What’s a fruiting body? We thought you’d never ask!
The answer is simple: it’s the mushroom. But did you know that the mushroom is only a tiny part of the fungal organism? Cozy up to learn more about what’s going on underneath these nubile fruiting bodies.
The Fungal Holy Trinity
Fungi, also known as basidiomycetes, are made up of three parts that develop throughout its long life: spore, mycelium, and mushroom. Spores are all around us, invisible to the eye, sometimes wreaking havoc on our health but more often than not doing a silent job of making the world go round. In fact, every breath you take likely contains between one and ten spores. When things work in the spores’ favor, they will germinate and begin to grow hyphae, long filaments (think hollowed-out spaghetti) that fuse to become mycelium.
Now here’s where things get weird. Since fungi can't make their food from photosynthesis (like a plant) and don't have a mouth (like an animal), they have to get creative. So the mycelium spreads out underground, forming a giant network, producing enzymes (proteins) that feed off plants and decomposing animal sugars, breaking down the biological matter, and returning it to the soil. And when we say a giant network, we mean it. The largest living organism on earth is a network of mycelium that grows underneath the Malheur National Forest in Oregon. It stretches for more than five and a half miles and is estimated to be over 2400 years old! And lest you think that mycelium are simply opportunistic scavengers, in addition to creating healthier soil, thanks to that giant network, they can deliver water and nutrients to plants from places where their roots can’t reach, helping them to grow. So the fungi get to eat them in the end. They’ve earned it.
When conditions are right, the mycelium will produce a beloved fruiting body, a.k.a. a mushroom, whose job, like any fruiting body, is to protect and spread the seeds, or in this case, spores. When the mushroom comes of age, it will produce spores, which are then distributed by wind and animals, starting the process all over again.
It’s All Good
Many of the health benefits of functional mushrooms come from the fruiting body itself, where most beta-glucans, the compounds that support our immune system and reduce inflammation, can be found. Compared to mycelium (which, for commercial uses, is generally grown on grain instead of wood/animals/plants), mushrooms contain more than 30 times the amount of beta-glucans, making them a Beyoncé level superstar of benefits where mycelium serves more as a backup dancer. However, mycelium has got plenty to offer. Preliminary studies on rats with neurodegenerative diseases have shown mycelium to delay neuronal cell death and promote nerve regeneration in rats with neuropathic pain. Of even greater promise is the eco-friendly applications mycelium offers. Mycelium is already used in plant-based meat alternatives, construction materials, and durable packaging that might replace Styrofoam once and for all. They’ve also shown promise as a bioremediation tactic to clean up toxic spills and contaminated soils, as well as breaking down agricultural and industrial waste. The potential is astounding. The benefits are exponential. The future is fungi.
Ready to get onboard? Try one of our lattes–loaded with fruiting bodies–here!