What is a mushroom extract, anyway?
The term “extract” is often rattled off by herbalists, nutritionists and scientists — while many of us are left nodding our head in agreeance (despite not *actually* knowing what an extract is — let alone what it does).
Well, to help you out, an extract is a way of preparing (and optimising) medicinal plants, herbs or mushrooms.
It involves using a solvent (like hot water or alcohol) to draw out specific compounds and active ingredients that are beneficial to human health.
So, in technical-science-speak, extracts draw out the goodness in food so we can reap the benefits.
Buuuut the whole process gets a little more involved than that.
And if you’re interested in using medicinal mushrooms in your daily routine, it’s a good idea to understand the mushroom extraction process so you know what goodness you’re getting.
So, what is a mushroom extract?
A mushroom extract is when you take a raw mushroom and apply a solvent to it (like water or alcohol) to draw out beneficial compounds.
By extracting mushrooms, we’re able to dissolve some of the active ingredients, release their powers and increase their bioavailability (which means it’s easier for our bodies to absorb). Tick, tick and tick. The final product comes in all different forms — from powders to tinctures to dual liquid extracts.
Now we know what you might be thinking… Can’t we just, you know, eat a mushroom to access its nutrients?
Why do we even extract mushrooms?
Sure, you can always eat a mushroom to access its nutrients.
But the thing is, you’d have to eat a LOT of mushrooms to get the same level of goodness you’d get from an extract (ahem, it’ll take a bit more than the mushroom special at your local cafe).
What’s more, extraction processes work to access compounds that would otherwise be unreachable. See, a mushroom’s tough exterior contains a thing called “chitin” — which is a tough compound that’s also found in crustacean shells, insect shells and fish (AKA rock-hard stuff).
This chitin cell wall locks in mushroom nutrients like polysaccharides, terpenoids and proteins — which we can’t access without some form of heating or extraction.
But hold up, what do those words even mean?
- Polysaccharides are a fancy word for long-chain carbohydrates. The most common polysaccharide in mushrooms is beta-glucan, which can work to activate immune cells, increase antibody production and reduce inflammation. AKA all the good stuff.
- Terpenoids, on the other hand, are naturally occurring compounds. They’re anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, sedative and a good for all-round immunity.
(more on these guys in a minute).
What do mushroom extraction ratios mean?
It’s a good idea to decipher what mushroom extraction ratios mean, because it ultimately tells you how much mushy you’re getting. And isn’t that why we’re all here?
A mushroom extraction ratio is the volume of dry mushroom used to make the final concentrated extract. For example, a mushroom extract ratio of 10:1 would mean it took 10g of mushroom for every 1g of extract. Simple enough?
So, does a high extraction ratio always mean a better product?
In some cases, this is used as sneaky marketing to make the product *appear* like it has more mushroom — when really, it could just be wasteful.
At Natura Mushrooms, our tinctures use an extraction ratio of 5 to 1. That is, 5g of mushroom creates 1g of tincture. This ensures you’re getting a good dose of nutrients and bioactive ingredients.
What’s the difference between mushroom extracts and powders?
This is the part that trips a lot of mushy-lovers up, so bear with us.
When we break it down, there are a few different types of extracts…
- Hot water extraction — heating the raw mushrooms with hot water to dissolve medicinal compounds. After the water evaporates, it leaves a delicious and nutritious mushroom powder. Hot water is effective at drawing out those polysaccharides (beta-glucans) we mentioned earlier — which can ultimately stimulate your immune cells.
- Alcohol extraction— like a spicier alternative, this uses alcohol instead of hot water in the process (also known as a tincture). It’s commonly used on mushrooms with medicinal compounds that don’t dissolve with hot water alone. Terpenoids are one of these — an antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compound.
- Dual extraction— uses both alcohol and hot water to dissolve medicinal compounds. This is beneficial, as you’re receiving the full suite of goodness.
So, where does that leave mushroom powders?
Well, mushroom powders often fall into one of two categories…
- Just a ground up mushroom — this is literally created by drying out a mushroom and grinding it up. Simples. This is a great way to consume chitin, which is rich in antioxidants and insoluble fibre.
- Hot water extract — yep, mushroom powders can ALSO be extracts. At Natura Mushrooms, our mushroom powders undergo a hot water extraction process to draw out the medicinal compounds. Then, the resulting liquid is added to dehydrated mushroom mycelium — where the mycelium absorbs all the liquid goodness before being dehydrated and ground up (other mushroom companies may simply grind up the mushroom).
Moral of the story: always read the label and understand the process.
How to make a mushroom extract
So now you know what a mushroom extract is, how do you even make one?
Well, we can‘t speak on behalf of all mushroom products. But here’s a little insight into what we do at Natura Mushrooms…
We always start off with hot water extraction to break down the polysaccharides. In this process, we add water, mycelium, mushroom fruit body and botanicals into a pressure cooker for approximately 10 hours, shifting from a range of temperatures and pressures. This ensures the chitin wall breaks down effectively. Then, the resulting liquid is added to dehydrated mycelium, which soaks it up like a sponge. Finally, it’s slowly dehydrated, ground up, packaged and sent to you.
As for our dual extract tinctures, we follow up the hot water extraction process with alcohol extraction, leaving the mushroom mixture to sit in alcohol for a week to draw out the soluble compounds (like triterpenes).
Creating mushroom products in this way ensures maximum bioavailability, allowing your body to soak up the goodness.
So, which extraction method is right for each mushroom (and you)?
It depends on your goals. If you’re particularly interested in accessing polysaccharides — like in Lion’s Mane, Turkey Tail and Cordyceps — then hot water extraction does the trick.
For mushrooms higher in triterpenoid compounds (like Reishi) then dual extraction is a great way to go.
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of each mushroom, check out our guide to purchasing medicinal mushrooms.
At Natura Mushrooms, we grow, harvest and source a range of medicinal mushrooms on our 100% off-grid farm in Gippsland, Victoria. Then, we delicately extract them using a combination of hot water extraction and dual extraction methods.
Plus, we always let the latest research guide the products we bring to market, from brain-boosting lion’s mane to relaxing reishi to immunity-enhancing turkey tail.
You can discover our range here…
- Mushroom powders (hot water extraction)
- Mushroom dual liquid extracts
- Mushroom dual liquid extracts and hemp seed oil
- Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide by Martin Powell