While we are just now tapping into the limitless potential of mushrooms, several applications include food, furniture, fashion, footwear, skincare products, and building materials.
Fungi Fascination: Why Are Mushrooms So Trendy?
Fresh content for optimists.
Fungi Fascination: Why Are Mushrooms So Trendy?
by Devineé, Move to Root
They say the sky’s the limit—but did you know there’s a vast network of potential growing right below us?
The world’s greatest wonders are often depicted as large landscapes, ancient cities, architectural masterpieces, majestic bodies of water, and solar particles that light up the northern sky. But, when we look down and deep into the soil, we find a remarkable world of fungi and mushrooms that have bloomed in popularity.
From charming little toadstool accessories and mushroom lamps, to wild foraging as a hobby, at-home grow kits, and alternative protein sources, mushrooms and fungi are steadily gaining the spotlight they so rightfully deserve. Once overlooked (and overstepped), fungi are now being touted for their various benefits, and the fascination with fungi is undeniably spreading. The global mushroom market is expected to reach $90.4 billion by 2028, with everyday people and award-winning chefs alike vying to partake in the ‘shroom movement.1 In fact, mushrooms and fungi are so fantastic that Michelin star chef Eric Ripert even referred to our nutritional fungi protein called Fy™ as “magic mushrooms.” But why are they so trendy? Well, their unique structures hold endless possibilities! Here’s what makes fungi and mushrooms so truly remarkable:
What Are the Different Applications of Mushrooms?
Mushrooms are revolutionizing human creativity and innovation. Culinary experts, prominent designers, cosmetic chemists, and sustainable engineers are tapping into the limitless potential of fungi to create phenomenal products that are reshaping the world as we know it.
Mushrooms have been exalted as culinary and medicinal marvels among several of the most distinguished human civilizations for thousands of years. Referred to as the “Food of the Gods” by the ancient Romans and the “elixir of life” by the Chinese, mushrooms are revered for their exceptional sensory experience in taste, aroma, and texture.2 Although many of these exquisite delicacies have been enjoyed for centuries, not all mushrooms are edible–some are even poisonous! Therefore, mushrooms intended for eating must be carefully and accurately identified before they can be consumed. Of the numerous species of safe, edible mushrooms, the most common varieties include:3
Button Mushroom (Agaricus bisporus)
Portobello Mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus)
Cremini Mushroom (Agaricus bisporus)
Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes)
Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatu)
Beech Mushroom (Hypsizygus tessellatus)
Maitake Mushroom/Hen of the Wood (Grifola frondosa)
Enoki Mushroom (Flammulina velutipes)
King Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii)
Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus)
Morel Mushroom (Morchella esculenta)
Chanterelle Mushroom (Cantharellus cibarius)
From forest to table, these culinary wonders are often used in soups, sauces, stir-fries, and meat-free dishes. Their deeply robust and often umami-rich flavor spreads across the palate and lingers on the tongue to impart a mouthwatering sensation—all thanks to an amino acid called glutamate4. Therefore, mushrooms are sought-after and used to elevate many recipes.
But, beyond the more familiar mushrooms that pop out of the ground, there are single-celled fungi that have gifted us with many of the foods and beverages we know and love. We’re talking bread, chocolate, beer, and wine. We have yeast—namely Saccharomyces cerevisiae—to thank for these delicious delights.4
Another extraordinary cousin of mushrooms, Fusarium strain flavolapis, is a type of fungi born out of Yellowstone National Park’s hot springs. Using a groundbreaking fermentation process, scientists have transformed Fusarium strain flavolapis into a novel mycelial protein source that we call Fy™. Containing all 20 amino acids, Fy is a versatile complete protein source that is neutral in flavor, enabling it to absorb any flavor it is seasoned with! Therefore, it can be used to make a variety of your favorite foods, from Meatless Breakfast Patties to Dairy-Free Cream Cheese.
Fungi are also packed with an impressive array of nutrients that are all housed in different regions of the organism. For example, you may be seeing the term “mushroom root” popping up lately, but did you know that the root of the mushroom which is being referred to is actually called the mycelium, and that’s where all of the protein and fiber are stored? Neat, right? As you make your way to the surface, you will find that some fungi produce the familiar mushroom cap. This cap contains a unique substance called ergosterol which can be transformed into vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight!5 Therefore, mushroom varieties that form a cap are one of the only non-animal sources of vitamin D and are becoming more widespread as the main ingredient in vitamin D supplements.
According to the Mushroom Council, certain fungi varieties are also excellent sources of riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, selenium, copper, potassium, beta-glucan, as well as a potent antioxidant called ergothioneine6. But that’s not all! Depending on the type of fungi, they also contain a decent amount of zinc and iron. From a micronutrient perspective, fungi are remarkably nutrient-dense.
