amounts of NGF secreted into the medium in the presence of the compounds from the mycelium were greater than those from the fruiting body, both had a noticeable impact. 

From this study, it can be inferred that the greatest NGF support occurs when compounds from both the fruiting body and mycelium are combined.

In this article, we dispel myths about the mycelium vs. the fruiting body, highlight the benefits of each growth stage, discuss quality in mushroom supplements, and explain how to reap the benefits of the whole mushroom.

Dispelling Myths About the Mycelium vs. Fruiting Body

There is a lot of conflicting information, and frankly misinformation, available regarding mushroom supplements. Understanding the mushroom life cycle and how mushrooms are cultivated should help to educate you to feel more equipped when selecting mushroom supplements.

  • Myth: Products containing the mycelium are just “a bag of rice or oats”

    While some mushrooms are cultivated on an edible substrate of organic rice or oats, that does not mean that the finished product contains rice or oats, at least not in the same form. As mushroom mycelia (the plural of mycelium) grow, they feed on and break down the nutritive substrate of the oats. Oats nourish the mycelia as they progress to the next stage of development. 

    By the time the whole mushroom—fruiting body and mycelium—are harvested, the oats have been completely digested. Growing mushrooms on an edible substrate allows all parts of the mushroom’s life cycle to be used, including the: 

    • Fruiting body
    • Mycelium
    • Extracellular compounds produced by the mycelium that diffuse into the substrate (enzymes, polysaccharides, secondary metabolites)
    • Myceliated substrate (an inseparable matrix of mycelium and remnants of the fermented, enzymatically-converted oats that the mushrooms were grown on)
  • Myth: The fruiting body alone is the most beneficial part of the mushroom

    When we think about a mushroom, most picture the fruiting body, which consists of the stalk, cap, and gills. However, under the surface, there is a root-like structure called the mycelium. Both the fruiting body and the mycelium contain beneficial bioactive compounds. In some cases, like with the lion’s mane mushroom, these compounds are exclusive to either the fruiting body or the mycelium, so getting the full benefit requires the consumption of both parts. 

  • Myth: The mycelium alone is the beneficial part of the mushroom

    While a mushroom’s mycelium contains a wealth of beneficial substances, some bioactive compounds are unique to or more plentiful in the fruiting body. The reishi mushroom provides a good example. The mature fruiting body contains higher levels of triterpenes, compounds that support the body’s immune system and response to inflammation. Getting the full benefit of these antioxidants occurs when the fruiting body, as well as the mycelium, are consumed. 

  • Myth: Only mushrooms grown in China are real functional mushrooms 

    With the help of mycologists—scientists who study fungi—many species of functional mushrooms are now successfully cultivated in specialized indoor farms in the United States. By controlling every aspect of the mushroom growing process from start to finish, Om Mushroom facilities, for example, are designed to ensure functional mushrooms are free from contaminants and their operations comply with the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety (BRCGS). As the only mushroom supplier to receive the BRCGS AA Audit Rating, Om Mushroom adheres to the highest standards across all operational, food safety, and quality controls. This recognition means Om Mushroom exceeds an unparalleled level of safety, integrity, legality, and quality among peers in the food and food ingredient manufacturing, processing, and packing industry. 

  • Myth: A mushroom extract is superior to a whole mushroom product

    Many mushroom extracts undergo a single or dual extraction process in water or alcohol to capture specific chemical compounds. During the extraction process, specific compounds may be captured but other nutrients that are often found within the whole mushroom may be lost with the strained solids. If certain specific nutrients are desired, an extract may be an acceptable way to access them. 

    Mushroom powders undergo less processing when the whole mushroom—mycelial biomass and fruiting body—is dried and powdered. More nutrients, including prebiotic fiber, remain available since the mushroom’s original qualities are preserved. With less processing, mushroom powders provide a broad range of bioactive compounds.

Locating Nutrients and Compounds Within the Whole Mushroom

Fruiting Body

  • The thicker, supporting walls of the fruiting body contain prebiotic fiber that supports gut health. 

  • Fruiting bodies contain vital nutrients (protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals) in varying amounts according to the species and growing conditions.

  • Fruiting bodies of various mushroom species may contain bioactive compounds (polysaccharides, indoles, polyphenols, and carotenoids) that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Fruiting bodies are a good source of macrominerals: potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, as well as trace minerals, including copper, iron, selenium, and zinc. They are low in sodium.

