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Mushroom Cultivation:Both a Science and an Art

The cultivation of mushrooms can be both a relatively primitive farming activity, and a high technology industry. Each case requires both practical experience and scientific knowledge. Mushroom cultivation is both a science and an art. The science is developed through research; the art is perfected through curiosity and practical experience.

Mushroom growth dynamics involve some technological elements which has 2 major phases one of Mushroom growth and the other of development i.e. Vegetative phase and reproductive phase.

World Mushroom Production

The following statistics (Table 2) serve to illustrate dramatic increases in the production of farmed mushrooms during the period 1978 to 2006, with particular emphasis on China’s contribution to total world production, given its current status as the leading mushroom producer.

Table 2: Total world mushroom production and China’s contribution since 1978

Whereas in 1997, Asia contributed 74.4% of the total world mushroom tonnage, Europe, 16.3% and North America, 7.0%, both Africa and Latin America’s shares were less than 1%. This is largely due to lack of know-how, lack of understanding that mushroom can play vital roles towards enhancing human health ,lack of venture capital to support mushroom farming entrepreneurs, and absence of systematic governance.

Differences in Mushroom Production Patterns

The mushroom industry in UK and in some other Western countries is often overwhelmingly focused on one mushroom species, Agaricus bisporus. These industries are nearly 100% dominated by Agaricus bisporus. In the US, it accounts for about 98% of its mushroom industry, Lentinula edodes for 1% and Pleurotus spp for only about 0.5% (Table 3). However, it should be noted that Agaricus bisporus is only but one of many edible fungi cultivated globally.

This production pattern is slightly less skewed towards Agaricus bisporus in Spain, the third largest mushroom producer in the EU. In 2004, mushroom production in Spain was 110,000 tonnes compared with 26,512 tonnes in 1992, increasing 315%. Production consists of 80% of Agaricus mushrooms, 15% of Pleurotus mushrooms and 5% of Lentinula mushrooms.

Table 3: US Market Share of Mushrooms

On the other hand, specialty mushrooms in East Asian countries are far more popular than A. bisporus as shown in Table 4. Agaricus accounted for 12.8% of total mushroom production in China in 2003, 11.6% in S. Korea and 0% in Japan.

Furthermore, while the production of the three important mushrooms, Agaricus, Lentinula and Pleurotus mushrooms together make up nearly 100% of the mushroom industry in U.S and Spain, the production of these three mushrooms account for 72.7% of total mushroom production in S. Korea, 58.2% for China and only 12.3% in Japan (Table 4). This means there are more other culinary-medicinal mushrooms being cultivated and marketed in those three Asian countries particularly in Japan.

Table 4: Asia's Market Share of Mushrooms

World Mushroom Market and efforts

The world market mushroom industry can be divided into three main categories: edible mushrooms valued aboutUS$30 billion; medicinal mushroom products were worth about US$9 - 10 billion; and wild mushrooms, US$4-5 billion. International bodies/forums have developed for each of these segments of the mushroom industry that has helped to bring them to the forefront of international attention: 1) International Society of Mushroom Science (ISMS), for edible mushrooms in England; 2) World Society for Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products (WSMBMP), for mushroom biology and medicinal mushroom products in Hong Kong; and 3) International Workshops on Edible Mycorrhizal Mushrooms, for some wild mushrooms in Sweden. The three international bodies/forums have done much to promote each of their respective fields

Development of World Mushroom Industry Movements (Organizations)

Although mushrooms have been collected from the wild and cultivated artificially for human food and for medicine uses, it is only recently that the three main segments of the mushroom industry could be identified. (a) Cultivated edible mushrooms (b) medicinal mushrooms (c) wild mushrooms including edible mycorrhizal, symbiotic and poisonous mushrooms .The development of three important international bodies/forums has helped to bring each of these three components of the mushroom industry to the forefront of international attention, showcasing their positive contributions to human welfares

  1. The international movement for edible mushrooms, mainly concerned with mushroom production , was initiated during the first International Conference on Mushroom Science held in Peterborough, UK, 3rd to 11th May 1950.
  2. The international movement for medicinal mushrooms, mainly concerned with mushroom products , was instituted during the first International Conference on Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products held in Hong Kong, 23-26 August, 1993.
  3. The international movement for wild mushrooms, mainly concerned with edible mycorrhizal mushrooms, was born as a Pre-Congress activity during the 2nd International Conference on Mycorrhizas in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1999.

