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General information about mushrooms - structure, function and breeding

January 16, 2021
Dipl.-Biol. Dorothee Ogroske et al.

Hardly anyone knows it, but mushrooms are actually neither plants nor animals. They form a separate, uniform group among the so-called “eukaryotes”, living organisms that have a typical cell nucleus. Unlike plants, to which fungi have long been assigned, they do not possess leaf green (chlorophyll) and do not perform photosynthesis. Rather, fungal metabolism is based on chemosynthesis. Thus, they transform organic matter, including wood, by enzymes into chemical compounds that lead to the formation of new soil materials.

Mushrooms perform very important tasks in nature. They detoxify the soil the way algae detoxify the waters. They also ensure, for example, that minerals and nutrients in the soil can be utilized by the plants. Furthermore, they break down dead organisms into their components, which then re-enter the natural cycle as nutrients.

Fungi are among the few organisms that can decompose wood. For this reason, mushrooms have ingredients that we do not find in any other food.

Importance of mushrooms

The importance of mushrooms for people goes back a long way. In addition to their function as food, the healing properties of mushrooms have been appreciated for thousands of years in Asia and North America. They were also used in this capacity in Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. In Central Europe, the healing powers of some mushrooms were known well into the Middle Ages, but the knowledge of edible and medicinal mushrooms was later almost lost.

The importance of mushrooms quickly becomes clear when one considers what a lack of nutrients and vital substances can cause in humans. For example, fatigue, headaches, exhaustion, lack of vitality and concentration to the most diverse diseases.

At the MykoTroph Institute we are mainly concerned with basidiomycetes (higher fungi, stand fungi), whose bioactive substances are important from a nutritional point of view. These mushrooms provide high-quality protein building blocks, some even all eight amino acids essential for humans. The ingredients are favorably combined, so that a high bioavailability and effectiveness (usability of the substances for the body) is guaranteed.

Mushroom structure

Illustration of a mushroom with spores, cap and myceliumMushrooms consist of three parts: The visible, above-ground fruiting body as well as the network (mycelium) and the fungal filaments (hyphae) hidden in the nutritive base.

Fruit bodies
The above-ground fruiting body usually consists of a cap and stalk. However, there are some exceptions. These mushrooms either do not have a cap or a stem, or they live only underground. There are narrow lamellae or tubes on the underside of the cap. They carry the spores, the reproductive organs of the fungi, which can only be seen under the microscope.

Fungal spores
Fungal spores are similar to the seeds of plants and detach from the lamellae or tubes after ripening due to air movement. On a suitable warm, moist culture medium, they germinate in nature and form a new fungal colony.

The mycelium is located below the fruiting body in the upper layer of the nutritive base. The mycelium stores and provides the nutrients for the later growth of the fruiting body. Thus, from the mycelium emerges the fruiting body.

Hyphae are tangles invisible to the naked eye. They permeate the entire nutrient base and, due to their high enzyme content, are able to absorb and transport nutrients.

What ingredients are found in mushrooms?

Fungi are among the few organisms that can also utilize wood. Mushroom species that grow on wood therefore have, among other things, unique and valuable ingredients that are not found in any other food in this way. This fact alone is a reason to take mushrooms regularly. Fungi produce enzymes that allow the hyphae to penetrate the wood or substrate to be utilized. These enzymes are in turn important for the detoxification of our body.

Two fresh shiitake mushrooms on awhite background, to the right are mushroom powder capsules and crushed dried mushroomMushrooms are true vitamin bombs and high-quality suppliers of a variety of vital nutrients. Besides vitamins B, D and E, they contain a lot of biovital substances and minerals. Also, protein and carbohydrates. What also makes mushrooms so unique is the balanced combination of nutrients and vital substances they contain.

Mushrooms contain about 90 percent water, two to six percent carbohydrates and only small amounts of fat. Their protein content ranges from 1.5 to 4.5 percent per 100 grams and can be as high as 40 percent crude protein in dry matter, depending on the variety. This mushroom protein contains all eight essential amino acids that the human body cannot produce itself and must therefore be supplied from the outside.

The strengths of mushrooms also include their rich content of dietary fiber, flavor and aroma substances and B vitamins. Likewise, they contain few calories (20 to 40 kcal per 100 grams). Also noteworthy is the content of ergosterol, a precursor of vitamin D.

Cultivation and processing

A fungal spore differs from a seed in that the spore has no germinal envelope, only the seedling. A seed, on the other hand, has both a seedling and a germinal envelope. Therefore, the fungal spore must be provided with a germinal envelope to grow.

In the cultivation of mushrooms, this is done through the following process: you cook cereal grains. This kills the cereal seedlings, but the flour and germ coatings remain intact. The fungal spores then grow on the grain germinal envelopes and the fungal mycelium grows around and into the germinal envelopes. Only when the cereal germinal envelopes are completely permeated by the mycelium, remove a quantity of about one tablespoon for further cultivation and place it in sterilized substrate. This allows the mycelium to metabolize the substrate and thereby develop the ingredients important for the further growth of the fungus.

After about four to five months, the substrate is completely consumed and the mycelium now has sufficient strength and contents for the fungal fruiting body to develop with its vegetative (stem) and generative (cap) parts.

It should be known that the fungal mycelium has different ingredients than the fruiting body. This is particularly important for the Reishi. Dried reishi mushrooms on rustic wooden table and plateAnd this in terms of its high content of triterpenes. These are contained exclusively in the spores of the fungus, i.e. in the fruiting body. The fruiting body of the Reishi has a high proportion of spores. Therefore, it is very rich in triterpenes, to which, among other things, its strong anti-inflammatory effect can be attributed.

The time span between harvest and further processing is also important. Mushrooms must be processed very fresh, because they lose their precious ingredients very quickly. Therefore, the fast and gentle processing is of enormous importance for the quality of the medicinal or vital mushroom powders. Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon for mushrooms left over from the fresh market to be turned into mushroom powder. It is obvious that valuable ingredients must have been lost here. Therefore, such mushroom powders are not recommended in any way.


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