Whole mushrooms vs mushroom extracts

Whole mushrooms vs mushroom extracts

Team ErbologyErbology

Are you interested in trying medicinal mushrooms, but unsure about whether to choose a mushroom extract or whole mushroom powder? This article is here to help. It discusses the key differences between the two types of product, as well as the pros and cons of each. Hopefully this will enable you to decide which is the most appropriate for your needs. So, let’s explore the world of these fabulous fungi!

May 24, 2023 6:53 pm

A recap on medicinal mushrooms

For those who are new to them, it might be useful to first give a quick overview of medicinal mushrooms. Then we can get into the finer details of how a mushroom extract differs from a whole mushroom powder.

In essence, medicinal mushrooms are specific species of fungi that offer potent wellness-boosting properties when consumed. These go beyond the normal vitamins, minerals and similar nutrients contained in standard mushrooms you find at the supermarket.

People have been using medicinal mushrooms to enhance their health for thousands of years. For example, they are a key component of Traditional Chinese Medicine. And what’s exciting is that modern scientific research is finding evidence to back up ancient wisdom regarding their benefits.

Each kind of functional fungi has its own unique advantages to offer, as we’ll discuss below. However, they do have certain factors in common. For example, all medicinal mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans. These are special polysaccharides (a type of fiber) which can help to support the body’s immune system.(1) Both mushroom extracts and whole mushroom powders contain beta-glucans, however the concentrations differ. More on that below!

Likewise, all medicinal mushrooms are classed as adaptogens. That means they help us cope with physical and mental stress more effectively and bring our bodies back into balance. Again, this is a benefit you can enjoy regardless of whether you choose a mushroom extract or whole mushroom powder.

mushroom risotto ingredients

The benefits of different medicinal mushrooms

Before picking between a mushroom extract and whole mushroom powder, you need to decide which fungi is right for you. Although there is a lot of crossover in their benefits, each has its own individual strengths. So the best choice for you will depend on the specific advantages you’re hoping to gain.

We have detailed articles about all the different medicinal mushrooms we offer, but here’s a very short recap:

  • Agaricus blazei – fights free radicals and supports cardiovascular health
  • Lion’s mane – balances mood, improves focus, and enhances cognitive health
  • Chaga – a potent antioxidant that protects against oxidative damage and supports skin health
  • Reishi – stimulates the body’s natural immune defences, helps you relax, and improves sleep quality
  • Cordyceps – supports energy and post-exercise recovery, reduces fatigue, and improves athletic performance
  • Turkey tail – nourishes the good bacteria in your gut and supports the digestive system
  • Shiitake – strengthens immunity, supports energy, and enhances cardiovascular health

Once you know which mushroom (or mushrooms) you’re interested in, you can start thinking about how to take them. While it’s possible to eat some medicinal fungi fresh, they’re often hard to get hold of and not particularly tasty! As such, most people prefer to consume medicinal mushrooms in powder form.

So, the next step is to consider whether you want a mushroom extract or a whole mushroom powder. Time to go into the details of how they differ.

What’s the difference between whole mushrooms and mushroom extracts?

Whole mushrooms and mushroom extracts are both made from a medicinal fungus and come in powder form. The difference is in how they’re prepared, which affects the type and concentration of beneficial compounds they contain. Let’s look at each variety in turn.

What is whole mushroom powder?

As the name suggests, we create this kind of product using the entirety of the mushroom. That means the whole fruiting body and the mycelium (thin fungal strands that function like the roots of a plant). To make it, you first dry the mushrooms after harvesting them and then grind them into a fine powder.

Consuming medicinal mushrooms in this way means that you ingest them as a whole food. As well as beta-glucans and similar beneficial compounds, whole mushroom powders contain fiber and other nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Consequently, they have a broader nutritional profile than a mushroom extract does.

Incidentally, there is a misconception that mushroom products made solely from the fruiting bodies are of higher quality. However, this is not the case. What’s more important is the quality of the substrates the fungi grow on, and the method used to harvest them.

In addition, each type of medicinal mushroom is unique. For example, in reishi mushrooms, the beta-glucans are mainly found in the fruiting body’s cell walls. Conversely, in cordyceps sinensis harvested in controlled conditions, they’re mostly concentrated in the mycelium. Therefore, the crucial piece of information to look at is the amount of key nutrients in a particular mushroom product.

What is mushroom extract?

