The differences between a reishi extract (food supplement) and whole reishi (food) is huge. To start to understand them, we'll use bread as an example: bread extract made from hard bread.
Someone can boil wholemeal bread in a pot, put the bread out when it is well cooked and continue boiling the water until everything dissolved concentrates in a brownish crust. If we grind this, we will have a "baguette" extract. It will concentrate group B vitamins which are soluble in water: B1 and B2 (B6, which is present in bread, will be missing because it will be destroyed by heat), concentrated starches (carbohydrates), concentrated gluten (proteins) and concentrated minerals: selenium, calcium, potassium, magnesium...
Is it better to have the aqueous extract of the bread than eating the whole bread?
Well, that depends on the aim wanted. If someone has a deficiency in vitamin B6, this extract will not help at all, as it has been completely degraded. But for someone who needs vitamin B2, the extract will be better than the starting bread. Ah! And for intolerants to gluten, the extract will cause severe damage to their intestinal epithelium because a few grams of extract will contain the gluten of a whole baguette.
An extract concentrates some substances, others are damaged during the extraction process, and the good ones can be harmful if highly concentrated.
Reishi extracts production
Almost all the extracts on the market are processed to obtain beta-glucans concentrates. The latter are extracted with sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and hydrochloric acid (HCL), highly reactive substances and therefore capable of separating the beta-glucans chains from the glucan matrix of the mushroom, at a high temperature. What happens there? First, the beta glucan itself is affected and loses some of its triple helix conformation (similar to the winding structure of DNA). This makes the beta-glucans lose activity, since in the group of active beta glucans, with 1-3, 1-6 bond, the ones that show this winding structure are the ones that have biological activity (see explanation in detail here). Besides, aggressive treatments with soda, used to extract beta-glucans, chemically change lots of molecules with biological activity, making them lose their activity. In this case, bases (NaOH) and strong acids (HCL) are used, which at a home level corrode metals, hurt living tissue (they shouldn’t be touched by hand!), and react with almost everything, including reishi substances.
I have given an example of making an aqueous extract from wholemeal bread. But let’s prepare another extract: If we boiled the baguette in ethyl alcohol (extremely dangerous at home, because it can catch fire), and remove the bread from the liquid again and evaporated the alcohol until we obtained a crust, as we did in the previous process, we would obtain what would be called a “baguette” alcoholic extract. This would have zero B vitamins, since they do not dissolve in alcohol, and would lack almost all minerals: selenium, calcium, magnesium, which do not dissolve either... Besides, it would present residual proteins and, among the few substances that it would contain, we would find oils added to bread and some fat-soluble vitamins and other nonpolar compounds. The chemical composition of the extraction will be totally different from the extraction in water and therefore its activity in the organism would be completely different.
Is this the same thing?
|Photomicrograph of Reishi mushroom powder (400X): we can see mushroom cells chopped by the grinding.||Photomicrograph of Reishi extract (400X): agglomerations of concentrated chemical compounds are observed.|
And going back to reishi:
Each extract concentrates different molecules and thus have different activity in the body. Consequently, there are medical studies conducted with very active chloroform extracts, which are not prepared commercially because the chloroform is very easily degraded and very dangerous too; also with ether extracts, extracts in methanol and, of course, in water and ethanol. Of the approximately 700 medical studies about reishi which have been published to date, there is only one kind of reishi that shows all the activity of all the extracts and, therefore, all properties: the pure reishi, not extracted! It will have less concentration of everything (the natural concentration), but it will have everything.
If we go to a fruit shop and ask for apples and the grocer takes out a bag for us, full of apple-tree wood shavings mixed with leaves and crushed root (the apple plant), even if he tells us that is an excellent product, healthy and with lots of vitamins, we’d surely say he must be crazy. This is because we all know that a bag of apples (the fruit of the tree) is not the same as the bag full of apple tree (the plant) pieces. Well, believe it or not, this is what happens when we ask for reishi (the fruit of the fungus) in a store and they sell us mycelium of Ganoderma lucidum (reishi fungus), saying it is the same. They are different parts of the fungus and therefore they are enormously different.
Cultivation of mycelium in the laboratory. The white part is mycelium that grows on the glass, out of the growth medium. The immersed brown part are "balls" of mycelium. This is what is sold as reishi by different trademarks. The cultivation is conducted in huge tanks, not in Erlenmeyer flasks as in this case.
To show the differences, we will summarize a couple of scientific documents (references at the end of the article).
The first one compares several active substances contained in the mushroom and in the mycelium of Ganoderma lucidum. Among others, it speaks of the total content of polyphenols, which are molecules that provide reishi with most of its antioxidant power. Whereas in the reishi mushroom the content was 7.82%, in the mycelium of Ganoderma lucidum these plyphenols were not detectable! To ignore this is to ignore dozens of reishi’s protective molecules. The publication also studied polysaccharides, the molecules that include the immunomodulating beta-glucans, so important in good reishi. In this case, the mycelium had only 1.1%, while the reishi mushroom reached 29.7% 1, that is:
The equivalent in polysaccharides of 1kg of reishi is 27 kg of mycelium! Does anyone still think they are the same?
In case the previous scientific publication did not clarify the differences between both products, in 2016 Bhardwaj2 compared tens of molecules in reishi and in the mycelium. For this purpose, he used the ultra-performance convergence chromatography technique together with a Quadrupole mass spectrometer equipment. The result: regarding the different chemical composition, it can be concluded that, yes, the difference between them is like comparing an apple and the apple tree wood. Do not let yourself be deceived at the fruit shop!
Reishi mushrooms from our experimental crops, ready to be analyzed at the faculty of Medicine at the UVA University. Notice that one thing has nothing to do with the other, although they all come from the same Ganoderma lucidum organism.
1- S. T. Chang and J. A. Buswell, "Safety, quality control and regulational aspects relating to mushroom nutriceuticals," Proceedings of 6th International Conference in Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products. GAMU Gmbh, Krefeld, Germany, 2008.
2- Bhardwaj, A., et al., Screening of Indian Lingzhi or Reishi Medicinal Mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum (Agaricomycetes): A UPC2-SQD-MS Approach. J Pharmacopuncture, 2016. 18(2): p. 177-89
A few months ago we published 3 key points for choosing good reishi, indicating the characteristics that quality reishi must have. In this new article we will focus on other 3 key points, but this time, we will give the details that characterize low quality reishis. By combining the information of the two articles, we will be quite sure to have good reishi in our hands.
1- Be careful with floral smells
The reishi on the left, packaged in Spain, has a very pronounced "floral complex" smell. This aroma is not natural to reishi. The one on the right is reishi from MundoReishi. See the color difference too.
The natural reishi aroma is not fresh and floral. This aroma is present in reishis that have previously undergone a extraction process: the producers have extracted the most valuable active substances, in order to sell them separately, and what they sell at a very cheap price are the remains of the extraction, to which aromas are incorporated simulating the natural aroma of the mushroom, since it has been lost in the process. These aromas are usually too floral. Because of reishi’s bitterness, caffeine is often added, which also provides an "energizing" activity in the organism.
This adulteration is also present in some teas in the market1.
The previous "reishi" under a microscope at 100X magnification. The cells of the mushroom are perfectly visible, but they will be "empty" of active principles.
2- Coffee flavours and/or very roasted aromas, reishi degraded
It will indicate that the product is deteriorated by excess heat during the grinding or drying processes. If, besides, it has gray or blackish tones, the possibilities increase enormously.
The reishi on the left, encapsulated in Spain, was badly damaged in the drying and grinding processes: it has burnt smell and toasted colors and flavors. It will have hundreds of active molecules damaged, losing its quality. The one on the right is MundoReishi's reishi, with the natural color after a cold grinding and drying.
