Jeff Chilton studied ethno-mycology at the University of Washington in the late sixties. He’s worked on mushroom farms, put on mushroom conferences, coauthored the highly acclaimed book, The Mushroom Cultivator, which was published in 1983.
A founding member of the World Society for Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products in 1994 and a Member of the International Society for Mushroom Science, and his company was the first to offer a complete line of Certified Organic mushroom extracts to the US nutritional supplement industry.
In this interview you’ll find lots of details about mushrooms, their benefits, components that deliver those, as well as ensuring the highest quality and testing to verify all that.
• The Difference Between Real Mushrooms and Grain Spawn Mycelium
• The Iodine Test for Mushrooms vs. Starch
• #1 Most Important Part of Mushrooms – Beta Glucans
• The Correlation Between Grain Fed Cows and Grain Fed Mushrooms
• Why All Polysaccharides Aren’t Created Equal
• Dosage Guidelines to Get Actual Effects
• Why You Won’t “Feel” Mushrooms
• Mushroom’s Prebiotic Effects with Fiber
• Chitin – What it is and Should you worry about it?
• Triterpenes Effects
• Why Alcohol Extraction is Only Needed for Some Mushrooms
• Ergosterol and Vitamin D (Important for Vegans and Vegetarians)
• And Much More
Click the link below to access the complete transcript.
Logan: Welcome to The Vital Way podcast. I’m Logan Christopher here with another exciting episode. This is probably one of my favorite subjects concerning the herbal world. For whatever reason, I’m really drawn the medicinal mushrooms and all the power that they bring so I’m very excited to spend an hour talking about that today. Joining me on the call is Jeff Chilton who has studied ethnomycology at the University of Washington. He’s worked on mushroom farms, put on mushroom conferences, and co-authored the highly acclaimed book The Mushroom Cultivator. He is a founding member of the World Society for Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products and a member of the International Society for Mushroom Science. This guy really knows mushrooms and we’re going to be talking about a lot of exciting things, getting down to some of the details of mushroom, looking at their quality, testing to verify that all that good stuff is really in them and a lot of other details. So welcome to the call, Jeff.
Jeff: Hi, Logan. Thanks so much for having me. I’m glad to be here. 3
Logan: All right. I guess I’d like to get a little bit of back story. What drew you into the world of mushrooms? How did you get started in this in the first place?
Jeff: Well, I was born in Washington State in a rainforest, basically a place where there was lots of water and lots of mushrooms growing everywhere. So in a sense, that comes with the territory of being in this part of the world. Seeing mushrooms around me all the time and then later just kind of taking an interest, studying them a bit when I was in university, it all sort of pointed me into that direction.
Logan: Excellent. You’ve been kind of I guess a leader in this field for a long time. Let’s start with what some of the problems of many of the mushrooms out there are or things masquerading as mushrooms and mycelium.
Jeff: First of all, mushrooms are one part of an organism called a basidiomycete. The basidiomycete organism has multiple stages and those stages are the spore, the spore germinates into a hyphae which then produces what a lot of people have heard of which is called mycelium. Mycelium is the actual organism. That’s the fungal body that is out there. It’s in the soil. It’s in wood. That’s what decomposes everything around us and that’s kind of the role that mushrooms play in our ecosystem. They are decomposing all that matter that falls. Whether it’s from woody matter or anything out there that is organic matter, these fungi will start to decompose that and that’s the job of the mycelium. The mycelium is out there. We don’t always see it but it’s out there. It’s always around us. When conditions are right, which generally speaking, certainly for us up here in the Pacific Northwest when it’s fall, the temperature drops, we get a lot of rains, that stimulates this mycelium to put up a fruiting body or what we know as a mushroom.
These are two different stages of this organism and when it comes to medicinal qualities, they’re very distinct and very different. The mushroom in fact produces a lot of complex compounds that are not really found in the mycelium. Just to take this one stage further in terms of offering mushroom products to the market as a supplement, well a mushroom is 100% fungal matter. It is 100% mushroom tissue. A lot of the products in the marketplace right now are mycelium but not pure mycelium. They’re actually grown on a grain substrate, what as a mushroom grower—that’s my background, a mushroom grower—we call grain spawn. Actually when you put mycelium on grain, it’s actually something that’s used as seed to grow mushrooms. But companies out there now actually grow that mycelium on grain. After a period of time, they will dry it, grind it into a powder and then sell it is a nutritional supplement. The problem with that is the majority of the product is actually the grain.
