There are many supplements in the marketplace today that are marketed as mushroom but do not contain any mushrooms. These are products made from what is called myceliated grain.
This very important distinction is not easy to identify and the consumer is left believing they have purchased mushrooms when in fact that’s very far from the truth.
This is even true for many influencers and health practitioners who often cite research based on mushrooms and then recommend a product that contains no mushrooms.
I’ve reviewed many mushroom and myceliated grain products and even I still get stumped when trying to determine what the product is actually made from because the marketing materials are so confusing. Sometimes the company itself doesn’t know what they are selling because they’re buying from a 3rd party ingredient supplier who is buying from the actual source. It’s like a bad game of telephone.
Below are some tips you can use to determine if a product is myceliated grain.
What is Myceliated Grain?
Myceliated grain is produced by growing mycelium, the mushroom root system, on a grain substrate. This technique was developed back in the 1930s to produce seed for growing fresh mushrooms. Mushrooms growers call this seed grain spawn.
The process involves putting cooked grain into a plastic bag and sterilizing it in a giant pressure cooker called an autoclave. Then the sterile grain is inoculated [injected] with mycelium of the desired fungal species like reishi or lions mane or cordyceps.
Inside the plastic bag, the mycelium will then grow out on the grain and create an inseparable white mass. This mass is very similar to the Asian, fermented food product tempeh. Once the mycelium growth is complete, the mycelium and the grain are harvested together, dried and powdered.
This myceliated grain is now sold as a “mushroom” ingredient even though it contains no mushrooms. The grain component, which dilutes the amount of mycelium present, is often not disclosed.
A local TV news organization toured a major producer of myceliated grain. The video shows very clearly the exact process of how myceliated grain is produced. Watch the video and look very closely.
Do you see any mushrooms? Count how many times they say the word “mushroom”.
The Trouble with Myceliated Grain
For one, much of what you’re paying for is grain.
In fact, a patent filed by Paul Stamets (see example 9) estimated that myceliated grain contains 60-70% grain.
More grain equates to less mycelium which equates to less active compounds. This was confirmed in the Nammex White Paper (1) and the McCleary & Draga research (2). The active compounds, like beta-glucans, are where most of the benefits are derived.
Secondly, the majority of the research literature is based on the mushroom (fruiting body). While there is a large body of research on mycelium, almost all of this is based on pure mycelium made through liquid fermentation. Liquid fermentation grows the mycelium in a liquid medium instead of a grain substrate. The liquid can then be drained off at the end of the growing process leaving just pure mycelium.
If you are someone who is trying to avoid grains (allergies, paleo, keto, etc.), you may be inadvertently consuming grains without knowing it.
Ways to Identify Myceliated Grain
Location – Where is it grown?
Myceliated grain, sold as a supplement, is almost entirely grown in the US. This is because it is too expensive to grow mushrooms for supplements in North America. Products claiming “US Grown” are almost always myceliated grain and not mushroom.
Pure mushroom extracts generally come from China. As of 2013, China grows over 85% of the world’s mushrooms (5) and this has been steadily climbing.
Color – What does it look like?
Mushroom extracts vary in color depending on the color of the mushroom whereas myceliated grain almost always looks the same. This is because the mycelium is a uniform color and the grain is also a uniform color. Typically myceliated grain is light in color similar to the color of the grain it grows on.
Can you tell which one is Cordyceps and which one is Reishi?
If you have a product like reishi or chaga and it’s a light color, start asking questions.
Taste – What does it taste like?
If it is made from mushrooms, it should taste like mushrooms.
For mushrooms like reishi, it should taste bitter since one of the main active compounds in reishi are bitter triterpenes. Bitterness is a good quality indicator for a high quality reishi extract.
Is your reishi bitter? Ours is.
In contrast, myceliated grain tastes very bland and is often marketed as having “no mushroom flavor”. When you realize that there is a large amount of grain in the product, your mind will start to think it tastes like grain.
Does it mention polysaccharides?
While this is not an absolute indicator since many mushroom extracts are still measured for polysaccharides, some myceliated grain products are also tested for this. They often show very high polysaccharide counts but as we’ve seen, polysaccharides are a poor measure of quality as starch is a polysaccharide so any residual grain will increase the total polysaccharides giving you a false sense of quality. If you look at (1) and (2) you will see high total polysaccharides for myceliated grain products (alpha-glucans + beta-glucans) but the majority of it comes from alpha-glucans which are primarily starches (not what you want).
Product Label – Does it say mycelium?
Although it is a requirement by the FDA to properly label whether a product is mushroom or mycelium, this is often overlooked by the brand. Either they themselves are unaware that their ingredient is myceliated grain and they think it is mushroom or they are trying to mislead you.
The American Herbal Products Association has also released a labeling guide stating that mycelium or mushroom should be properly identified.
Common terms you can use to identify myceliated grain:
- US Grown
- Myceliated brown rice
- Mycelial biomass
- Organic White Milo
- Full spectrum
- Primordia and exocellular compounds
Make sure to read the marketing materials, ingredient info and supplements panel very carefully.
If a product is grown in the US, it is fairly certain that it is myceliated grain and not mushroom. There are some exceptions to this for small scale producers.
Myceliated grain has been shown to be primarily grain and contain very little of the active compounds that make mushrooms beneficial. While there is mycelium research, it is almost always based on pure mycelium made through liquid fermentation which does not contain any grain in the final ingredient.
We believe it is important for consumers to be aware of what they are consuming and know about the different processes used to make mushroom and mycelium products.
- 100% mushroom
- Certified organic
- Verified for beta-glucans
- Have no added fillers like grain
- Consistent with the scientific literature
Please leave any questions or comments below.
- Chilton, Jeff, Nammex, 2015. Redefining Medicinal Mushrooms.
- McCleary, B. V., & Draga, A. (2016). Measurement of ß-Glucan in mushrooms and mycelial products. Journal of AOAC International, 99(2), 364–373.
- FDA: CPG Section 585.525: Mushroom Mycelium – Fitness for Food; Labeling
- AHPA: Labeling of Dietary Supplements Containing Fungi Dietary Ingredients
- Croan, S. C. (2005). Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms. Mycological Research(Vol. 109).
Skye is the founder of Real Mushrooms. Read more about his story into medicinal mushrooms here. When he’s not spreading the word of Real Mushrooms, he enjoys mushroom foraging, bouldering, cooking, gardening and hiking.