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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the difference between mushroom fruiting body and mycelium?

A fruiting body is generally what you would visually recognize as a mushroom. It is fleshy, contains spores, and grows above ground or directly on the surface of its host, like a tree or old log. The mushroom's fruiting body comprises a stem, cap , and gills. Mycelium is the main body and feeding membrane of a mushroom. It grows underground or within the host plant. Mycelium is the stage that produces a mushroom but it is not a mushroom.

Fruiting bodies are considered “full-spectrum” as they provide a wider array of the mushroom's nutritional compounds. Fruiting body extracts contain higher concentrations of bioactive components, especially beta-glucans. Normally, mycelium-based products contain 50%-80% starch from the growing substrate, up to 50% less beta-glucans than the products from mushroom fruiting bodies, and far less beneficial compounds. Mycelium was primarily created as a cheaper alternative that was quicker to produce by industrial fermentation.

*According to the FDA, mycelium has an identity different from actual mushrooms.

2. What is the difference between polysaccharides and beta-glucans?

Polysaccharides are a class of carbohydrates, including starch, maltodextrin, chitin, glycogen and cellulose. Polysaccharides from different substances are in different structures, some consist of alpha-glucans and some consist of beta-glucans. The polysaccharides from mushrooms mainly consist of beta-glucans which are well regarded as active compounds with medicinal functions. The polysaccharides from starch and malt dextrin consist of alpha-glucans which are not active compounds in the healthy application. For mushroom extract products, the measure of beta-glucans is more accurate than that of polysaccharides to represent the quality of the product, as the measurement of polysaccharides can be easily doctored by adding starch, maltodextrin, etc. This is why the measurement of beta-glucans and starch is so important for mushroom products.

3. What is the difference between mushroom beta-glucan and other sourced beta-glucan?

Beta-glucans are groups of dietary fibres or polysaccharides composed of D-glucose monomers, linked by 1,3; 1,4 or 1,6-β-glucosidic bonds, and are naturally found in the cell wall of bacteria, fungi, mushrooms, and higher crops, such as cereals. 

Beta-glucans from different sources differ in structure. For example, cereal glucans are usually linear (1,3; 1,4)-β-glucans, yeast glucans are branched (1,3; 1,6)-β-glucans, mushroom glucans are linear (1,3)-β-glucans with (1,6)-linked-β-glucosyl or β-oligoglucosyl side chain. Mushroom beta-glucans have a more complex structure, have a much higher molecular weight and a part of mushroom beta-glucan is linked to proteins/peptides. The structural complexity of beta-glucans varies and is considered a primary determinant of activity. This is also the main accepted theory of why some mushrooms are more active than others and why mushroom beta-glucans are more immunologically active than other beta-glucans.

As Martin Powell, author of Medicinal Mushrooms, A Clinical Guide points out, “In contrast to the relatively inexpensive commercially available beta-glucans from yeast, mushroom beta-glucans have more diverse structures and, as a consequence, higher levels of immunological activity.”

4. What is the difference between organic and conventional?

The use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, irradiation, sewage sludge, hormones, antibiotics and genetic modification is strictly prohibited in the whole process of organic products. Organic products have a strict limit on traces of heavy metals or other contaminants by the FDA. Conventional products may contain greater amounts of these substances. Conventional farming relies on chemical intervention to fight pests and weeds and provide plant nutrition. Organic farming relies on natural principles like biodiversity and composting to produce healthy food. Organic farming is recognized as an effective approach for agricultural sustainability and food safety. Statistically, nutrients in organic products are significantly higher than that in conventional products. Many countries have established organic product standards and the product must be verified by an organic certifying agent before products can be labelled “organic”.

5. For an extract, does the higher extraction ratio mean the better of the extract?

In the past, producers didn’t know how to test the active compounds of the extract, they proposed the concept of the extract ration to indicate the quality of the extract, the higher the extraction ration means the more concentrated the extract. Scientifically the extract ratio has only limited value as a measure for the quality of the extract. Without analytical testing of active compounds, there's no way to know whether a 15:1 extract is more concentrated than an 8:1 extract, and the same extract ratio of the two extracts may have completely different levels of active compounds.

There is individualization among organisms. The mushroom from the different places and the different cultivation will result in the different inactive compounds, and the different extraction processes will also result in the difference in the quality of extract. The good extraction process will get more active compounds than the poor extraction process from the same mushroom raw material. Extract ratios can also be misrepresented. For example, fresh mushrooms are typically 90% water, so the wet to dry ratio is 10:1. Some products use this ratio saying their products are a 10:1 extract (10kg of fresh mushrooms = 1kg of powder) when in reality it's just a 1:1 (1kg of dried mushrooms = 1kg of powder). 

With science development, we know how to test the active compounds of different mushrooms. Using the scientifically verified active compounds is a good measure of the quality of the extract. For example, beta-glucan is the common active compound in most mushrooms, and different mushrooms also have other active compounds, such as reishi, it also includes the triterpenes, and cordyceps has cordycepins etc.
Without analytical testing of active compounds and starch measurements to show purity, extract ratios have limited value to show mushroom extract quality. A higher extract ratio does not equal higher potency. Currently, there are still some producers using the extraction ratio in their products, it just represents the name of the products for the consumers, because the consumers have been used to accepting the product name.

6. How to identify the purity of mushroom powders and extracts?

Plant extract adulteration is a common problem in the international market, also a lot of mushroom products are not pure. We recommend the following methods for our customers to identify the purity of mushroom powders and extracts.

The active, beneficial compound in mushrooms is a special class of polysaccharides known as beta-glucans. The alpha-glucans are basic starches with no health-promoting properties. Mushroom fruiting bodies generally have a low content of alpha-glucans (<5%). Therefore, the presence of starchy materials in a mushroom product can elevate a polysaccharide test and give a false positive for the beta-glucans.

The presence of starchy materials can be tested using iodine. The sample solution change colour to dark purple or black when starchy materials are present. Also, a Megazyme kit, designed for the test of beta-glucans in mushrooms and yeast, can be applied for the test of beta-glucans content. Mushroom mycelium and products adulterated with starchy materials always result in high content of alpha-glucans and low content of beta-glucans. The beta-glucans contents of mushroom powders are normally higher than that of mushroom extracts when using the Megazyme kit. This is because mushroom powders contain both water-soluble and insoluble beta-glucans, while mushroom extracts produced using hot water extraction contain only water-soluble beta-glucans, which show higher activity than water-insoluble beta-glucans. Namely, mushroom extracts are water-soluble while mushroom powders and most other sourced beta-glucans are water-insoluble, such as yeast beta-glucans. This would be useful in distinguishing mushroom extracts from yeast beta-glucans and mushroom powders.

The gene sequences of many mushrooms have been decoded. Some laboratories have developed DNA barcodes to identify mushroom varieties. By using ITS, tmH-psbA, we can identify whether the mushroom product is from the true varieties as the supplier claimed, not something else. For example, the reishi product is from the varieties of Ganoderma lucidum, not from Ganoderma subtornatum Murrill. 

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