Not only are fungi booming in the culinary scene, but they are also helping us reimagine the material we use to create everyday products. Gone are the days when cowhides were the primary resource for making premium leather. Say goodbye to animal exploitation and hello to nature-inspired, sustainable furniture, wallets, and purses made from—you guessed it—mycelium!
Using a proprietary process that unlocks the nuances of the thread-like filament of mycelium, biotech companies like MycoWorks create sheets of interwoven mycelial structures that mimic the feel of luxury leather.7 Even more fascinating is that each sheet contains a unique code that allows the company to customize the strength, thickness, texture, and drape of the material.6 As a result, mycelium-based leather can be used in the fashion, furniture, footwear, and automotive industries. In fact, the multinational automotive manufacturing company General Motors has recently invested in MycoWorks to potentially use their mycelium leather in their automotive designs.8 Other companies like Volvo and Mercedes have already begun incorporating mycelium leather in their latest electric vehicle designs.9,10
In addition to replacing animal leather, mycelium can be crafted into durable materials to replace synthetic plastics. For example, surfboards are made from polyurethane, polystyrene, and resin, which fail to degrade in landfills and bioaccumulate in fish ecosystems.11 Therefore, surfboard designers are turning to mycelium with the hope that it will provide a solution to plastic pollution.
Mushrooms have also taken root in the cosmetic industry—finding their way into everything from cleansers to serums, mists, moisturizers, and even masks. With the growing desire to use more natural skincare products, mushrooms have become a popular ingredient among skincare professionals and enthusiasts alike. And for good reason! Recent research has shown that several mushroom varieties, such as Maitake, Lion’s Mane, and Reishi, contain bioactive compounds and antioxidants that greatly benefit the health of the skin.12 These unique bioactive compounds include flavonoids, phenolic compounds, terpenes, polysaccharides, and fatty acids—to name a few.8
What exactly do these powerful compounds do, you may ask? They are largely responsible for moisturizing and protecting the skin barrier. They also impart anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects that soothe sensitive and problematic skin.8 In addition, the high antioxidant content in mushrooms helps to prevent oxidative damage that leads to wrinkles and premature aging. However, arguably the most fascinating benefit of using mushrooms topically is their ability to absorb UV radiation—thereby protecting skin cells from UV damage.8
Just when you thought you couldn’t be any more impressed by the versatility of fungi, you find out they are also being used to make bricks.13 Yes, bricks! Teams of architects and researchers are testing the strength and viability of using fungi-based materials due to the high carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions released from construction sites.9 According to a report by the International Energy Agency, the building and construction industry accounted for 39% of CO2 emissions in 2018, 11% of which came from building materials such as steel and cement.14
In an effort to reduce these emissions, biomanufacturing companies, like Biohm, have also been working to develop mycelium-based insulation products.15 The company has reported that mycelium is safer and healthier than traditional construction materials as it produces a healthier indoor air quality and inhibits the quick spread of flames when exposed to fire.11 Nonetheless, more research and testing are needed to determine the full durability and longevity of mycelium-based building materials.
Mushrooms vs. Fungi vs. Mycelium: Is There a Difference?
With all this discussion about the many remarkable applications of mushrooms, fungi, and mycelium, you may have wondered what sets them apart. As mushroom fanatics ourselves, we’d love to break it down for you. Here’s a quick crash course on their similarities and differences.
First things first, fungi are often mistaken for plants. However, they are exceptional organisms with distinctive physical, chemical, and genetic traits unlike any other organism. Therefore, they were given their own kingdom classification.16 You can think of fungi as an umbrella term encompassing yeast, molds, and mushrooms.17 Therefore, mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms.
Mushrooms, on the other hand, are the literal umbrella-shaped fruiting bodies (or sporophores) of specific fungi.18 In other words, mushrooms are the above-ground portion of some fungi. Beneath the surface, you will find a vast network of root-like tubular filaments (hyphae).19 This filamentous structure as a whole is referred to as mycelium. To provide a visual, think of mushrooms as the tree and trunk, while mycelium makes up the roots of fungi. Therefore, collectively mushrooms and mycelium are fungal organisms.
The Future of Fungi
With the global mushroom market alone projected to reach over $90 billion in the next five years, fungi are set to continue to grow and infiltrate every area of our lives.1 We have only just begun to unveil the boundless potential of fungi applications, and there is still much we have yet to unearth (literally and figuratively).
