Have you ever wondered why medicinal mushrooms don't exactly taste like mushrooms? In fact, it's one of the key reasons why we have so many meat substitutes that use mushrooms - you can make them taste like something else entirely!
It's the same case for mushrooms used in medicine, but what could be the reason for it?
The (lack of) taste of mushrooms
Plenty of evidence suggests medicinal mushrooms can provide immunomodulatory, antitumor, and anti-inflammatory activities.
These medicinal qualities contribute to many cultures worldwide using these extracts as components of traditional medicines. Suffice to say, medicinal mushrooms might just be one of the future components of conventional treatment if the science progresses.
While one might be put off by tasting mushrooms in one's coffee, surprisingly, medicinal mushroom extracts do not taste like mushrooms at all. In fact, they can often taste bland, earthy, and slightly bitter, depending on what species it is and how they were cultivated.
The key lies in the handling and processing methods used between medicinal powders and extracts. Since there is a difference in how medicinal powders and extracts are made, it's only natural that this would be where the taste contrast comes in.
Mushroom Extracts vs Powders
The main difference between medicinal powders and extracts is that medicinal powders are made of the whole mushroom, including the mycelium, fruiting body, and spores. Medicinal powders aren't exactly standardised or concentrated for any specific compound. You can consider powders as "whole mushrooms," often taken for their nutrient benefits.
Extracts are exactly what they sound like: mushroom extracts concentrated for a specific substance, mainly beta-glucans.
Why don't mushroom extracts taste like mushrooms?
Mushrooms extracted don't taste like mushrooms because the parts with the "mushroom" taste were excluded from the final product. Specific mushroom parts that house the active substances are separated from the rest of the mushroom, leaving us with an extract derived from the mushroom's medicinal components.
In medicinal mushrooms, active compounds are often found in larger quantities in the form of Beta D Glucans, a type of polysaccharide and soluble fibre. Beta D Glucans are sought after for their heart-healthy properties and the main reason why medicinal mushrooms have earned a place in traditional and alternative medicine.
As extracts, Beta D Glucans have been crystallised and made into powder for easier consumption so customers can get the right amount of Beta D Glucans needed.
However, the processing involved in beta glucan extraction involves heat, water and/or ethanol.
The combination of ethanol and/or water and heat, and beta-glucan extract can impart a somewhat bitter aftertaste, which is a lot like tasting pure caffeine pills. Fortunately, there are many ways to mask this bitterness.
Some ways to mask the bitterness include:
- Balancing with different flavours
- Adding it to other foods or drinks such as with mushroom coffee recipes
- Using it with natural sweeteners such as honey or cinnamon
Medicinal mushrooms are known for their heart-healthy benefits and their immune-boosting properties.
Using these mushrooms in concentrated extracts gives us all the medicinal properties sought for. Although these extracts do not taste like mushrooms, you are still in fact consuming mushrooms - just instead of the whole thing, only the really good parts of it ;)