So one of the things that I’ve been doing is helping to educate people about the fact of what’s in the marketplace, what real mushrooms are and what these mycelium on grain products actually are. The problem is that a lot of these mycelium on grain products are not labeled as such on the label. On the label, it just says reishi mushroom, shiitake mushroom, chaga mushroom. It masquerades as mushrooms. Some companies will put mycelium on the back panel but the front panel always says mushroom. It’s not a mushroom. So part of what I do out there is I try to educate people to the fact that if you’re looking for a medicine mushroom supplement, look for something that is 100% mushroom. It’s real, genuine mushroom. It’s not this mycelium on grain product, which actually is grain spawn. It’s actually something that’s meant to grow mushrooms with, not to be used as a supplement.
Quality-wise, I tell you Logan, it’s not easy out there, especially when you consider that these things are all being sold as mushrooms. So anybody who’s looking for a mushroom supplement, be aware. Look at the label really closely and see if you can figure it out. Let me tell you – it’s not easy. It is absolutely not easy. I know scientists that have taken boxed products off the shelves, analyzed them and called the mushrooms, they didn’t even know that they were analyzing mycelium grown on grain. It’s really difficult.
That’s kind of why for me, I published a white paper on this, a very detailed analysis where we actually took bottled products. We bought them right off the internet. We analyzed them for the important beta-glucans. We analyzed them for starch. We analyzed them for ergosterol, which is the main fungal sterol, and it became very clear because the majority of these products, it turned out, were mostly starch and that starch comes from the grain. So these products were dominated by starch, had very low amounts of fungal tissue in them, very low in beta-glucans so it was very kind of eureka in a way. It was like well, why are these things out there being sold as supplements? That’s something that again I’m trying to educate people to that fact. Because if you’re buying a medicinal mushroom product, you want a medicinal mushroom. You don’t want to buy grain powder.
Logan: Yeah, most people are trying to get away from grains these days, not add more in a supplemental form, right?
Jeff: Absolutely. Very few of these products will have something on the label that says other ingredients. Some companies will list the grain powder. Others will not. So you could be getting grains without even knowing it. So there are a number of issues here, one of which is it’s not truly a mushroom and number two is that you are getting a grain powder that you didn’t ask for, didn’t want to buy and yet and you’ve purchased this product and that’s what you’re getting.
Logan: I’m curious because I was one of the people that got duped about this, too. I was buying different mycelium powders. Because we deal with mostly powders at Super Man Herbs, we actually taste the herbs and yeah, it tastes like grain. It tastes like starch. Most people out there, they’re capsulizing these things so no one’s going to actually taste them. They’re going to have no idea. So besides actually tasting the herb and chewing on it, is there any other sort of way—you were saying scientists couldn’t identify this—that might help people to identify the right thing?
Jeff: Yeah, there’s a really cool test you can do on this that I encourage people to because you can do at home. Just go to the pharmacy. Buy a small bottle of iodine. Come back, take that product that you just bought that says it’s a mushroom product and empty the capsules into a small amount of water. Stir it up really good. Make sure it’s soaked up and in the water. It’s not going to dissolve because it’s grain powder and it doesn’t really dissolve well in water but stir it up really good. Then just put about ten drops of iodine into that water. What you will see is that the color is going to change to a dark black color and that is a very standard what we call a colorimetric test that iodine reacts with the starch and turns it black. So you can immediately discern what you’ve got there. If you have a genuine mushroom product and you do the same thing, it will not change color at all. It may end up being the color of the iodine, which is a light orange-ish color but it will not turn black. So this test is really a great test to do to find out whether you’ve got one of these products that is mostly grain.
Like you said, some of these things and you can just pour it out of the capsule and another test I call the reishi challenge, if you have a reishi product, empty the capsule. Reishi is bitter. It’s a bitter mushroom so if you have a genuine reishi product, that should be bitter. You should taste it and go yeah, okay, yes indeed. If you have a reishi mycelium on grain product, it will just taste like grain. It’ll kind of be sweetish. In fact, most of those products, you could take the full range of these particular products from any given supplier. You could line them up, empty out the capsules and then I assure you they would mostly taste the same, a little difference in color here and there and maybe small variations but in general they will simply taste like the grain that they’re being grown on.
Again, this is something where people are looking for products that are genuine. People are looking for products that actually work. You take these products and I’ll tell you it’s pure placebo. It’s nothing that is going to have any benefit for you despite what these companies are trying to tell you. Even though a lot of these companies will talk about mycelium and the wonderful things about mycelium, they don’t tell you the fact that it was all grown on grain. They kind of hide that fact and so nobody really knows and they think oh, mycelium is this wonderful thing. Well, if you had a pure mycelium product, and there are pure mycelium products out there but not many of them out there, you would gain some benefits, not the same benefits that you would get from a mushroom because the mushroom is much more complex, the mushroom contains a lot more medicinal compounds but with pure mycelium at least you would be getting 100% fungal material and that’s something you do not get with these mycelium on grain products. And it’s a shame. It’s an absolute shame but you know what it’s like in the system, Logan. It’s kind of buyer beware. You really have to be doing your homework to know that what you’re buying is what you think you’re buying. It’s not always easy.