Making a mushroom extract requires some extra steps. It involves taking the ground mushroom and then separating out certain beneficial compounds to create a more concentrated product. In our case, we use a dual extraction process to ensure we get the widest range of these compounds. This means we steep the mushroom in both water and alcohol to obtain its valuable beta-glucans and secondary metabolites.

Afterwards, the water extract contains water-soluble compounds like polysaccharides, while the alcohol extract contains alcohol-soluble compounds like terpenoids. We then combine the two to create an extra-potent powder. However, other nutrients – such as vitamins and minerals – are reduced or lost during the extraction process.

immunity mushroom blend

Which is better, mushroom extract or whole mushroom powder?

Having outlined the difference between mushroom extract and whole mushroom powder, the next logical question is which is better. In truth, the answer is neither. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and both offer benefits to our health. So, a more appropriate question to ask is which is better for you and your needs and preferences.

Starting with whole mushroom powders, these have a broader spectrum of nutrients compared to a mushroom extract powder. This includes prebiotic fiber that encourages the growth of good bacteria in your gut.

They also contain higher levels of B vitamins, vitamin C, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. That’s because these may be reduced during the extraction process. All of which makes whole mushroom powder a more balanced source of nutrients than a mushroom extract.

Conversely, a mushroom extract is more concentrated in beta-glucans and secondary metabolites than a whole mushroom powder. This is because the extraction process specifically separates these from the mushroom.

As such, if you take a mushroom extract, you get a higher dose of these valuable bioactive compounds per serving. For example, a cordyceps mushroom extract will contain more cordycepin than a cordyceps whole mushroom powder does. Therefore, you might prefer a mushroom extract if you’re interested in obtaining the maximum amount of beta-glucans and secondary metabolites.

Having said that, quality plays a role here. When comparing different brands, you may find certain whole mushroom powders contain more beta-glucans and secondary metabolites than some dual extracts. That’s because the mushroom material they use is of a much higher quality.

Incidentally, some people think the beta-glucans in mushrooms are only bioavailable in dual mushroom extracts. However, recent research indicates that this is not the case. Our digestive system can extract nutrients from both whole mushroom powder and mushroom extract. Moreover, you can improve the digestibility of whole mushroom products by steeping them in hot water. This weakens the cell walls and makes the nutrients in the fungi more accessible for absorption.

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"Mushroom extracts have a greater concentration of beta-glucans and secondary metabolites, while whole mushroom powders have a broader spectrum of nutrients."

Choosing high quality medicinal mushrooms

Regardless of whether you choose a mushroom extract or whole mushroom powder, it’s vital to pick a top quality product. That’s because the quality of both the mushroom source and the preparation methods can affect the potency and bioavailability of the beneficial compounds.

That’s why we work with expert mycologists to produce our medicinal mushroom products. They combine over 20 years’ experience with the latest scientific findings to cultivate fungi with the highest nutritional value.

We grow our mushrooms in Europe, under meticulously controlled conditions, on a specially designed natural and organic substrate. The only exception to this is our wild chaga, which our growers carefully harvest in the forests of Finland. We then dry the mushrooms at 60°C to prevent any microbial contamination.

To confirm that our medicinal mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans and other key compounds, we have them checked by an independent and accredited quality tester. As a result, we can say with confidence that our whole mushrooms are higher in beta-glucans and secondary metabolites than many others on the market. Likewise, our mushroom extracts are among the most concentrated available.

It’s worth noting that the extraction ratio on a mushroom extract is not an indication of its quality. All it tells you is how much mushroom material was used in relation to the amount of liquid or solvent. It doesn’t reveal the quality of the fungi or the substrate the growers cultivated it on. Instead, you need to look out for the amount of beta-glucans and secondary metabolites a product contains.

Similarly, it’s wise to choose organic mushroom extracts and whole mushroom powders. That way, you know that no pesticides or other chemicals were used in their cultivation.

organic cordyceps mushroom

How to take medicinal mushrooms

Having chosen your mushroom extract or whole mushroom powder, it’s time to consider how to incorporate it into your diet. Happily, there are several convenient options open to you.

The traditional method is to make mushroom tea. You can do this by simply stirring the powder into hot water and letting it steep for a few minutes. However, some medicinal mushrooms have quite a bitter taste. As such, you may want to add some natural flavorings such as lemon or ginger to your mug.

Other popular options are to stir your mushroom extract or whole mush