When you’re surfing the functional mushroom market, you’re going to see plenty of marketing terms that get thrown around with very little clarification. That’s not a mistake–it’s just a lowball marketing technique used by brands that take advantage of consumers’ lack of knowledge.
The term “Full Spectrum” is at the peak of this marketing confusion–it sounds like a great thing, but what does it really mean?
As it turns out, full spectrum mushroom products aren’t always as great as they sound. More often than not, the term is used to upsell a mushroom product that’s biologically inactive–usually mycelium or myceliated products that are diluted with grain.
Before we throw more terms around, let’s break this all the way down. Here’s what you need to know about “full spectrum” mushroom supplements (and how to choose the best quality mushroom products):
The term "full spectrum" is not regulated and is therefore not a true signifier of mushroom supplement quality.
Full spectrum products may contain mushroom mycelium and excess grains.
The highest quality mushroom supplements are made from fruiting bodies and may not be labeled as full spectrum products.
What is a “Full Spectrum” Mushroom Product?
There’s no true industry definition for “full spectrum” when it comes to mushroom products. Rather, companies can just throw this term around as they please with no exact parameters as to what qualifies as a full spectrum product.
We can, however, draw conclusions by taking a thorough scan of the market. In most cases, the term “full spectrum” is meant to imply that the product contains all parts of the fungal body–the spores, mycelium, and mushroom fruiting body.
Producers who offer full-spectrum mushroom products will often use this term to imply that their product is superior, maintaining that it supplies a more “natural” collection of fungal compounds. That’s not always the case, though, and many of these companies are simply misusing the term.
The term “full spectrum” can more accurately be defined as “containing a complete or comprehensive range of typical or possible elements.”
In other words, a full spectrum mushroom product should contain a complete range of the fungi’s nutritional and medicinal compounds. That sounds like a good thing, but that is unfortunately not the case for most products being marketed as “full spectrum.” Here’s why:
Full Spectrum Usually Means “Mycelium Product”
Full spectrum products may contain all of the primary parts of a fungus–the spore, mycelium, and the fruiting body–but that’s not all. Most of the time this term is used by producers whose products are balanced on mushroom mycelium, the underground web of fungal “roots” that helps to sustain the mushroom’s life.
Mycelium, although crucial to the life of the mushroom (the cap and stem portion of the fungus), doesn’t contain many beta-glucans, the bioactive compound that’s linked to most of the health effects associated with medicinal mushrooms. In fact, while fruiting bodies can contain a beta-glucan content of 20% or higher, mycelium often contains less than 5%.
So, mycelium isn’t particularly bioactive in terms of medicinal compounds, but that’s not even the main problem:
Mycelium needs to be grown on a starch base, usually some type of grain, like oats or brown rice. As it’s grown, the mycelium intertwines with the grain and becomes inseparable. It will eventually overtake the entire area of the grain.
At harvest, it is impossible for manufacturers to separate the mycelial material from the grain, so it’s all ground up together. That means that mycelial products contain a high volume of starch.
In other words, when you pay premium prices for “full spectrum” mushroom products, you’re actually just overpaying for oats or rice.
While this myceliated grain may be good for lots of things (think tempeh and other food items), it’s not the best way to reap the benefits of medicinal mushrooms.
Do Full Spectrum Products Contain Fruiting Bodies?
So, full spectrum products claim superiority because they contain all parts of the mushroom. Aside from mycelium, they also contain fruiting bodies and spores, right? Meaning they carry some of the advantages associated with pure fruiting body products?
In theory, this would be correct. But the truth is that most of these products don’t actually contain viable amounts of mature fruiting bodies. In fact, they may not contain any mature mushroom material at all.
When these products are produced, manufacturers may wait until the mycelium begins to fruit. During the fruiting stage of the mushroom growth cycle, the mycelium begins to form hyphal knots, or tiny dots of mushroom material that will later spring into “pins”, or the first mushroom growth that emerges from the ground.