Logan: I’m curious. You believe that there’s no benefit from these mycelium on grain products or is there going to be a small amount of benefit because there’s still a few components in there, right?
Jeff: Well, I guess here’s the problem. Again, the important compounds in a medicinal mushroom product, the most important compound is what’s called beta-glucan and beta-glucan is the component, it’s a constituent in the medicinal mushroom that prevents the immunological activity. I believe that that is the key to these products. It’s not just me. These are scientists, these are people who are in traditional medicine, they all agree on the fact that these beta-glucans are the most important part of these medicinal mushroom products. That’s because the beta-glucans actually are immunomodulators. They regulate homeostasis in the body. They’re what makes these mushrooms what we call adaptogens. They help to maintain this harmony in the body. They regulate things. That’s what immunomodulation does. It will bring your body temperature down or raise it up, depending, but it’s something that keeps you in balance and it’s what they call in traditional Chinese medicine a harmony herb or a fu zhen herb but it all gets back to this idea of an adaptogen. The beta-glucan is really important.
What I found in my testing, and I’ve got a great test, very specific for mushroom beta-glucans, was all of these mycelium on grain products were very, very low in beta-glucan. In fact, the mushrooms were very high in beta-glucans. I’ve run over a hundred samples. In fact to date, I’ve run 150 samples on dried mushrooms, on mushroom extracts and on commercial mycelium on grain products. So I’ve got a lot of samples and I’ve been able to establish a baseline for okay, what is the beta-glucan level in a shiitake mushroom or a shiitake mushroom extract. Generally speaking, for shiitake we’re talking about 30% beta-glucan, for reishi we’re up around 40%, maitake is around 40%. Trametes which is the turkey tail is really high in beta-glucan. That’s up around 50%. So I’ve been able to establish what we should expect beta-glucan-wise in mushrooms.
When it comes to these mycelium on grain products, we’re talking on average somewhere around 5% to 7%. In fact, some of these products have no beta-glucan. Some of them are 1% or 2% beta-glucan. Here’s the other side of that – mushrooms do not contain starch. Starch is not anything that’s in a mushroom. In our testing, the starch, we’ll see something like 1% to 2% or 3% starch. That’s like almost nothing. In these mycelium on grain products, I haven’t seen that were under 30% starch and I’ve seen some as high as 70% starch.
The point that I’m trying to demonstrate here is if you have a product and that product is 35% to 40% starch and 5% beta-glucan, you know that mushrooms don’t contain starch and you know that mushrooms should have approximately 30% to 50% beta-glucan, well things are reversed. All of sudden it’s like the beta-glucan is low and the starch is high. So if you have that kind of ratio, let’s just say a 10:1 ratio of starch to beta-glucan and you know that the beta-glucan is what you’re looking for in a mushroom product, well is that now a mushroom product? Personally, I don’t think it is. I think it’s a grain product. I think it’s a starch product. So is there any benefit to these mycelium on grain products? Personally, I don’t think so. I think that there’s simply not enough of the beta-glucan in there.
Not only that, here’s the problem. The problem is that in order to produce all of these other interesting compounds that are in mushrooms, triterpenes for one which you get in reishi—triterpenes are what give reishi the bitter component—there are no bitter triterpenes in these mycelium on grain products. They don’t produce them. Why? Because the precursors are not there. It’s like chaga. Chaga grows on a tree that has a lot of compounds in it that then show up in the chaga. The compound is called betulin. It shows up in chaga as betulinic acid. Well, if you don’t have that tree and the precursors, you’re not going to get this betulinic acid and that’s what happens when you take the mycelium out of its natural environment where it’s got precursors and can produce compounds. Usually, it does that just by producing a mushroom. So if you’re growing it in grain, which is an unnatural substrate to begin with, to grow it in, there are no precursors there to produce these compounds.
My point is that if you take mycelium out of its natural environment, grow it in a sterile environment on sterilized grains, you have no precursors. And if you are not separating the grain at the end of the process and the grain becomes part of the product, then you have very little fungal material there. In fact, I don’t consider these products to be genuine medicinal mushroom products. For one, they’re not mushrooms so I don’t consider them to be medicinal fungi. There’s just not enough fungal matter there to qualify.
