MUSHROOMS: WHY THEY  ARE GOOD FOR OUR ENVIRONMENT – CHI TOLA 

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Fresh champignon mushrooms isolated on white background

 

The word mushroom may mean different things to different people in different countries. In a broader sense, “Mushroom is a distinctive fruiting body of a macrofungus, which produce spores that can be either epigeous or hypogeous and large enough to be seen with the naked eye and to be picked by hand.” Thus, mushrooms need not be members of the group Basidiomycetes, as commonly associated, nor aerial, nor fleshy, nor edible.

The commonly cultivated and popular mushrooms are saprophytes and are heterotrophic for carbon compounds. Mushrooms can be used as food, tonics, medicines, cosmeceuticals, and as natural biocontrol agents in plant protection with insecticidal, fungicidal, bactericidal, herbicidal, nematocidal, and antiphytoviral activities. The multifaceted nature of the global mushroom industry, its role in addressing critical issues faced by humankind, and its positive contributions are regularly being discussed. Furthermore, mushrooms can serve as agents for promoting equitable economic growth in society.

Since the lignocellulose wastes are available in every corner of the world, they can be properly used in the cultivation of mushrooms, and therefore could pilot a so-called white agricultural revolution in less developed and developing countries. Mushrooms demonstrate a great impact on agriculture and the environment, and they have great potential for generating a great socio-economic impact in human welfare on local, national, and global levels. Mushroom cultivation is not only a source for nutritious protein-rich food, it can also contribute to the production of effective medicinal products.

Another significant aspect of mushroom cultivation is to help reduce pollutants in the environment. The bioconversion of lignocellulosic biomass to food and useful products has had a significant impact on national and regional pollution levels and will continue to increase.

It has been noted that a nutritious balance of foods and an active lifestyle under a friendly environment can help achieve optimal health throughout life. The use of mushrooms as diet therapy to sustain or improve health or treat illness was used by ordinary people and in the imperial court of China as far back as 2,000 years ago (Xue & O’Brien, 2003). 

Technologies and innovations for human development are expanding every day. However, our world’s populace, particularly in some less developed and developing countries, still face, and will continue to face, three basic problems: (a) inadequate food supplies, (b) diminishing quality of health, and (c) increasing environmental deterioration. These three key underlying problems will affect the future well-being of humankind. The magnitude of these problems is set to increase as the world’s population continues to grow. The 20th century began with a world population of 1.6 billion and ended with 6.0 billion inhabitants. According to the report UN World Population Prospects (2015), the world population reached 7.3 billion as of mid-2015. It is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100 with most of the growth occurring in less-developed countries. With the population still growing by about 80 million each year, it is hard not to be alarmed. Inevitably, the amount of food and the level of medical care available to each individual will decrease, and global ecosystems will be subjected to intensified abuse.

Organic solid wastes are a kind of biomass, which are generated annually through the activities of the agricultural, forest and food processing industries. They consist mainly of three components: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin

 

The 20th century began with a world population of 1.6 billion and ended with 6.0 billion inhabitants. According to the report UN World Population Prospects (2015), the world population reached 7.3 billion as of mid-2015. It is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100 with most of the growth occurring in less-developed countries. With the population still growing by about 80 million each year, it is hard not to be alarmed. Inevitably, the amount of food and the level of medical care available to each individual will decrease, and global ecosystems will be subjected to intensified abuse.

The general term of these three main building blocks of plant fiber is known as lignocellulose (Chang, 19871989). These are organic compounds composed of long chains of carbon and hydrogen, structurally similar to many organic pollutants. It is common knowledge that lignocellulosic wastes are available in abundance both in rural and urban areas. They have insignificant or less commercial value and certainly no food value, at least in their original form. When carelessly disposed of in the surrounding environment by dumping or burning, these wastes are bound to lead to environmental pollution and, consequently, to health hazards (Stamets, 2005). These wastes can be converted into valuable resources through proper management, with their utilization leading to reduced environmental pollution and further economic growth.

