Over the past few years Lions Mane Mushroom extract has skyrocketed in popularity. However, identifying good quality Lions Mane mushroom extracts has become a difficult task thanks to not only the misleading claims being made, but also due to so many variations of Lion's Mane mushroom extracts being available on the market.
If you have spent any time researching Lions Mane Mushroom extract, you will no doubt have seen a lot of conflicting information. We put together this no-nonsense guide so you can be better informed when buying a Lion's Mane Mushroom extract.
If you are not familiar with this particular medicinal mushroom, checkout our summary of The Benefits of Lion's Mane Mushroom.
What Should Lions Mane Mushroom Extract Look and Smell Like?
The appearance of Lions Mane mushroom products varies widely, especially with the vast amount of products available.
There are distinct characteristics attributed to Lions Mane mushroom extracts which can give us an indication whether or not an extract is pure and good quality.
The type of extraction process that has been used will typically be reflected by how it looks. A high quality hot water Lions Mane extract will undergo 1:1 extraction and the powder will typically be light tan in colour (below, right).
The smell of hot-water extracts is quite characteristic, some may consider it unpleasant - it is, after, all a fungus. But it isn't terribly aromatic, and the taste is mushroomy but fairly neutral.
On the other hand, a high-quality Lions Mane dual-extract will typically be dark brown in colour, especially if it is concentrated - such as our 8:1 extract pictured above.
The dual extraction process uses ethanol to dissolve and isolate the otherwise insoluble terpenes in the mushroom, which alters the taste and appearance significantly when compared with a 1:1 hot-water extract.
Terpenes are bitter in flavour, and this is most evident in concentrated medicinal mushrooms that can undergo higher extraction ratios, such as Red Reishi mushroom. Overall, the taste of Lions Mane Dual Extract is rich, bitter, and the smell is not too dissimilar to cocoa or chocolate.
Side-by-side, the difference between these types of extracts is obvious.
If your Lions Mane Mushroom supplement doesn't look like either of these, or it is sweet in taste, then it may not be a good quality or even an unauthentic extract.
Naturally, Lions Mane Mushroom should not be sweet. The sweetness noticeable in some products is due to the addition of extra starches that inflate the total polysaccharide claims on the product. A good Lions Mane Mushroom extract will rarely contain more than 35% total polysaccharides, and even less as a dual-extract, since some Beta-Glucans are lost during the secondary alcohol extraction.
These types of extracts will have more flow to them and the dual-extracts will be notably lighter in colour. The lack of bitterness and a dark appearance is a giveaway of a lower-quality dual extract.
If you have used a Lions Mane Mushroom product that contained myceliated biomass or any kind of grain starches, then this next section is for you.
What's with Lions Mane and Myceliated Rice?
Myceliated Rice, myceliated biomass, or mycelium on grain (MOG) are terms for what is simply mycelium cultured on a grain substrate, most commonly rice or oats. These grain starches provide a base for the mycelium to grow on, but unfortunately, they also make up the bulk of the finished product, which means that mycelial biomass products contain very little actual mycelium.
The primary issue with myceliated rice is based around polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are complex, long-chain carbohydrates which are difficult to digest and are therefore broken down through extraction. The polysaccharides with some of the greatest importance in Lions Mane Mushroom extracts are known as Beta-Glucans. Specifically, Beta-(1,3)-d-glucan is one of the most research compounds found in medicinal mushrooms. However, with mycelium on grain products these are not listed the product label most of the time, because they don't usually contain any Beta-Glucans.
If we told you that a Lions Mane Mushroom extract contained 55% polysaccharides, you may think that sounds pretty impressive. After all, many Lions Mane Mushroom extracts you will find for sale contain significantly lower amounts - typically no more than 35%, and about half of that with dual-extracts - and they tend to be more expensive.
But when you take a closer look, it is very obvious why this is misleading.
The term polysaccharides used in this context includes all types of complex carbohydrates present in the product, including inactive Alpha-Glucans from grain starch. Alpha-Glucans are present in low concentrations in Lions Mane mushroom, but in much higher concentrations in grains such as rice, and this is what contributes to the high polysaccharide content.
Alpha-Glucans provide none of the benefits attributed to Beta-Glucans, yet since they are classed as polysaccharides, manufacturers are able to artificially inflate the total percentage of their finished "mushroom" products. This ultimately deceives customers because their product doesn't contain any beneficial active compounds.