Logan: It seems it kind of parallels with cows, that standard industrial thing. You feed the cows grain and that produces an unhealthy cow and if you eat that cow, we’re unhealthy, too, versus cows eating what they should be eating – grass. So it’s the same thing with the mushrooms. They should be growing where they normally grow, which is on dead trees mostly, some of them living trees and that’s basically what the mushroom is eating which produces medicinal compounds. Is that correct?
Jeff: That’s absolutely correct. That’s why people are looking for grass-fed beef or butter from grass-fed cows or anything like that. When you put these organisms into artificial environments, feed them artificial foods and so on, you have a totally different product. In this case, I think it’s even worse because with the cows or other organisms, you don’t actually sell them with the grain feed. Not only are you getting this mycelium that’s not pure mycelium that you’re selling; it’s like you’re selling the mycelium with the food that it’s growing on which has nothing to do with the product.
If someone wants to tell that product, that’s fine. I have no problem with that but call it what it is. Don’t masquerade this product as something else. This is not a true fungal product. It may be a grain with mycelium growing on it and maybe you want to call it that. There’s a product that’s like that out there already. That’s called tempeh. Tempeh is a fungal mycelium grown on soybeans. That’s a product. You’re not going to call that a mushroom product. Sure, it’s a fungal product of sorts. They call it tempeh. They don’t call it mushroom or fungus. They call it tempeh, which is mycelium grown on soybeans. Great! That’s fine. Sell it like that but don’t call it a mushroom and don’t pretend that it’s got anywhere close to the medicinal compounds that we find in a genuine medicinal mushroom.
Logan: I’d like to go a little bit deeper into sort of the different active components. You mentioned the beta-glucans which are a type of polysaccharide. Can you talk a bit more about polysaccharides in general because a lot of people say the medicinal part of the mushroom is in the polysaccharide, which is kind of part of it but polysaccharide is a pretty broad category, right?
Jeff: They are a broad category and I guess what I would say is that not all polysaccharides are created equally. For example, starch is a polysaccharide. It doesn’t have the immune effects. Cereal grains are polysaccharides. So yeah, it’s a broad category but the difference is that these polysaccharides in mushrooms which are called beta-glucans are a very specific type of beta-glucan. They’re essentially a 1-3, 1-6-beta-glucan and what that refers to is that these are chains of glucose molecules that are chained together and at a certain point on the chain there’s a branching. That branching is what’s important.
For example, again the mushroom is a beta-1-3, 1-6 which means there’s a branch at the 1, 6. The cellulose that is the polysaccharide with—cereal grains, for example, is a 1-4 branching. That makes the big difference in terms of the immunological activity. Okay, we can say that beta-glucans from cereal grains like oats have a certain beneficial activity and I would agree with that but it is a very different activity than mushroom. It’s not an immunological activity. So because of the way that these beta-glucans are structured with the mushroom, that is why they are active compared to others.
This gets back to something else, which is really interesting, which is that the beta-glucan structure on different mushrooms are different. Certain mushrooms are more immunologically active than other mushrooms. All mushrooms contain these beta-glucans. That’s just part of the mushroom makeup but not all mushrooms are highly immune-active. So how I look at it and how I sort of decide is essentially a lot of mushrooms are used traditionally in traditional Chinese medicine. You go to the traditional history and you look at what mushrooms they have been using. Then you go to science and all the scientific papers that are written and you say okay, what has science told us about the immunological activity of certain mushrooms? When you put those two things together, what I have decided is okay, there are about a dozen mushrooms that absolutely have a lot of solid evidence behind them for being very beneficial and having the immunological properties. That’s what I use as my guide in terms of what mushrooms I key in on and sell.
There’s a book called Icons of Medicinal Mushrooms. It’s a book from China. It lists 270 different mushrooms with medicinal properties. Okay, that’s fine but the fact is that the number of studies on certain of these mushrooms is very limited. Yeah, some of them show a certain amount of activity so they go into the book, 270. Well, that’s a little bit broad and a little bit wide. Let’s focus in on the ones that have shown the strongest immunological activity and that’s where, in a sense, the science comes in.
Traditionally, it’s still important because we still want to know what TCM practitioners are using. That’s really important. They’re the ones that are on the frontlines. They’re using these things. They’re seeing whether they benefit people. That’s really important but the science is, too. So you put those two together, you come up with a pretty good idea of what the mushrooms we should be looking for in terms of that are.
One of the things again for me about the polysaccharides and the beta-glucans is that this immunological modulation, this is something that works with us on many different levels. These mushrooms in Asia are considered anti-aging. They’re considered something that is for maintaining a higher level of health and when you think about it, that’s really the key for most of us. We can maintain a higher immunity level that works on so many different ways for us. So for me, that is really the key in terms of medicinal mushrooms and the properties that they contain.