Hyphal knots are the size of a pinpoint, and pins are needle-sized growths, usually with heads less than a half inch in diameter.
In other words, this pre-mushroom material is seriously lacking in size, meaning the overall beta-glucan content is still very low. As we’ve already stated, there is a significant difference in the beta-glucan content in mushroom fruiting bodies and mycelium material, even when the mycelium may contain hyphal knots. One study titled “Measurement of Beta-Glucan in mushrooms and mycelial products” confirms this.
Mushroom Fruiting Bodies May Be Added
In some cases, a manufacturer may add fruiting body material to a myceliated product separately. Usually, this is a “good measure” technique that just allows the manufacturer to use the term “contains fruiting bodies” as a marketing tool. However, if added in viable amounts, this could add to the beta-glucan content in a valuable way.
The best way to tell if the product contains a viable amount of fruiting bodies is to check the beta-glucan content. If a product doesn’t list the beta-glucan content on the label, that’s a definite red flag.
Products made from whole fruiting bodies without myceliated grain can contain a beta-glucan content of 20% or more, which is a hallmark of high-quality medicinal products.
What About Spores?
When a product claims to contain mushroom spores, that means that it must contain fruiting bodies. The spores are simply an “addition” that happens when using fully matured mushroom fruiting bodies, since they carry spores in their gills. However, spores are not biologically active and have no known medical use to date.
In other words, a product that does not contain whole fruiting bodies is unlikely to contain any spores. A product that does contain spores has no known advantage over products without spores. It’s simply an irrelevant unit of measurement for mushroom supplement quality.
Primary Metabolites are Absent in Full Spectrum Products
If we haven't made it apparent already, most full spectrum mushroom products are seriously lacking in the bioactive compounds that make mushrooms the medicinal powerhouses they are.
Genuine medicinal mushroom products contain high levels of beta-glucans and usually also contain triterpenoids and ergosterol. The bioactive profile will match that of the mushroom and not the grain.
In contrast, fruiting body products will contain low levels of alpha-glucans, a secondary metabolite that may be present in higher volumes in mycelial products.
Most full spectrum products don’t hit these marks, containing only alpha-glucans and low levels of ergosterol.
According to recent research by the United States Pharmacopeial Convention, mushroom products are not always what they claim to be. In this survey, only 5 out of 19 collected Reishi samples actually contained enough mushroom material to be considered genuine.
Remember when we mentioned that the true definition of full spectrum is “containing a complete or comprehensive range of typical or possible elements”? As you can see, it’s pretty inaccurate to call a product containing 30-60% grain and less than half of the biological components of mushrooms a “full spectrum” mushroom product.
Most full spectrum products are nothing more than mushroom-laced grains. Luckily, with the proper knowledge, you, the consumer, can make better choices about the mushroom products you consume.
How to Choose High Quality Mushroom Supplements
The medicinal mushroom market is flooded with products that aren’t worth their weight, so you should absolutely do your research and ensure that any supplement you choose is fully aligned with your needs. For starters, a high-quality mushrooms supplement should:
- Be made from mushroom extract, not whole mushroom powder
- Be extracted from fruiting bodies and not mycelial biomass
- Be made using a single hot water extraction process
- Be organically sourced
- have a suitable, verifiable beta-glucan content
- have additional ingredients that are also clean and aligned with your needs
Checking out our Lucid instant drinks may be a good place to start. Lucid contains a powerhouse combination of medicinal mushrooms and nootropics, plus either Colombian Coffee, Masala Chai, or Japanese Matcha.
Every batch has a guaranteed beta-glucan content of above 25% and balances in a low-caffeine content with synergistic, energy-boosting compounds that won’t leave you crashing and jittery. More specifically, Lucid combines:
- Lion’s Mane
- Ginkgo Biloba
This powerhouse combination is designed to support focus, energy, endurance, immunity, and more–simplifying your morning ritual and your wellness regimen in one tasty step. Want to know more? Read “Why We Chose Our Ingredients: What’s in a Lucid Stack?”
Check out our three delicious flavors: