If you’re reading this, it’s most likely because you are interested in taking mushroom based supplements, and have discovered there are two main offerings - powdered mushrooms, and extracts. This article is here to help you know the difference between the two, and which one you should take for the most possible benefit - whether that be for nutritional reasons or because you are looking into adaptogenic lifestyles.
First, let’s go over what exactly mushroom powders and mushroom extracts are, how they’re processed, and differences between them.
Beta-Glucans are complex sugars (polysaccharides) found in the cell walls of various single cellular and multicellular organisms such as fungi, yeasts, algae, and cereal grains. Although beta-glucans can be found in all these sources, their physical chemical properties vary greatly depending on the source. Normally, beta-glucans, such as those found in cereals, help lower cholesterol by binding to it in the digestive tract. Beta-Glucans that are found in fungi, however, cause a different effect when taken due to the differing short branching structure in its chemistry. They are insoluble in water, unlike the kind derived from cereals, and therefore tend to actually be metabolized by the body. This is an important difference, as there is some evidence that when metabolized by the body, they strengthen the immune system by enhancing macrophage response times and alertness.
If you’re seeking to maximize the amount of beta-glucans you are taking, without a doubt what you’ll want is an extract. As covered previously, extracts contain up to 15 times more beta-glucans than powders, and are much more easily absorbable due to no longer being bound to the rest of the mushroom. Extracts also typically contain a very high amount of novel antioxidants in comparison to powders, which help combat the negative effects of oxidative stressors (the primary cause of increased ageing in cells).
Another main reason you may want to pick an extract over a powder is because extracts contain less impurities, which is important if you are choosing to take mushroom supplements for a particular effect, whether adaptogenic or not.
On the other hand, depending on the kind of mushroom and the manufacturer, powders can also often contain high amounts of fillers which offer no benefits. This is because the main filler (typically composed of rye barley or rice) that is used is the difficult-to-separate growth medium of the mushroom, as well as being normally too depleted to continue to grow new mushrooms - and in some cases it is impossible to harvest and powder the mushroom without including it, since the fruiting body is too small to efficiently remove independently from the mycelium, which itself is attached throughout the growth medium. High quality powders made of mushrooms with large fruiting bodies however typically contain no fillers, as it is easier to harvest only the fruiting body, and the manufacturer will simply add fresh new feedstock to the growth medium so as to keep the current mycelium alive so it’ll produce more mushrooms.
So you may be wondering at this point “why are fillers so bad if they contain the mycelium anyway?”. Well, the truth is it’s not necessarily abadthing in and of itself. The problems are that
So does that mean you should always pick extracts over powders then? Well not necessarily. Powders do still contain more nutrients than extracts, since they are minimally processed, and if you are just seeking to get a good vegan source of B-Vitamins and proteins, then powders can be your friend (unless you really love eating mushrooms anyway, in which case you can just include them in your diet in a minimally cooked fashion anyhow). They also may contain a wider range of beneficial compounds that are likely to be eliminated in extracts - although this is only speculation, since these would be compounds still yet to be studied / discovered by researchers. They would also be in very small quantities which may, at best, only offer a slight adaptogenic benefit, if that.
Overall, extracts tend to be better than powders when it comes to taking mushroom supplements for certain desired effects, as powders often contain too little of the compound readily available for your metabolism to easily absorb. This is especially true if you want to take mushroom supplements for the express purpose of getting as many fungal beta-glucans as possible. Powders are best used if you have a primarily plant based diet since they’ll add nutrients that are more difficult to get from other vegetables and fruits. You can of course get the benefits of both by taking supplements which contain both extracts and powders mixed together, which is actually something done by a wide range of manufacturers.
1: Manzi, P. (2000). Beta-glucans in edible mushrooms.Food Chemistry, 68(3), 315-318. doi:10.1016/s0308-8146(99)00197-1
2: Akramienė, D., Kondrotas, A., Didžiapetrienė, J., & Kėvelaitis, E. (2007). Effects of ß-glucans on the immune system. Medicina, 43(8), 597. doi:10.3390/medicina43080076
3: Park, J., Lee, J., Lee, K., Ha, S., & Hong, E. (2014). Cordyceps militaris Extract Protects Human Dermal Fibroblasts against Oxidative Stress-Induced Apoptosis and Premature Senescence. Nutrients, 6(9), 3711-3726. doi:10.3390/nu6093711