A buyer’s guide to Mushroom Supplements: Fruiting Body vs Mycelium, & More

Walker Sauls

Vast, promising, and... convoluted: These are three words that we would use to sum up the world of medicinal mushroom supplements. In an unregulated industry that is rapidly gaining momentum, popularity, and the accompanying dollar signs, it can be hard for consumers to know a quality product from one that doesn’t quite cut it. Basically, not all mushroom supplements are made the same; and in times where advertisements and marketing can override quality and intention, making an informed decision may seem near impossible. Luckily, there are some key things to look out for that can help buyers get the good stuff. We hope the following information will guide you on a fulfilling journey with mushrooms, so you can discover all the amazing benefits we know they have to offer. 

When it comes to developing a potent and effective mushroom extract, there are certain key points that need to be considered throughout the process. Among the most important are: sourcing (where the mushrooms come from), extraction efficacy (techniques used to extract the medicinal compounds), and what part of the ‘mushroom’ the extract was made from (fruiting body VS. mycelium). While the science and production techniques driving this emerging industry are both complex and evolving, the following points will offer you, the consumer, a good foundation of knowledge that will aid in making a solid decision when buying mushroom products.

First, let’s talk about sourcing. Basically, the best quality products come from the best quality mushrooms. That may seem obvious, yet unfortunately that isn’t always the status quo. In our eyes, a quality mushroom is one that is fully mature, grown in a clean environment with clean substrate (mushroom food), and is handled with care in between the growing and extraction phase. One reason this is so important is that mushrooms are considered hyperaccumulators of certain harmful compounds like heavy metals, meaning they can absorb high levels of these pollutants from their growing environment - which can eventually be transferred into the consumer's body. That’s why we’ve decided to be so meticulous about our mushroom quality by organically growing our own or sourcing them wild here in the U.S.A. Considering that environmental contaminants are neither geographically exclusive nor visible to the naked eye, the best way to know that a product is safe is by sending it out to a 3rd party lab to be analyzed for purity. By measuring microbe and heavy metal levels, you can rest easy knowing the product is safe. Generally, any company who does this testing will be proud to include it on their product labels, website, or at least confirm this when asked directly. Unfortunately, many companies are looking for the cheapest mushroom source in order to increase profits - which generally come from overseas. And while there are always exceptions to the rule - in general, mushrooms coming from countries with high levels of pollutants and/or low farming regulations are at a higher risk of being contaminated. Not to mention, there is always an inherent risk of microbe contamination during overseas shipping. Additionally, supporting farmers in your own region/country has its own benefits surrounding environmental sustainability and bolstering the local economy. Basically, for consumers, we recommend looking for products that have been 3rd party lab tested for purity (ask the company if this isn’t clear!), and as long as those tests pass - the more local the mushrooms are grown/foraged, the better. 

Now that sourcing has been sorted, let’s get into the extraction itself. There are a couple reasons why extractions are the name of the game in the medicinal mushroom world. First, mushroom cells are partly made of chitin - the same stuff that is found in crab shells. Being hard to digest, chitin makes the beneficial compounds (specifically, polysaccharides called ‘beta-glucans’ as well as ‘terpenoids’) found in medicinal mushrooms hard to be absorbed by the body. Basically, the good stuff isn’t very bio-available, being locked up within the tough cell walls and is prone to passing right through your system. By applying various extraction methods that utilize solvents (like water and alcohol), heat, and/or pressure, these compounds are extracted out of the cell wall, and are then free to be absorbed into your body with ease. The second reason why mushroom extracts are the bees knees is that you can take a large amount of mushroom matter and concentrate the medicinal compounds into a small package in liquid or powder form. This gives them high potency that packs a punch. And while there are various methods for extraction used in the industry, with different pros and cons, it is clear that mushroom extracts are much better than raw, ground up mushrooms. Yet unfortunately, as extraction takes extra time, labor, and money, not all companies are following these procedures.  For the companies that are using extraction techniques, they will generally make it clear on their labels (i.e. Lion’s Mane Extract), and for those that aren’t, the word ‘extract’ won’t be found.

This brings us to our third consideration: what part of the mushroom the extract was made from. In the mushroom world, this topic has been a point of debate over the years. Basically, some products are being made with the actual mushroom, and some are being made with the mycelium (the vegetative part of the organism that colonizes and breaks down food sources for energy), and some are made with both. It is clear that both the mycelium and the mushroom fruit body itself contain beneficial compounds that are sought after in the end product - although some are shown to be higher in mushrooms. The difficulty with extracts that contain mycelium is that the vast majority of them are made with mycelium that’s grown on grains (like rice, oats, etc). Being inseparable from the mycelium itself, any unmetabolized grain ends up being part of the mushroom product. Due to this, many of these mycelium products are basically diluted and contain a high percentage of grains that are common allergens to many people. And while it is cheaper to use the mycelium without growing the mushroom itself, or throwing both the mushroom and mycelium into the product, it does seem that pure mushroom fruit bodies will generally be of a higher quality and consistency. That being said, these claims are complex and nuanced and some mycelium based products will be better than others based on various factors. However, due to the inconsistency and pitfalls that are found in mycelium based products, and the fact that some companies are blindly using mycelium (and grains) as a way to boost profit margins, we recommend products that use 100% mushroom fruit bodies all the way.

Now that those bases are covered, you should have the tools you need in order to be the best kind of consumer - an educated one! However, due to the complex and unregulated nature of this industry, we’d like to leave you with some final words of advice: When it comes to vetting a company, we recommend following your intuition, reading their reviews, reaching out with questions when unclear, and most importantly - experiencing how the product works for you and your body. While the above points are valid and can act as a guiding light while navigating the murky waters of this industry, what matters most is how you feel when taking any product. Mushrooms are a powerful and ancient medicine with strong scientific support - and your body should be able to recognize a quality product from an inferior one. With that, we wish you all the best on your journey of discovering how mushrooms can be one of your greatest allies in health, wellness, and beyond. 


P.S. If you’re looking for a starting point, give our products a try. We don’t claim to be the only company selling quality products, but we are confident that we are one of them ;)