  • The fruiting bodies of some species contain active ingredients not found in their mycelia.

  • Fruiting bodies lack the powerful extra-cellular components of the mycelia.

Mycelium

  • Mycelia have thin, permeable cell walls that allow enzymes to pass out and nutrients to be absorbed. For this reason, mycelia are easier for people to digest.

  • The mycelium serves the majority of functions in the mushroom’s life cycle, including the production of enzymes to digest nutrients in its environment, protection against competitive or damaging organisms, and generation of fruiting bodies. It endures even after the fruiting body has faded.

  • Fermentation using a solid substrate supports the cultivation of mycelial mass by simulating its growth in its natural environment. This controlled system makes it easier to exclude contaminants that would necessitate high-temperature processing that could inactivate nutrients.

  • Some mycelia contain beneficial nutrient compounds not found in their fruiting bodies.

  • Organic matter (also known as the mycelial biomass) is composed of the mycelium and its supporting substrate that contains extracellular compounds including enzymes, polysaccharides, and protective secondary metabolites that may provide therapeutic benefits.

  • Mushroom mycelia are harvested for use as dietary supplements and healthy additives.

The Mushroom Growth Stages: Unique Benefits Along the Way

In nature, mushrooms, like other members of the fungal kingdom, serve a critical environmental purpose. They produce key enzymes that break down and recycle dead, organic matter returning its vital nutrients to the soil. This decomposition and the resulting by-products make functional mushrooms a unique superfood for consumption.

A mushroom has three distinct stages to its life cycle: spores, mycelium, and fruiting body.

In the life cycle of a mushroom, both the mycelium and fruiting body offer health benefits.

Spores

Spores

Mushroom reproduction occurs when tiny spores are released from the mature fruiting body. Like a plant’s seeds, spores fall onto the ground or a supporting substrate (growing environment), sprouting within a few days or weeks. The spores grow thin mycelial threads called hyphae to begin absorbing nutrients. 

However, unlike a seed that contains everything necessary to grow a new plant, two compatible hyphae grown from opposite types of spores must grow together to form a functional mycelial unit. (Think: a sperm cell and an egg, or a positive magnetic end and a negative one)

Mycelium

Mycelium

When two hyphae find each other in the growing environment, they combine to form a functional mycelial unit. Mushroom mycelia require a substrate which they can decompose and feed on. In nature, this is most often dead organic matter from plants and animals. In an indoor farming environment, clean, organic substrates like oats or rice are typically used.

As the mycelium grows, it creates enzymes and other substances to help it digest and take in nutrients. Some of these bioactive compounds diffuse into and remain in the surrounding environment or growth medium. For this reason, consumption of the mycelial biomass provides all the benefits of the mycelium, its extracellular compounds that have diffused into the substrate, and the myceliated substrate itself.

Fruiting Body

Fruiting Body

As the mycelium grows and differentiates, it forms primordia (or baby mushrooms) that will grow into a fruiting body. As it grows and develops, the hyphal knot transitions to a pinhead or primordium before becoming a mature fruiting body. Within days, a fruiting body reaches maturity; the cap opens and releases hundreds of thousands of spores.

Though the fruiting body is a short-lived stage of the mushroom life cycle, its cell walls are thick and resilient to support its weight. To get nutrients like beta-glucans from this tough-to-digest tissue, the fruiting body is often processed into an extract, which may contain limited compounds compared to whole mushroom powders that contain all of the components of the mushroom life cycle.

Mushroom Extracts vs. Whole Mushroom Supplements

Functional mushroom products are available in a few different formats. Two of the most accessible are mushroom extracts and whole mushroom powders. These formulations differ in both their contents and the way they are processed. Both considerations will affect the bioavailability of compounds in the final product and may influence your choice when you decide to add a mushroom supplement to your routine.