Let me say this about it, too, because it’s really, really important part of what happens with herbal products and even in traditional Chinese medicine is how much of this is one consuming? How much do you have to take? One of the things that happen here in the west is the companies put out products that are designed in a way to be, for example, 60 capsules, take two capsules, that’s a month’s supply. Can they get enough of these products into the capsule? Generally not. How many would you have to take to really get the benefits? Probably a lot.
In China when they’re preparing herbal medicines, they’ve got a lot of herbs. You throw them in. you boil them up as a drink. They will give people a lot more of these herbs than we’re prepared to take over here. So when it comes to supplements and herbal supplements, most people taking these things are not taking enough to make any difference whatsoever. Even with the mushrooms, I really believe that a person’s got to take a significant amount to get the benefits.
The rule that I use on that is a rule—I call it a rule but it’s more of a guideline—that was established by a physician I know whose name is Dr. Raymond Chang, a physician trained in western medicine but he’s originally from Hong Kong so he knows a bit about traditional Chinese medicine as well. He looked over all the records for reishi and he looked at what they were using traditionally for this and he came up with well, primarily they’re using 2 to 5 dried grams as sort of the minimum amount that you would boil up into a tea with reishi. I look at them and say okay, that makes sense to me. Again, we’re just talking raw herbs. We’re talking 2 to 5 grams of dried herbs so I use that as kind of my guideline but I also know people that take 10 grams of dried mushroom powder, 10 to 20 grams even, and I know somebody who I would called pretty finely tuned and sensitive and he says he really “feels” it.
Generally speaking, when you’re taking medicinal mushroom products you’re not “feeling” anything because basically it works on a different level. If you’re taking something and like gee, I felt a cold coming on and tomorrow my cold is all gone, that’s really not how these things work. Anybody who tells you yeah, I got something immediately, I just say well, that’s not just how these work. You take them for a period of time and then they start to act and their action is fairly subtle. My friend, however, he takes significantly more and he feels it pretty much that day. He’s feeling it. He really feels something special from it, again my point being with most herbal products, no matter what it says on the label—and I’m not telling people to take more than what’s on the label because take what you want, you take what the label says—you really need more than oftentimes what you’re being told to take because you want to take these actives that are in there and oftentimes you can’t get enough actives with just taking let’s say 1 gram of this material per day.
Logan: And many of these are quite safe, right? I don’t know if they’ve done studies on all of them but is there really an upper limit. Of course, anything can be done too excessively but I haven’t really seen anything saying like you’re going to get side effects if you take too much.
Jeff: I would agree with that. Yeah, I haven’t seen any data that would say there’s a danger here. The fact is that most of these medicinal mushrooms, other than the ones that are like a piece of wood like reishi, are edible so they’re food. That’s what I love about them because we’re talking about something that is also a very ancient Chinese tradition which is food is medicine. I think, Logan, what we all are striving for is a) we want our diet to provide us with food that is producing benefits for us as an organism. That’s what food should be doing. We don’t want food that is going to be too much sugar or full of certain things that don’t help us in any way. We want something that feeds us in a deep way.
Certainly, mushrooms to me are something where not only are we getting a nutritious food but we’re also getting the benefits of these beta-glucans which immunologically help us to cope, help our organism to adapt and help us to maintain this homeostasis that we’re looking for and helps to keep our immunity at a higher level. That is something to me that makes the mushrooms unique in a certain way. This is a food as medicine. It’s what some people are calling nutraceuticals. It’s something that’s been around in China for a long time. In fact, in some of my trips to China we’ve gone to restaurants where the restaurant specifically, everything they serve you is medicinal. Because a lot of times you go to a Chinese restaurant and it’s like oh god, did I really eat that? I know there’s too much of this and too much of that. It’s not necessarily good for you. But this restaurant was like this is all medicinal food here and they have a lot of these restaurants in China.
Logan: I’m curious. What’s the role of chitin in mushrooms? You mentioned reishi is basically wood. You can’t really eat that one but you can eat other ones. What sort of processing needs to be done on these mushrooms to best deliver the beta-glucans or other medicinal components?
Jeff: Chitin is interesting. It’s a structural component in mushrooms. That’s kind of what helps mushrooms stand up. There isn’t a lot of chitin in mushrooms. It’s maybe 5% to 10% or something like that but it is woven throughout the cell walls. Mushrooms are not what we’d call easily digested. A lot of the mushroom is fiber so when you’re eating mushrooms, the cell walls are not necessarily digested per se. It goes through as fiber. Certainly, if the mushroom has been processed and that fiber has been broken down and you get a lot of the soluble beta-glucans out of the fiber but still part of the product, then those soluble beta-glucans can become active immediately once they get into the gut and into the small intestines. But the fiber of these mushrooms carries on and one of the great roles about mushrooms is it works as a prebiotic. That goes down. There it’s hitting receptor sites that they found in the large intestine and other receptor sites through the whole alimentary canal. That’s a very positive part of a mushroom and the chitin plays a part of that role.