3- Chicken broth smell and/or flavour: adulteration of reishi
Reishi that smells like chicken broth will most likely be adulterated. Reishi has no umami smell or taste! This aroma is produced by glutamic acid salts, such as monosodium glutamate, which is naturally present in most edible mushrooms: boletuses, fairy ring mushrooms, champignon mushrooms... but is residual in reishi. Discard any reishi that presents this smell.
This reishi from another supplier smells and tastes like chicken broth. Under a microscope (next picture) no more than 5% of fungus hyphae is seen (it is adulterated in more than 95%). The exterior color has been quite accomplished, perhaps a little clearer than an authentic reishi. The texture looks very heterogeneous.
The previous "reishi" seen under a microscope at 100X magnification. There are hardly filaments of mushroom (compare with the above microphotography). It is likely to be adulterated with cereal fiber (oat?), as it is stained red with Congo red (which dyes betaglucans).
Do the test yourself: Select two brands from the market, a "cheap" brand and another expensive brand, with almost total security they will smell and taste different. This happens because you are before different products, and therefore, with different properties.
If you’ve liked it, read our previous article: 3 key points for choosing good reishi.
1- Tejero, J. , Gayoso, S. , Caro, I. , Cordoba-Diaz, D. , Mateo, J. , Basterrechea, J. , Girbés, T. and Jiménez, P. (2014) Comparative Analysis of the Antioxidant and Free-Radical Scavenging Activities of Different Water-Soluble Extracts of Green, Black and Oolong Tea Samples. Food and Nutrition Sciences, 5, 2157-2166.
The reishi trade moves huge amounts of money around the planet. Multitude of plantations are flourishing across the globe, in all latitudes and climates. Thus, today, reishi is cultivated in more than 15 countries1. In 2004 its economic value was estimated at 2.5 trillion3 American dollars. Currently, considering the large increase in plantations in countries such as India, Malaysia and many South America countries, its current value could be estimated at 10-15 trillion American dollars.
The interest in this species results in pyramid selling businesses emerging and moving millions of dollars with reishi products like coffee, chocolate, tea and other substitutes.
The genus Ganoderma presents more than 400 taxa worldwide (link). Many of the species included in this taxonomic group produce mushrooms that look very similar to the species Ganoderma lucidum, that is, the reishi, and therefore they can be mistaken very easily. Due to this great diversity and the morphological difficulty of the classification, there are currently "reishi" crops in the world that are producing mushrooms very similar to Ganoderma lucidum but that are not really this species.
Ganoderma (reishi?) crop in subtropical area: It is impossible to know which species of Ganoderma they are cultivating only by looking at the picture.
This means that today the consumer finds products called "reishi" in the market that come from different organisms/species and therefore have different properties: they are different products! To explain this, the equivalent in the vegetable world would be that oranges, mandarins, grapefruit or lemons were sold in the market without distinction, indicating that all of them are the same and have the same properties. Of course, regarding these fruits, their colors and tastes and, above all, the experience of consumption, make us not confuse them, but at a scientific level, to understand the differences and why they have different alimentary properties: All of these fruits belong to the Citrus genus, just like all the “presumed” reishi belongs to the genus Ganoderma, but each one comes from different species, genetically different, and therefore have different composition and properties.
It is important to clarify that, in most cases, the trader has the best will and thinks that he is really selling reishi and, what’s more, reishi of quality: there is no attempt to deceive the consumer. The problem lies not in him but at the beginning of the market chain: There is an initial error in the classification of the species in the starting growing plant. The carpophore "father" of the crop, isolated from nature, was not 100% confirmed by a specialist and was not subjected to a genetic identification protocol. In countries with high diversity, with among 400 taxa of Ganoderma, it is not easy to identify a true reishi and there are not specialists in all the countries either. From this initial confusion, something different is cultivated and sold and this error is transferred through the market chain to the final consumer. Even though in some cases the mistake is made with Ganoderma species of high medicinal interest, other times taxa that have hardly proved any applications are cultivated and sold, resulting in disappointment for the final consumer.