Full Spectrum

  • Whole food mushroom product includes full life-cycle of the mushroom
  • The mycelium, fruiting bodies, and the full array of natural nutrients 
  • Including beta-glucans, antioxidants, prebiotic non-soluble fiber, digestive enzymes, proteins, vitamins, and other unique bioactive compounds

Extracts

  • Typically from only the fruiting body
  • Process includes soaking the mushrooms in a hot water or alcohol solution for extended periods so that certain compounds can be extracted and concentrated via solvent precipitation,spray drying, and/or solvent processes
  • Many other bioactive compounds may be discarded—non-soluble fibers, proteins, vitamins, digestive enzymes
  • Some bioactive compounds may be denatured by high processing temperatures

Mushroom extracts are prepared by cooking the mushroom mycelium and/or fruit bodies at a high temperature in water to extract water-soluble compounds or in alcohol to extract alcohol-soluble substances. The mushroom materials may be processed (or extracted) several times in water and then again in alcohol, though alcohol will be removed from the final product. The extract is then concentrated by removing the solvents (water or alcohol) to obtain a powder with the desired concentration of beneficial substances like beta-glucans. Alcohol extracts may be offered as a liquid with a dropper dispenser or dried and sold as a powder. In either case, the product will contain the heat-stable, soluble compounds that were extracted.

Processing Mushroom PowderWhole mushroom powder is a very different product that undergoes less processing. Both the fruiting body and mycelial biomass are harvested and processed with steam-heat to soften the chitinous cell walls followed by a moisture-removal process with heated and filtered air. The mushroom parts are then milled to a fine powder, which exposes more surface area and makes the powder easier to digest. Whole mushroom powder contains the full benefit of the macro- and micronutrients, as well as the bioactive compounds and prebiotic fiber, all in a bioavailable form.

Is Quality Relative for Mushroom Supplements?

Nutrients found within the reishi mushroom can support your body’s natural immune response.

Several factors contribute to quality when it comes to mushroom supplements. Since mushrooms are decomposers and bio-accumulators, they may absorb and assimilate environmental toxins. Quality begins with the cultivation and production facilities where mushrooms are grown and processed. 

Our use of environmentally-controlled indoor farms with filtered air and water allows us to minimize contaminants. Critical oversight by experienced mycologists ensures proper species identification and optimized cultivation practices. Since the process is controlled from start to finish, in accordance with BRCGS international food safety standards, consumers can be assured that the highest quality control standards have been observed.

Quality may be relative when it comes to the contents of a mushroom supplement. Reading the label and understanding what it contains will help you determine the contents of a product. 

An extract of the fruiting body will be a very different product than one that includes only the mycelium. In a relative comparison, think of the fruiting body as being apples and the mycelium as oranges. They both have their benefits, often distinct and uniquely valuable. But, a product made from the whole mushroom—not just the mycelium vs. the fruiting body—gives you the benefits of both; it’s like getting apples and oranges. Reading the fine print and understanding these differences will help you make informed choices and select the product based on the benefits you desire.

Accessing the Beneficial Compounds in the Whole Mushroom

In essence, it shouldn’t be “mycelium vs. fruiting body”, both include nutrients and metabolites to support a healthy and active lifestyle and both have beneficial bioactive compounds. For many functional mushroom species, including lion’s mane and reishi, a mushroom product that contains the mycelial biomass (mycelium, myceliated substrate, and extracellular compounds) and the fruiting body, dried and powdered, will provide the best that each stage has to offer. To gain the benefit of the polysaccharides, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes, amino acids, and prebiotic fiber contained in these unique fungi, a whole mushroom product provides access to the full power of this functional food.

Om Mushroom offers whole food, organic mushroom products that have life-changing health benefits. While our products are cultivated in the U.S. under strict BRCGS standards, they are grown indoors to ensure that we cultivate the safest and most efficacious species. This requires growing our mushrooms on a substrate in bioreactor bags. We can get fully developed fruiting bodies in most species using this methodology. 

The following chart displays which of our species contain the whole mushroom and which are mycelium and primordia only.

Om Mushroom Species

Contains Whole Mushroom

Mycelium & Primordia Only

Agaricus Blazei

 

Chaga

 

Cordyceps Militaris

 

Cordyceps Sinensis (Canada)

 

King Trumpet

 

Lion’s Mane

 

Maitake

 

Reishi

 

Shiitake

 

Turkey Tail

 

Our products contain the nutrients and bioactive compounds of the mycelium and/or the fruiting body to support your body’s natural immune functions.

If you’re looking for quality whole mushroom products,
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References:

  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21501201003735556 
  2. https://ommushrooms.com/pages/our-growth-process 
  3. https://ommushrooms.com/blogs/blog/what-is-mycelium 
  4. https://ommushrooms.com/blogs/blog/lions-mane-benefits 
  5. https://ommushrooms.com/blogs/blog/reishi-mushroom-benefits 

 

‡These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Functional mushroom products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.