Now what we do with our products is we will take the mushroom and sort of our primary product line, we will cook the mushroom in hot water. We’ll cook it for a certain period of time. We’ll then evaporate off most of the water to where you end up with—it’s like doing a soup or something. The more you boil off the water, the thicker it becomes. So it comes down to like a syrup and then we take that syrup and the mushroom fiber and we will dry it all, grind it into a powder so that what we’ve actually got is we still have the mushroom fiber but we’ve got a lot of those beta-glucans have come out and now they’re soluble. So we’ve got the soluble beta-glucans out so that they’re more readily available when they’re consumed and then we still have the mushroom fiber there. That’s what I think is just such a great way to consume these things.
If you’re actually eating mushrooms, and I highly recommend that because they’re a delicious food, you can chew them up but we’re not going to get as much of the benefits, nutritional compounds as we would with something where okay, not only have we extracted this with hot water but we’ve also ground it to a very fine powder. So now you have all that surface area when it’s rolling through. You still have fiber but you’ve got everything in a form which I believe is much more active than let’s say just eating mushrooms. That’s what we do to help break down the chitin and to help extract the beta-glucans and other compounds to make them more bioavailable. That’s how we will treat them. That’s pretty much how we deal with the fact of mushrooms being not quite as digestible and that chitin being a factor.
Logan: When do you bring in using alcohol because the same components in these mushrooms will come out more in alcohol than with the hot water extractions?
Jeff: Well, there are certain mushrooms that have compounds that are not completely extracted with water. Let me just say this – some people say the triterpenes in reishi, you can’t get that out with water. That’s simply not true. You can usually figure that one out if you get whole reishi mushrooms, chop them up, throw them in water, boil them up. Let me tell you—
Logan: It’s going to be bitter.
Jeff: —that is going to be really bitter. So to say that you can’t get the triterpenes with a water extract is simply wrong. The point is that certain triterpenes are difficult to get out without the alcohol. Alcohol will pull out more of the triterpenes. In fact, the alcohol should get the majority of the triterpenes out of the reishi mushroom and chaga as well. There are a number of mushrooms that are woody and have triterpenes in them, chaga, lion’s, reishi, those specifically. That’s where alcohol will be used.
What normally happens is there will be a water extraction. The water will be cooled off and put into containers. Then there’ll be an alcohol extraction and not only an alcohol extraction. When you’re talking about extraction procedures, it’s generally alcohol and water in different proportions. Oftentimes it’s 50/50. Sometimes, it’ll maybe be 70% alcohol but basically the alcohol is used and the compounds come out. The alcohol is basically pulled out of the extraction vessel and recaptured. But the compounds that are taken out are still in the water which then gets taken out and blended with the earlier extraction. Some people would call that a dual extraction. But the alcohol is used to get the triterpenes that can’t be pulled out with just water.
Logan: Okay, so you feel that’s only necessary with those few mushrooms you mentioned and not most of the other ones?
Jeff: No, that’s correct. Most of the other ones just are water-extracted. We’ll do the compounds that you need. That will get them most. Water extraction is sort of a very common method traditionally. That’s kind of like why will—it’s like a cup of coffee in the morning is a water extraction. A cup of tea is a water extraction. So we’re using that hot water to pull these things out, all the flavor, compounds and so on. Do some of those get left behind in the simple water extraction? Yes, certain plants need more than that and that’s why for example even with water extracts people have come up with different methods of water extraction that can get more than just a simple tea, for example, or even just boiling them up in a soup or something like that.
Logan: What are some of the benefits of the triterpenes?
Jeff: Well, it’s interesting because in one of my trips to China, I spoke to a traditional Chinese doctor who used reishi. He was at a reishi conference that I was at and he basically told me that he felt, for him and his practice that reishi was the most important herb he had for liver dysfunction. That’s something, too, that has definitely been demonstrated in a lot of the scientific testing for reishi. The triterpenes are also antioxidants. They have also shown some anti-tumor properties. They’re antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. They’re really a pretty broad spectrum of benefits from the triterpenes. That’s what makes reishi so unique. That’s what makes chaga unique, reishi more than chaga even because reishi has a much higher level of beta-glucans than chaga does but they both share triterpenes. Reishi has more than chaga has.
