Demand for mushrooms skyrockets as the West catches up on the rest of the world: Nammex president

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: mushrooms, reishi

With sales of mushroom containing dietary supplements growing year-on-year by as much as 40%, and food and beverage companies getting in on the act, demand for the fungi has been “unreal”, says Jeff Chilton, President of Nammex Organic Mushroom Extracts.

“We can hardly keep up with demand,”​ Chilton told us as the recent SupplySide West. “Demand has been unreal. It’s really a case of the West catching up on mushrooms because mushrooms have been such a huge food and supplement item in many parts of the world, especially Asia.

“I’ve been in the industry since 1973 and I’ve seen this coming slowly, and now it’s just exploded.

“What’s really happening now is that its [mushrooms] is moving beyond the supplement space. We have so many companies coming to us now that are going to be putting it into food products, including coffees and other types of beverages.”

As demand increases, there are some quality pressures on the wider category. For example, a study published in 2017 in Nature’s Scientific Reports​ reported that only five out of 19 supplements products of Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum​) purchased in the U.S. could be verified as genuine Reishi mushroom. The study was performed by scientists from the United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) and the University of Macau (China).

Chilton explained that Nammex has developed “very specific tests for every mushroom, and we test all of our products as a way to guarantee to our customers that it has the right amount of beta-glucans and the other constituents you’d expect to have.

“We’ve actually set beta-glucans as the standard for medicinal mushroom products.”

Ergothioneine

The conversation also included a discussion around ergothioneine, a sulfur-containing amino acid that functions as an antioxidant. Mushrooms are a primary source of ergothioneine in nature.

The science of L-ergothioneine has been developing over the last 15 years. A 2005 paper by Gründemann et al. published in PNAS (Vol. 102, pp. 5256-5261, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0408624102​) reported the existence of a specific transporter for ergothioneine, where cells accumulate the amino acid and “avidly retain it”​.

“I think we’re going to be hearing a lot more about ergothioneine in the coming years,”​ said Chilton. “The researchers have actually said that it may be a new vitamin. And the fact that we do have these transporters, and the fact that we don’t produce it and yet we’ve got it in all of these specific parts of our body indicates that there’s something there.”

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