King oyster mushroom bodies growing on top of mushroom mycelium with a black backdrop

Turns out, mushrooms aren’t just a great addition to your weeknight risotto. Researchers around the world are continually discovering new and exciting uses of mycelium, from mushroom building materials to cleaning products to fabric for clothing and accessories.

Sure, at Natura Mushrooms we might be a tad biased towards the (almost) infinite powers of the mushroom. But seriously, as far as versatility in agriculture, science and medicine goes, there are few things a mushroom can’t do.

So, buckle up as we share the many uses of mycelium (beyond frying up mushrooms for your Sunday morning toast).

 

What can mycelium be used for? 

Mycelium is a crucial part of the fungi kingdom (and not to mention, life on earth).

Mycelium is an expansive network of hyphae threads that sprawls through the soil and sprouts mushrooms (if we liken it to plants, mycelium would be the roots and a mushroom would be the flower).

 

 

Not all mycelia fruit mushrooms, but all mushrooms come from mycelia. There are more than 14,000 different species of mycelia and mushrooms in the world (not to mention, countless more that are yet to be discovered!)

Mycelium is kind of like yeast (both are fungi). However, unlike yeast cells, mycelia are multicellular and can even grow into macro-sized structures (like a mushroom).

So, as the mycelium grows it assembles a condensed network of long, minuscule fibres, which act as the foundational structure before it evolves into a mushroom.

And this part is where humans intervene. Rather than letting a mushroom grow out of the substrate, the mycelium can be manipulated into more complex structures.

Yep, the fast-growing fibres can be moulded to produce materials for packaging, clothing, food, construction, mushroom leather, plant-based steaks and scaffolding. Imagine growing your own mushroom shoes?!

While the possibilities for mycelium use are almost limitless, there are three practises that excite us the most.

Psst. We’re now going to get right into some of the coolest uses of the mighty mycelium, however if you need more of a recap on what mycelium actually is, brush up your knowledge here.

 

Myceli-yum! Mycelium as a meat substitute


Grilled Portobello mushroom steaks have been on vegan menus for years, often acting as a delicious substitute for beef burgers.

But as delicious as mushrooms are, they don’t exactly taste like meat (which is a shame if that’s what you’re looking for).

Created in laboratories, mycelium-based meat replicates the fibrous and tender consistency of meat. The similarities are uncanny. Better yet, the growth and production of fungi-based meats may use as little as 1% of the energy, land and water compared to typical meat agricultural practises, and takes a fraction of the time to make complete protein.

The protein is filled with nutrition (including fibre, B vitamins, iron and zinc) and low in cholesterol- win, win! Meatless Mondays are sorted.

 

Oyster mushrooms growing in front of a blue background

Mycelium as a substitute for packaging materials

In the age of eCommerce, shopping has never been so easy.

If you have access to the Internet, you can make a purchase in a matter of minutes. But what’s not so impressive is when that delivery arrives sandwiched with foam. Sure, the unfriendly addition may protect your purchase from damage, but it can take thousands of years to biodegrade.

Mushrooms positioned next to a carton that's made from mushroom mycelium
Enter mycelium.

Lightweight, easy to mould and easy to grow, mycelium has all the favourable traits for use as packaging.

Known as ‘mycelium foam,’ the material stands head and shoulders above traditional products like polystyrene foam or polyurethane. We’re talking biodegradable, strong, breathable, flame resistant, lightweight, resilient, inexpensive and incredibly viable. It also uses 90% less CO2 than its plastic rival.

Fashion goes fungal

The fashion industry has an ugly secret.

In production, the industry consumes huge quantities of water and produces 10% of global carbon emissions. Yikes.

Perhaps more harmful than its production is its disposal, with discarded textiles piling up in landfill. But to combat this, some clothing manufacturers are turning to mushroom mycelium as an environmentally friendly alternative to leather and synthetic products.

 

A brown mushroom leather bag laid out next to different types of mushrooms on a wooden backdrop

You can literally grow your clothes, people.  

Global fashion houses including Lululemon, Adidas and Stella McCartney have stepped up to the plate, signing deals with material solutions company Bolt Threads. The manufacturer’s claim to fame is their leather alternative called Mylo made exclusively from mycelium.

In April 2021, Adidas released their new shoe, The Stan Smith Mylo made almost entirely of mushroom mycelium. In fact, the outer upper part of the shoe, the three stripes, the heel tab overlay and the iconic Adidas branding were all made with Mylo.

So… what's next?

Intrigued about the uses of mushroom mycelium? Join the club.

And we’re only scratching the surface here. We didn’t even begin to touch on its use in mycoremediation, cladding and medicine… the list just goes on and on.

And to us, one of the best things about using mycelium for fashion, packaging and meat substitutes is that they’re no longer hypothetical. The technology already exists.

What’s even more exciting? There are so many more uses of mycelium that we haven’t even discovered yet. Consider us optimistic, but we can only see this list growing and growing.

 

Two blocks of mushroom mycelium 

References

https://boltthreads.com/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/mushroom-surprising-uses-building-material-medicines-fungi?loggedin=true

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lanabandoim/2021/06/28/fungi-based-meat-wants-to-be-your-meatless-monday-dinner/?sh=6e32022d3762

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/12/mycelium-mushroom-sustainable-packaging-fashion-meat/

https://www.mylo-unleather.com/