That’s why reishi is such a unique mushroom because we’ve got not only the triterpenes but also the beta-glucans in there. So the triterpenes are important. I would say there are all of these various actions to them that help to, I would say, make that reishi mushroom the—in a way, it’s kind of the most highly revered mushroom in traditional Chinese medicine and I think for good reason. I think that’s it, the triterpenes are what differentiates it from the other mushrooms because they all have these beta-glucans in common but certain of the mushrooms of course, like I said earlier, have let’s say a higher benefit from their beta-glucans because of their structure but with the reishi, it has got not just the beta-glucans but it does have these triterpenes and that makes it one of the best. I would say if anybody were to just look for one particular mushroom product, I would say definitely take resihi. It’s a fantastic mushroom with a lot of benefits.
As the side here, what I like to do with my reishi, and it is bitter, is I like to take it and put it in my coffee in the morning. That’s where I’ve got a reishi extract. I put a little bit in my coffee. I have to kind of figure out what amount suits a person’s taste but it has got a certain level of bitters there that kind of complements my coffee and I kind of like that. Some people don’t drink coffee. I’m personally a coffee drinker and I like coffee so I put some reishi in. That’s kind of the way I like to take my reishi.
Logan: Yeah, coffee seems to be a pretty good delivery vehicle for mushrooms especially. I’ve been doing that for a while because a lot of the tastes do go well with coffee and that kind of drives them in right with the caffeine.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s right. I love my coffee. It’s one of those let’s just call it an herb that I find very beneficial. I love the smell of it and the taste it and it’s a very interesting, complex kind of product. Yeah, that works for me, putting the reishi into my coffee in the morning. That works for me.
Logan: Can you talk a little bit more about ergosterol and maybe its benefits?
Jeff: Yeah, ergosterol is really an interesting compound and the more that it gets researched, the more benefits they see from it. I didn’t even pay much attention to ergosterol for the longest time but one of the interesting parts about ergosterol—again this is the main fungal sterol and it’s essentially an analog. We have a cholesterol and fungi have ergosterol. These sterols are really important for all of us. They help maintain sort of the integrity of our membranes, our cell membranes. Ergosterol when it gets exposed to UV light, it turns into vitamin D. We’ve all sort of read about the benefits of vitamin D lately. All of a sudden it’s a big topic.
With mushroom, you can actually get a very high amount of vitamin D from mushrooms, but they have to be exposed to UV. A mushroom itself does not have enough vitamin D. It’s got ergosterol in it. That’s what we’d call pro-vitamin D. So if you expose that to UV light, even if you take dried mushrooms and put them out in the sunlight and let them sit out in the sunlight in as little as 15 minutes, that can really boost the level of vitamin D in that dried mushroom. So ergosterol has that role in terms of a medicinal compound. It’s also shown recently, they’ve tested it and shown some anti-tumor activities as well. That’s where again eating mushrooms, this is just another reason.
Ergosterol is something as well that now I use as a marker compound. Because ergosterol only occurs in fungi, it’s been used as a marker compound for fungal contamination of grain for example. Now I can test products for ergosterol and I can find out what a standard level is for my mushroom products. Also, you can test any product out there. This is where also testing of the mycelium on grain products comes in. you can test those products for ergosterol and what you find is there’s very little ergosterol, which gets back to the fact that okay, there’s not a lot of fungal material so it makes sense there’s not a lot of ergosterol in there. So it’s also a marker for quality control.
But I think again what is really interesting—and this gets back to just eating mushrooms—if you’re buying mushrooms, especially if you’re buying dried mushrooms, even if you’re buying fresh mushrooms and especially if you’re in California—we don’t have much sunlight up here—put them outside. Put them in the sun. Just put them out there for 15 minutes and you’re going to get a significant amount of vitamin D. In fact, I’ve even seen some companies now that are taking Agaricus mushrooms, cultivating Agaricus mushrooms, slicing them, putting them onto a conveyor and pulsing them with a UV lamp and raising up the vitamin D content to the point that they will then for one, sell the sliced Argaricus as vitamin D-enhanced and/or they are actually drying these Agaricus mushrooms out, grinding them out to a powder and I’ve seen supplements that are a vitamin D supplement and it’s 100% Agaricus mushroom. So it’s an absolutely natural source of vitamin D.