This occurs because manufacturers of myceliated biomass 'mushrooms' do not separate the mycelium from the grain, so what you end up with is a product that contains 60-70% grain starch. Myceliated biomass products are most commonly produced and originate in the USA due to the very low cost of production. The companies producing and selling these kinds of products are often the source of the misinformation spread around about medicinal mushroom extracts such as Lions Mane mushroom. Unsurprisingly, these manufacturers are selling myceliated biomass products because they are inexpensive to produce - unlike growing and extracting authentic mushrooms, like they do in China. It's no coincidence that almost all of the extracts produced in the USA are all mycelium biomass instead of fruiting bodies.
To put it another way, most mycelium on grain products contain no more than 40% mycelium content, while the rest is ground up grain that was used as the growing substrate. At the same time, mycelium contains little-to-no Beta-Glucans, so you are effectively missing out on one of the crucial actives found in Lions Mane mushroom. A high total polysaccharide count is a strong indicator that a Lions Mane extract is tainted with inactive starches.
In summary, myceliated biomass products:
- Contain no mushroom fruiting bodies
- Contain little-to-no Beta-Glucans
- Contain as much as 70% starch from grains (rice, oats, etc.)
- Contain very little actual mycelium due to all that starch
Myths and Common Misconceptions About Lions Mane Mushroom Extract
Disinformation about Lions Mane Mushroom is so wide-spread that even we have been mislead about these extracts in the past. So let's clear a few things up.
- MYTH: Chinese mushroom extracts are all poor quality / contain high levels of heavy metals / <insert unsubstantiated claim here>
Whatever you may have heard, it is important to understand that the overwhelmingly vast majority of supplements are manufactured in China. This includes medicinal mushroom extracts. No one else is as capable in terms of vertical integration. The Chinese are especially renowned for growing and cultivating medicinal mushrooms, as has been the case for centuries.
The trick is finding the good-quality extracts. Of course, poor quality extracts exist everywhere. You'll never know what you have unless it is has been tested. High quality mushroom extracts, such as those produced by Nammex in China, are certified organic by the USDA and are all accompanied by an independent certificate of analysis with a Beta-Glucan assay, as well as a heavy metal and microbiological results.
We can and do provide genuine certificates of analysis for all of our mushroom extracts - not a fake, Chinese provided COA that many manufacturers will try to pass off as an analytical certificate.
The irony is that the same companies spreading these rumours tend to be those who sell adulterated mushroom extracts themselves; engaging in shady marketing practices while selling poor quality extracts that often don't contain any mushrooms at all.
- MYTH: Mycelium is a mushroom.
Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, but it is not actually the mushroom. You can think of mycelium as the roots that provide nutrients to the fungus to help it develop the fruiting body.
While there is ongoing research into pure mycelium extracts, there is presently not much, if any, data supporting efficacy in humans. Every study conducted on Lions Mane Mushroom thus far has been done using only the fruiting bodies. That means that if you want to attain the maximum possible benefits from Lions Mane mushroom extract, based on the data, you should be supplementing with an extract that is made using the whole mushroom fruiting bodies.
Terpene Claims with Lions Mane Mushroom Alcohol and Dual Extracts
This question keeps coming up since there is a lot of debate in this particular aspect of Lions Mane extracts. Why is almost no one listing the terpene content on their Lions Mane extracts?
A number of alcohol and dual-extracted mushroom products on the market recently started including the terpene concentrations, even going so far as to list the hericenone and erinacine content in definitive amounts on the facts panel.
But can we actually trust these numbers?
For starters, active ingredient testing is done by comparing to what is known as a reference standard. A reference standard is a verified sample purchased from specialist suppliers that will be the basis for what you compare a particular extract to. A point of reference that is backed by sound, reviewed science and methodology. There are many types of reference standards available, the most accurate and respected ones tend to be from the United States Pharmacopoeia - known as USP standards.
So if we are testing a mushroom extract for Beta-Glucans, we use the industry standard MegaZyme K-YBGL assay. This test can be purchased by anyone and is widely used and accepted as the standard by which to measure Alpha- and Beta-Glucans, in order to determine if a product is contaminated with useless starches. It's why you find the majority of mushroom products don't provide these tests for their extracts.