Nonetheless, fungi—most notably mycelium—will continue to be used for food in new and innovative ways because it is a novel alternative protein source that touts an impressive nutrient profile. The alternative protein space is undeniably changing and expanding, and fungi are at the forefront! From their neutral flavor that takes on any seasonings they are paired with to their astonishing versatility to shape-shift in texture, fungi can be used to make vegan steak, meat-free sausage, dairy-free cream cheese—you name it! The culinary possibilities truly stretch as far as our creativity. Not only are fungi changing how we view alternative proteins, but they’re also an incredible ally in healing the environment. Unlike animal protein sources, fungi do not produce methane gas, and they hold the ability to decompose organic matter that would otherwise not be broken down and recycled.20
But the future of fungi doesn’t stop here on earth. In fact, it has already reached the stars! On July 14th, 2022, Nature’s Fynd collaborated with NASA to grow our fungi-based protein, Fy, in space. With the mission to grow a sustainable protein for space exploration, SpaceX-25 launched our novel bioreactor technology into orbit to grow Fy onboard the International Space Station (ISS).21 This means astronauts will be able to grow fungi-based protein themselves and season it to their liking. NASA is also looking to utilize fungi as building materials for space travel and to develop future homes throughout the solar system.22
Frequently Asked Questions
What products can you make from mushrooms?
Are all mushrooms fungi?
Yes! All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms. You can think of fungi as an umbrella term that encompasses yeast, molds, and mushrooms.
Are mycelium and mushrooms the same?
Mushrooms are the umbrella-shaped fruiting bodies (or sporophores) of specific fungi. In other words, mushrooms are the above-ground portion of fungi. Beneath the surface, you will find a vast network of root-like tubular filaments (hyphae). This filamentous structure is referred to as mycelium.
What are the nutritional benefits of mushrooms/fungi?
Certain fungi varieties are excellent sources of vitamin D, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, selenium, copper, potassium, beta-glucan, as well as a potent antioxidant called ergothioneine. Depending on the type of fungi, they also contain protein, zinc, and iron. Mushrooms can take part in vitamin D activation and are one of the only non-animal sources of vitamin D.
I keep hearing the phrase “mushroom root”, what exactly is that?
The root of a mushroom is actually called the mycelium, and that’s where all of the protein and fiber are stored!
Mushrooms and filamentous fungi are sprouting up from the ground and transforming the world around us. Who knew so many wondrous innovations could emerge from mighty mushrooms and mycelium? From food to alternative leather, skincare products, and building materials, fungi’s potential applications are infinite. The future looks bright for these organisms that bloom in dark places. While many things come and go in popularity, we are convinced that mushrooms are here to stay.
Looking for ways to incorporate more mushrooms into your life? Check out our list of fungi-based recipes.
1. https://www.imarcgroup.com/mushroom-market Accessed March 2023
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4320875/ Accessed March 2023
3. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21655979.2021.2001183 Accessed March 2023
4. https://www.ffungi.org/why-fungi/food-and-drink Accessed March 2023
5. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/mushrooms/ Accessed March 2023
6. https://www.mushroomcouncil.com/nutrition/ Accessed March 2023
7. https://www.mycoworks.com/fine-mycelium-an-advanced-materials-platform Accessed March 2023
8. https://www.mycoworks.com/mycoworks-gm-ventures Accessed March 2023
9. https://www.volvocars.com/static/dotcom-assets/campaigns/leather-free.pdf?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_content=sustainable_carousel_organic&utm_campaign=nl_sustainable_awareness_2109_masterbrand_other_moment4-10010-animal-welfare-organic&sourceapplicationinformation=nl_sus_awr_mbr Accessed March 2023
10. https://cen.acs.org/materials/biomaterials/Mercedes-interior-uses-cactus-mushroom/100/web/2022/01 Accessed March 2023
11. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-64663009 Accessed March 2023
12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9412612/ Accessed March 2023
13. https://myceliuminspired.com/this-mycelium-brick-could-replace-concrete Accessed March 2023
14. https://www.iea.org/reports/global-status-report-for-buildings-and-construction-2019 Accessed March 2023
15. https://www.biohm.co.uk/mycelium Accessed March 2023
16. https://bio.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Introductory_and_General_Biology/Book%3A_Introductory_Biology_(CK-12)/08%3A_Protists_and_Fungi/8.13%3A_Fungi_Classification Accessed March 2023
17. https://www.britannica.com/science/fungus Accessed March 2023
18. https://www.britannica.com/science/mushroom Accessed March 2023
19. https://www.britannica.com/science/mycelium Accessed March 2023
20. https://www.naturesfynd.com/fy-protein Accessed March 2023
21. https://www.naturesfynd.com/press-release/collaboration-with-nasa-to-grow-fy-protein-in-space Accessed March 2023
22. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/ames/myco-architecture Accessed March 2023