Taking this into account, when it comes to consuming pure, active and effective reishi, it is very important to acquire it from specialized companies and even demand a genetic account from them, which will be the surest way to be certain about what is being consumed, as some companies in the market already offer.
1- Data obtained from the data base of the association International Mycology Association, http://www.mycobank.org for specific and infraspecific Ganoderma genus taxa.
2- Rogers, R. (2011). "The Fungal Pharmacy: The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms and Lichens of North America." North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA: 608.
3- Lai, T., Y. Gao and S. Zhou (2004). "Global Marketing of Medicinal Ling Zhi Mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (W.Curt.:Fr.) Lloyd (Aphyllophoromycetideae) Products and Safety Concerns." 6(2): 6.
The traditional cultivation in Japan and China is done on sterilized stumps (so that there are no competitors for the fungus), which are inoculated and buried without a bag.
Reishi is traditionally cultivated on stumps buried in the ground belonging to broad-leaved trees. The quality of the mushroom will vary depending on what kind of ground grows around the fungus (the fungus hyphae absorb the substances from the soil where the stump is buried), and on the number of fruiting periods it has had on the stump/ place of cultivation: as the fungus feeds, it transforms the wood from which it takes the nutrients, leaving less food remaining after each fruition. This affects the chemical composition of the mushroom, as it is not the same to feed an organism with a nutrient-rich food as to feed it with a food already "emptied". Our mushrooms come from cultivations performed in sterilized bags, where the composition of the substrate is exactly known and the environmental conditions are controlled; Because of this, the composition of the mushroom is constant (only 2 fruitions are collected per bag) and we can always guarantee the same quality. In a traditional cultivation, this composition varies and, therefore, the quality of the mushroom also varies.
A traditional crop, however traditional it may be and however authentic we may think it is, will not ever guarantee a chemical homogeneity in the product, and therefore, a product with constant properties. We can achieve that result because our growers produce reishi on airtight bags with a composition patent based on broad-leaved tree sawdust and on more than 20 plants that provide important nutrients to the mushroom for it to have the highest quality. There are also growers of sterile bag mushrooms in Japan, of course, if you decide to buy from them, for the composition of the mushrooms to be less variable, buy mushrooms cultivated in this way rather than cultivated in buried stumps.
Thick granulated reishi is made for tea, not for direct consumption, because it is hardly digested when consumed whole.
If we consume whole granulated reishi, depending on the degree of the grinding size, it’s possible that only 80-90% of the product will be used by our body: its pieces are so big that they’re going to go through our digestive tract without "shattering", just like cork and, in the end, they will go out in the feces (if the latter were examined, we could find them whole there).
Typical Granulated Reishi for teas (traditional reishi consumption).
The microground reishi is the one that has been ground into particles of thousandths of a millimeter (microns). This technique breaks the walls of all the mushroom’s cells and therefore, allows our gastric juices to access the contents of the interior of the cells and maximize the absorption and the effect of the product in our organism: the micro grinding breaks the fungus’ wall and allows our gastric juices to gain access to the inner contents of the fungal cells, taking full advantage of them.
On the other hand, a gram of microground reishi, as it has been ground into such small sizes, has a huge contact surface. A larger surface allows it to come into contact with more digestive cells and therefore it can modulate the enteroinmune system more effectively. Its effectiveness on the immune receptors of the digestive system could be 200% or 300% higher than the granulated reishi’s.
In addition, the greater grinding of the microground reishi allows very fine dietary fiber to reach the colon and be attacked by the intestinal flora effectively, helping as an excellent prebiotic. The fiber of granulated reishi is so compact that, in the 1.5 to 2 days of transit through the colon, it will only be attacked superficially, so it will hardly affect the intestinal flora.
Video microscopy of microground reishi. All the cells of the fungus are broken and allow maximum digestibility of the reishi.
If you decide to try granulated reishi our advice is to brew it as tea or decoction. The heat and the water will help to extract some molecules that the body would not be able to extract if it wasn’t handled like that. The amount to use should be 2 to 4 times the amount of microground reishi. Ah! And also drink the resulting remains!