Now, when it comes to terpenes in Lions Mane Mushroom extracts there are two primary issues:
- There is no recognized reference standard available anywhere to measure the terpenes accurately.
- There is no validated method for testing these terpenes.
These points are crucial to the issue. Without a valid reference standard, every analytical report you will find online will have been based on proprietary methodologies that cannot be verified by a third party because their methods are not open for review, and no one knows what kind of standards are being used. There is no way of knowing how the numbers have been reached, and it is impossible to rely on the results if you have any interest in being accurate. This is equivalent to "trust me, bro".
What's even more misleading is if multiple labs are developing their own testing methods, then every result out there is going to be completely different! The whole reason for using a standard is so that we can consistently and accurately reproduce results, so it really doesn't make sense to rely on what is obviously unproven science as the basis for these claims.
Sure, this sounds like a convenient excuse. It's not like we haven't tested our Lions Mane extract with one of these labs, only to find that our preferred lab would not verify the results without a valid standard and method. And that's the reality of the situation - ask any respectable lab, and they will tell you exactly the same thing. These are misleading claims based on unverified science.
Anyone making claims of having standardized their extracts for terpenes, hericenones, or erinacines is intentionally or unknowingly trying to deceiving you.
99% of these vendors can't even provide a single, valid certificate of analysis for their extracts. Not only do they source their mushroom extracts from highly questionable sources, but they then claim to offer independent tests while providing Chinese manufacturer-issued 'certificates', which are as unreliable as it gets.
You cannot isolate and standardize actives in an extract without a valid method and reference standard. And because of this, it is impossible for these vendors to prove their claims. That is especially why most making these claims don't provide any valid documentation when requested - it is either fabricated, or it doesn't exist.
When a standard is eventually available, it is almost certainly going to invalidate all of the 'data' up until this point, which will force suppliers to walk back their claims and pretend like nothing happened. The bottom line is results for these kinds of tests should be disregarded until we have reliable standards and methods.
Fortunately, there are some smart people out there working hard to make advances in the science that will be to the benefit of everyone - especially consumers.
What to Look For When Buying Lions Mane Mushroom Extracts?
1. A higher extraction ratio past a certain point provides no additional benefits and in fact may be detrimental to the overall quality of an extract. The best dual-extract Lions Mane Mushroom products won't use more than an 8:1 extraction ratio. It is also important to note that extraction ratios do not mean that an extract is x times more concentrated than a 1:1 extract. This is not accurate. What the extraction ratio refers to is the amount of raw material used to produce the finished extract.
2. Avoid products that include mycelium, mycelial biomass, myceliated rice, or any other grains as the primary or secondary component of a Lions Mane extract supplement.
3. The total amount of polysaccharides should not exceed the Beta-Glucan content by more than 5%. The less the better. High levels of polysaccharides are a sign of adulteration, especially when the Beta-Glucan content is not stated. This is the most common tactic used to mislead people into buying low-quality extracts. The sign of this will be the taste and appearance - extracts with added starch tend to be sweet in taste, and a lot lighter in colour than high-quality dual extracts.
4. Unsubstantiated claims such as extracts that are said to be standardized to hericenones and/or erinacines. Since there is no way to accurately test for these compounds, these products are very unlikely to be authentic.
5. "EU or US grown" Lions Mane mushroom products rarely contain the fruiting bodies and are more commonly loaded with starch. You may be not be surprised to learn that producing mushrooms on a grand scale is expensive. It is also economically unfeasible - for the most par - in the US and EU markets. This is largely why you will find that mushroom products in these regions are almost always from the mycelium which has been cultured on grain (rice, oats, etc.), and they rarely contain any actual mushrooms! These products typically contain 65-70% of grain starch.
6. Choose Lions Mane mushroom extracts made exclusively from fruiting bodies. Fruiting bodies are the actual mushroom that contains the beneficial active compounds.
7. Good quality extracts are produced in China - not the USA or Europe. The difference is that authentic, high-quality extracts from China will always be accompanied by valid testing reports, since virtually all of the certificates of analysis coming directly from these manufacturers are either adulterated, or entirely fabricated.
8. Ask for a valid certificate of analysis!
Have any questions? Let us know below, send us an email, or give us a call.