Education

Where are Medicinal Mushrooms Grown?

By March 2, 2019 July 18th, 2019 No Comments

Did you know that China grows over 87% of mushrooms worldwide?

Many of our customers ask us why we source all our mushrooms from China.

The answer is simple.

It is not possible to produce organic mushroom extract powders in North America.

While it is possible to grow these mushrooms in North America for food, what you’ll discover is that is that it is too expensive to grow them for supplement use.

U.S. Growing Economics

To demonstrate this, I will use shiitake mushrooms as an example, since they are one of the most inexpensive mushrooms to grow.

The 2017/18 USDA averaged price for fresh non-organic shiitake mushrooms was $4.44 per pound. This equates to $9.77 per kilo and for sake of argument I will use the price of $10 per kilo.

So a U.S. grower receives $10 per kilo for fresh non-organic shiitake mushrooms.

Dried mushrooms are used for supplements so I will need convert the fresh price to a dried price.

Mushrooms are generally around 90% water so when shiitake mushrooms are dried they will yield ~10% of the initial weight.

This means that in order for the grower to get the equivalent $10 per kilo fresh they will need to charge $100 per kilo dried. (1kg fresh = 100g dried. 100g * $100/dried kg = $10)

This is where the economics start to break down.

To produce a simple extract, the dried mushrooms must be ground into a powder, extracted with hot water and/or alcohol, concentrated and then converted from a liquid into the final extract powder.  This can easily add upwards of $50 per kilo in equipment and labor.

$150 per kilo for a 1:1 shiitake mushroom extract powder with no additional profit margins added into the price yet. This is already too expensive for the majority of supplement companies.

And this is for non-organic and one of the cheapest medicinal mushrooms.

Certified organic mushrooms are more expensive and harder to grow mushrooms like reishi can easily double the price.

Now for an 8:1 extract like in our Turkey Tail product, 8 times the mushrooms are needed before processing even begins, so the raw ingredients costs would be $800+ per kilo. This would not be competitive in the current medicinal mushroom supplement marketplace which is why you cannot find it.

A 15:1 reishi dual extract like in our 5 Defenders, would be over $3000 per kilo if grown in North America.

This is why mushrooms are not grown for supplements in North America.

What the USDA Says

If this is hard to believe, here’s what the USDA says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture releases reports every year on the production and sales of various agricultural crops; mushrooms being one of them.

They break it down into different categories like location, mushroom type, organic, etc.

Some interesting facts from their 2017/18 data:

  • The U.S. grew 917 million pounds of mushrooms (<3% of worldwide production).
  • The button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) accounts for 97% of this.
  • Specialty mushrooms (non-button mushroom) account for the other 3%.
  • Organic mushrooms are 14% of production with 83% of this being the button mushroom.

Now if we want to consider medicinal mushrooms, we need to look at specialty mushrooms. Specialty mushrooms are broken into shiitake, oyster and other. The table below breaks down the total production for 2017/18.

Specialty mushroom estimates represent growers who have at least 200 natural wood logs in production or some commercial indoor growing area, and $200 in sales.

While the U.S. grew 27 million pounds of specialty mushrooms, footnote #3 says: “Virtually all specialty mushrooms sales are for fresh market

The USDA is saying that there is basically no specially mushrooms being grown that are being used by anything other than the fresh market (ie. None of these mushrooms are being used for supplements).

This confirms my statements above about it being too expensive to grow medicinal mushrooms for use in supplements in the U.S. or North America for that matter.

The Alternative to Mushrooms

Mycelium grown on grain

Mycelium growing on a grain substrate.

But you can find so-called medicinal “mushroom” supplements claiming to be U.S. grown.

Medicinal mushroom supplements and ingredients that are claiming things like “US Grown” almost always do not contain any mushrooms. As you’ve seen above, it is too expensive.

But if it’s too expensive to grow them then what is it?

The main suppliers of U.S Grown “mushroom” ingredients are actually selling myceliated grain and not mushrooms. If you’re a mushroom grower, you will recognize this product as grain spawn. It is the seed used to start the process of growing mushrooms.

Myceliated grain is sterilized grain that has been inoculated with the mycelium of a fungal species like shiitake. The shiitake mycelium will then begin to grow out on the grain and in 30-60 days it will be dried, powdered and sold as a “mushroom” ingredient grain and all even though it contains no mushrooms.

It is very cheap to produce and hence economical for use in supplements.

Here’s an example of the full process from start to finish and you can read further on how to identify myceliated grain.

Who Grows all the Mushrooms?

China is the leading grower of mushrooms worldwide, accounting for over 87% of production as of 2013 (2). Given their explosive growth of mushroom production, as of 2019 they likely account for 90-95% of worldwide production.

Cultivated mushroom production in China and selected regions of the world, 2013 (billion kg)

Cultivated mushroom production in China and selected regions of the world, 2013 (billion kg)

Shiitake (lentinula), Wood ear (auricularia) and Oyster (pleurotus) mushroom have all pushed ahead of the button mushroom (agaricus) in global production.

World edible mushroom production (% of total) by genus (2013)

World edible mushroom production (% of total) by genus (2013)

You can see the amazing rise in production over the last 30+ years.

Growth in world shiitake production (1980–2013; billion kg)

Growth in world shiitake production (1980–2013; billion kg)

China has a rich history around mushrooms. They have been a food source and used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. China was the first to begin cultivation of mushrooms in the early 13th century. They have many research centers dedicated solely to the development of mushrooms: whether it’s as food or as medicine.

Every year when I travel to China during the mushroom harvest season and visit the organic mushroom farms, I eat so many different kinds of mushrooms. There is not a single meal that goes by where there is not some kind of mushroom dish.

Me at an organic reishi farm in China.

Me at an organic reishi farm in China.

Summary

For medicinal mushrooms, China is the leading grower worldwide with no other countries coming close to their production volume. For this reason, if you want a mushroom extract that is actually made from the mushroom, it needs to come from China.

Growing mushrooms in North America is too expensive for supplement use. The only option is laboratory grown myceliated grain because it is much cheaper to produce. But myceliated grain is not mushrooms and should not be marketed as mushrooms when it does not contain any mushrooms and the majority of it is grain.

When selecting a medicinal mushroom product it is important that it is:

  • 100% mushroom
  • Certified organic
  • Verified levels of beta-glucans
  • Guarded against fillers like grains

Resources

  1. August 21, 2018, USDA, Mushroom Product and Sales
  2. Royse, D. J., Baars, J., & Tan, Q. (2017). Current Overview of Mushroom Production in the World. Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms, 2010, 5–13. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119149446.ch2
Skye Chilton

Skye Chilton

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.