These three international bodies/forums have done much to promote each of their respective fields, not least of which is bringing together scientists in international forums for useful discussions, encouraging research and the dissemination of valuable information.

Mushroom Nutritional  and Medicinal Properties

Edible mushrooms provide high quality of protein comparable to Animal protein. They are rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins, and have low crude Fat content which gives them the recognition as “healthy” food. A large number of mushroom species are not only edible and nutritious but also possess tonic and medicinal qualities, however, some mushrooms are lethally poisonous.

In the past, the mushroom industry concentrated mainly on the production of fresh, canned and Dried mushrooms for food but recently we find more varieties in various forms with value additions as well.

Nutritional Value  of Mushrooms

Human body needs protein. The other three nutritional categories required are carbohydrates, fats and vitamins

Fresh mushrooms has moisture in the range of 70 - 95% whereas it is about 10 - 13% in dried mushrooms. The protein content of the cultivated species ranges from 3 to 5.9 % of their fresh weight. This means that the protein content of edible mushrooms in general, is about twice that of onion (1.4%) and cabbage (1.4%), and four times and 12 times those of oranges (1.0 %) and apples (0.3%), respectively. In comparison, the protein content of common meats is as follows: pork, 9-16%; beef, 12-20 %; chicken, 18-20 %; fish, 18 -20 %; and milk, 2.9- 3.3 %. On a dry weight basis, mushrooms normally contain 19 -35 % protein, as compared to 7.3 % in rice, 12.7 % in wheat, 38.1 % in soybean and 9.4 % in corn. Therefore, in terms of the amount of crude protein, Mushrooms rank below animal meats, but well above most other foods, including milk. Furthermore, mushroom protein contains all the nine essential amino acids required by man.

In addition to their good proteins, mushrooms are a relatively good source of the following Individual nutrients: fat, phosphorus, iron, and vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, ascorbic Acid, ergosterine and niacin. They are low in calories, carbohydrates and calcium. It has also Been reported that a total lipid content varying between 0.6 and 3.1 % of the dry weight, is found In the commonly cultivated mushrooms. At least 72 % of the total fatty acids are found to be Unsaturated in all the four tested mushrooms (Huang, et al., 1985). It should be noted that Unsaturated fatty acids are essential and significant in our diet and to our health.

In addition to nutritional value, mushrooms have some unique color, taste, aroma, and texture characteristics, which attract their consumption by humans.

Medicinal Properties of Mushrooms

The second major attribute of mushrooms is their medicinal properties which has long been recognized In China, Korea, and Japan. There has been a great upsurge in activities related to the use of Mushroom products for medicinal purposes in recent years.

The term “mushroom nutriceutical” is used for a new class of new Compounds extractable from either the mycelium, or the fruiting body of the mushroom. They have extraordinarily low toxicity, even at high doses. Long viewed as tonics, now it has been Known that they can profoundly improve the quality of human health. Mushrooms produce several biologically active compounds that are usually associated with the Cell wall. Most notably, a group of polysaccharides comprising high molecular weight sugar Polymers has been reported to contribute to their immune enhancing and tumour retarding Effects. It has been reported that the anti-tumour and anti-cancer effects of the polysaccharides Are based on the enhancement of the body’s immune systems, including activated macrophages, Natural killer cells, cytotoxic T cells, and their secretary products, such as the tumour necrosis Factor, reactive nitrogen and oxygen intermediates, and interleukins, rather than direct cytocidal Effects.

The mushroom diets is believed to be attributable to the fall in LDL cholesterol. It should be noted that LDL is “bad” cholesterol and HDL is “good”

Mushroom Nutriceuticals

There has been a recent upsurge of interest in mushrooms not only as health vegetables (food) but also as a source of biological active compounds of medicinal value. This new class of compounds termed ‘mushroom nutriceuticals’are extractable from either the fungal mycelium or fruiting body It has been estimated that there are about 1,800 species of mushrooms with the potential of medicinal properties. Both these mushrooms and their root-like structure are particularly effective in retarding the progress of various cancers and other diseases, and in alleviating the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. At the same time, due to the enhancement of the immune systems, it can help people reduce the possibility of being infected by other diseases.

The market value of medicinal mushrooms and their derivative dietary supplements worldwide was about US$1.2 billion in 1991 and about US$3.6 billion in 1994. In 1999, it was estimated to be US$6.0 billion. Ninety nine percent of all sales of medicinal mushrooms and their derivatives occurred in Asia and Europe with less than 0.1 percent in North America. However, in recent years, the North American demand is increasing between 20%-40% annually, depending upon species.