To be specific here, there are a couple of types of vitamin D. Let’s call it vitamin D2 and there’s a lot of vitamin D out there that is D2 and is produced from yeast, which is a fungal product. So a lot of vitamin D is produced from yeast and that’s vitamin D. That will be the same as mushrooms. Then there’s another vitamin D, which is vitamin D3 and that comes from animal sources. A lot of people out there, they’re vegan, if they’re looking deep they’re looking at maybe where their vitamin supplements come from because a lot of these could be coming from animal products. So for some people, having a vitamin D supplement that comes from a fungal product makes sense to them because certainly if they’re a deep vegan, that’s something that you want to do. This is vitamin D2 and most of the tests that I’ve seen have demonstrated that vitamin D2 and D3 act in the same way. There is some conflicting research. It’ll probably get sorted out within the next few years because there’s certainly a lot more research on vitamin D now but it appears to me from what I’ve read vitamin D2 is just as good as vitamin D3. So in terms of mushrooms, eating mushrooms especially, great source. Put it out in the sun. Get some vitamin D from it.
Logan: Right. Vitamin D2 has some different benefits or different things it does in the body so getting that as well as D3 could be useful as well.
Logan: One thing about these mushrooms, we’ve talked about the three different components of which there are probably countless of it we haven’t identified. All the mushrooms, how rich are they in different vitamins and minerals? Is that a pretty big supply in some of these mushrooms as well?
Jeff: Mushrooms are known for B vitamins and those would be niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. They have decent amounts of these three B vitamins. In terms of minerals, very high in potassium and phosphorus. What you have to remember, too, is the data on the nutritional value of mushrooms, we can’t say this is what’s in a mushroom because interestingly enough, it varies from mushroom species to mushroom species. It all depends on what they’re growing on. A lot of plants, for example, growing on certain soil, those plants will manifest what’s in the soil, especially when it comes to minerals. If your soil is high in certain minerals, the plants or the mushrooms will end up being high in those particular minerals as well. That’s something that is always going to be kind of like a variable.
But generally speaking, mushrooms are somewhere around 30% protein. They have approximately 60% carbohydrate, half of which is fiber and maybe around 5% to 8%, 6% minerals. This is the other thing that’s very interesting about mushrooms. For the longest time, mushrooms were looked upon by nutritionists as value-less. It’s kind of like mushroom is simply a taste type of product. There’s really no nutritional value. The reason they said was actually because mushrooms are very low in calories. It’s not something you’re going to get eat to get that burst of carbohydrate energy. That’s not what they do. They’re low in calories. Actually, once low-cal foods started to become a thing, all of a sudden mushroom growers started to sell them as okay great, mushrooms are a low-cal food. And not every food we eat has to be calorie-rich. There are calorie-rich foods out there that we can eat but mushrooms are low in calories.
But the protein in a mushroom is really good protein, especially if you’re a vegetarian. It’s a good source of protein. Again, it depends on the mushrooms. Some mushrooms have a low amount of protein but your shiitakes, your button mushrooms, your Pleurotus, all have a good amount of protein so that’s something, too, with an edible mushroom that you will be as a vegetarian to incorporate mushrooms into your diet.
Logan: Well, we’re coming up upon an hour and there is still so much more we could talk about. I’d like to have you on again sometime in the future. Maybe we could talk about specific mushrooms and some of their benefits.
Jeff: Absolutely. That would be fun. I enjoyed doing this.
Logan: Excellent. So just to wrap up, where could people go to find out more about you? I’ll mention your white paper again. We’ll definitely include links to everything in the show notes.
Jeff: Well, certainly I encourage people to come to my website, Nammex.com. I have a lot of information there as well as a few videos that explain things, a lot of lists of various facts about mushrooms that people should know, how to choose your mushroom product or what are in mushrooms. So I highly recommend that people go to the website to check it all out. Again, one of the main things that I’m trying to do is help to educate people about mushroom products. It’s very important.
Logan: Well, thank you so much. I heard you on another podcast and I was like oh, this is amazing stuff; I’ve got to go check it out. I did and now we’re like oh, we can get better quality mushrooms. So we’re in the process of switching everything over at Super Man Herbs over to your suppliers. Yeah, just a few items so far and they have been amazing. So I’m very excited about doing this so we can put real mushrooms out into the world rather than mycelium on grain.
Jeff: And I’m glad that you came across that. It’s been a pleasure talking to you today, Logan, and again I when people can get the information and make those kinds of decisions and go wow, there’s something here; I’ve been thinking that these other products were good but I guess I’ve got new information now that tells me something different. So it’s nice that people can look at that and make those kinds of decisions. Again, thank you so much for having me on the podcast. It’s been great.
Logan: Yeah, thank you for doing this. Like I said, we’ll have to do this again. Everyone listening, thanks for listening to another episode. Please leave a review on iTunes. That helps us out. Also, head to the website. We’ve got show notes for this episode. Leave your comments, any questions that you have. We’ll be happy to answer them. And yes, we’ll be bringing you more information about mushrooms in the future. Thanks for listening.