As you surf the market for the best mushroom extracts, you're very unlikely to find products labeled as "not bioavailable." That is, however, the unfortunate truth about many of the mushroom extract products currently available. That's because unlike many other traditional herbal compounds that are easy to extract, the bioactive materials in mushrooms are locked inside its chitin, the same tough and protective polymer that makes up the exoskeleton of insects.
That means that mushroom extracts need to be carefully produced in order to break through the chitin and remove the bioactive compounds–and to preserve their integrity throughout the entire extraction process. That leads us to the question of mushroom tincture vs powder extracts: Which one is best for therapeutic use?
Once you understand how mushroom compounds are extracted, there's an obvious answer. Here's what you need to know:
Tinctures are a liquid extraction made by steeping the herbal material in alcohol, usually food-grade ethanol, to extract its therapeutic compounds. Alcohol can break down the cellulose structure of many plants to release their therapeutic compounds, which makes them a popular extraction technique for many medicinal products. Of course, not all compounds are alcohol-soluble, which is something you need to evaluate on a case by case basis.
Alcohol does not break down chitin, for instance, which makes it useless for mushroom extractions. Although an alcohol extraction may take on the flavor and general profile of the mushroom, it won’t break down the fungal tissues to extract beta glucans or other beneficial bioactive compounds. So, mushroom tinctures have little to no medicinal value.
Many of the mushroom tinctures on the market are made by mixing already-extracted mushroom compounds into alcohol, which may be a sort of work around for this problem, but it still doesn’t produce a potent tincture in the same manner that other herbal tinctures are produced.
Tinctures, of course, have a very strong flavor and contain alcohol, which also makes them one of the less pleasant tasting methods for ingesting medicinal mushrooms.
Mushroom powder can come in two primary forms:
The most basic kind of mushroom powder is one made from whole mushrooms. These whole mushrooms can be dehydrated and ground into a fine powder. This powdered version of the mushroom tissue may carry many of the super nutrients found in the fresh mushroom, making this the best way to take advantage of mushrooms’ superfood qualities. However, this ground and powdered form is not a bioactive mushroom extract on its own. In this form, the bioactive compounds are still encased in the chitin layers and can’t be properly used by the body.
Mushroom powder, however, can be added to warm water, like when making a coffee or tea, which will help to break down the chitin and create a bioavailable beverage that can be used by the body. Many enthusiasts believe that whole mushroom powder is more nutritious and provides a broader, “full spectrum” range of benefits compared to extracts.
\It's heavily debated, though, the temperature needed to break down chitin, and some sources suggest that the temperatures are much higher than what you'd use in a standard cup of mushroom tea, sometimes up to 300 degrees Celsius. Even so, without a pressurized container, some of these compounds simply dissipate after the chitin is broken down. That means that no matter how you dice it, a whole mushroom powder is lacking in the therapeutic department.
On the other hand, bioactive powdered mushroom extraction is essentially the powdered version of this steeped mushroom material. In other words, mushroom extract powder starts as a concentrated tea.
The mushrooms are first steeped in a hot water extract inside a pressurized container. The hot water helps to break through the chitin. Pressurization helps to keep bioactive substances from evaporating, which means that this extraction process creates a tea that is much more bioavailable than a standard cup of tea. Because this form of mushroom extract is bioactive and bioavailable, it’s perfect for reaping certain benefits, like the adaptogenic benefits of mushrooms.
Then, the leftover mushroom material may also undergo an alcohol extraction to remove any substances that were not water soluble. Finally, these liquid extracts are dried to create a powder. When powdered mushroom extract is produced this way, the powder is incredibly concentrated because all of the fluff (mushroom tissue) is removed.
Because these extract powders do not need to be heated anymore, they can be encapsulated to create a tasteless dosing option.
A great example of a brand that uses high-quality mushroom extract to make premium mushroom supplements is Lucid. Check out their tasty instant beverages, like Chai, Matcha, and Coffee.
By now, the answer is probably obvious–mushroom tinctures are usually redundant, and a well-made mushroom powder is the best way to reap the bioactive benefits of most medicinal mushrooms.
Of course, not all mushroom powders are the same. As we mentioned above, if you want a product that’s ready-to-use and highly bioactive, you’ll want to find a mushroom extract powder, not just any mushroom powder. When mushrooms are dried and ground into a powder without using the extraction process described above, the bioactive compounds are still locked in the chitin layers. The human body does not digest chitin well, so these bioactive compounds are not as useful in this form.
But, if the question is “is a mushroom powder or mushroom tincture better for wellness?”–the answer is clear. A mushroom tincture simply can’t harness the power of therapeutic mushrooms as well as a powder, especially when the mushroom powder is used correctly.
When looking for the best functional mushroom supplement, another common question that pops up is why can’t you just eat the fresh mushrooms?
Technically, in most cases, you can. Of course, some mushrooms (like chaga) are woody, tough, earthy, or otherwise don’t make great cuisine, which is why these mushrooms are usually consumed as a tea or in capsule form.
Still, even therapeutic mushrooms that taste delicious (like the absolute delicacy that is lion’s mane) don’t provide complete therapeutic benefits because of the body’s inability to fully break down the chitin layer.
Plus, many of the bioactive compounds found in the mushrooms are available only in trace amounts. That means you’d have to eat a lot of mushrooms to ingest the compounds in useful quantities. This is why most of the research evaluating the medicinal use of mushrooms uses a concentrated extract, not whole mushrooms.
The world of mushroom supplements can be difficult to navigate, and no product is ever going to tell you if it was poorly made or is lacking bioactive compounds. So, its up to you to learn how to identify a good, high-quality mushroom powder. Start by checking the brand’s “behind the scenes” manufacturing process and taking a look at the product’s label.
First, check to see if you have a mushroom powder or a mushroom extract powder. This information may not be clearly presented, and the term “extract” is not very well regulated. You can usually tell by checking the label to see if any information is given about the medicinal substances available in the mushroom formula.
You’ll also probably want to determine if the mushroom material used included only the fruiting body or the mushroom mycelium. Different types of mushrooms require different formulations to reap full therapeutic benefits, so you’ll need to independently research the mushrooms you’re interested in to determine which is best.
Finally, check the overall quality of the product. For instance, you want a product that is manufactured in a cGMP compliant, FDA-registered facility. You also should look for a product that’s tested for quality and purity which will help to rule out any possible contaminants.
If a brand you’re considering doesn’t provide this information, its probably because they either don’t have access to this type of information about their product or the information would expose the poor quality of their product. Avoid brands that aren’t forthcoming about their product quality.
Once youve chosen the best mushroom powder for you, you’ll need to consider how you plan to use mushroom powder to reap its benefits. Here are some tips:
To learn more about how to best use medicinal mushrooms to your advantage, you may want to read:
How much should I take?
When’s the best time to take:
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