One of the primary roles of mushrooms in the ecosystem is decomposition, which is performed by the mycelium. Mushroom mycelium can produce a group of complex extracellular enzymes, which can degrade and utilize the lignocellulosic wastes to reduce pollution. Mushroom mycelia can also play a significant role in the restoration of damaged environments.

It has been estimated (Pauli, 1996) that over 70% of agricultural and forest crop biomass produced is conceived as unusable materials and discarded as wastes/by-products that are not edible. In addition, billions of tons of sawdust, wood chip, cocoa wastes, spent ground coffee, brewery spent grain, cotton seed hull, textile cotton waste, and cereal straw around the world are discarded as waste. The main disposal methods of these materials include burning on site, burying, and dumping at unplanned and uncontrolled landfills. Thereby, they may serve to pollute the environment in some cases if they are not properly treated. Actually, these lignocellulosic biomass waste materials are potential raw substrates for the cultivation of both edible and medicinal mushrooms, which are beneficial to human welfare as mentioned above.

Mushrooms are rich in proteins, chitin (dietary fibers), vitamins, and minerals, low in total fat but with a high proportion of unsaturated fatty acids, and they have no cholesterols. As for the characteristics of taste, mushrooms serve as a delicious foodstuff and also as a source of food flavoring substances (because of their unique flavors). In addition to the volatile eight-carbon compounds, the typical mushroom flavor consists of water-soluble taste components such as soluble sugars, polyols, organic acids, free amino acids, and 5-nucleotides.

Regarding the beneficial nutritional effects of mushrooms, the following facts should be noted:

  • Mushrooms have a low energy level, which is beneficial for weight reduction.
  • Mushrooms have a not significant level of purine, which is beneficial for the diet of persons suffering from metabolic diseases.
  • Mushrooms have a low glucose level, and more mannitol, which is especially beneficial for diabetics.
  • Mushrooms have a very low sodium concentration, which is beneficial for the diet of persons suffering from high blood pressure.
  • Mushrooms have a high content of several key vitamins, which is an important orthomolecular aspect. This means that a significant part of the daily requirement of different essential vitamins can be covered by consuming mushrooms.
  • Mushrooms have a high content of potassium and phosphorus, which is an important orthomolecular aspect as well.
  • Finally, mushrooms have a high content of selenium, which is regarded as an excellent antioxidant.

Today we face many challenges for global human welfare involving inadequate regional food supplies, diminishing quality of health, and ongoing environmental deterioration.

We urgently need to increase our knowledge and technology required for fair and effective global responses. Today, progress made in the fields of mushroom biology and biotechnology could provide tools to help reduce the burden of these issues or at least to aid in finding some reasonable solutions.

Mushrooms can be used as food for a healthy state; pure refined products can be used in the diet, as medicine for compromised health, and crude extract products mainly can be used as dietary supplements (nutriceuticals) for a sub-healthy state, as well as for both healthy and ill states.

On the other hand, challenges remain, and concerted efforts are required in many areas, including, for example, the domestication of new edible and medicinal species. Due to uncontrolled gathering and wild harvesting, highly prized edible mycorrhizal mushrooms are already rapidly diminishing, and research into devising methodologies for the artificial or semi-artificial cultivation of wild mushrooms is now a priority.

Further improvements in the production of existing cultivated species, including year-round cultivation of “seasonal” species and better quality control, also need to be addressed. Mushrooms are a unique group of fungi through which we can pilot a non-green revolution (white agricultural revolution) in less-developed countries and in the world at large. Mushrooms demonstrate great potential for generating great environmental and socio-economic impacts in human welfare on local, national, and global levels. – Credit: Oxford Research Encyclopedia

 

CHI TOLA

(CEO, CHITOLA FARMS)

 

 

Mushrooms can be used as food for a healthy state; pure refined products can be used in the diet, as medicine for compromised health, and crude extract products mainly can be used as dietary supplements (nutriceuticals) for a sub-healthy state, as well as for both healthy and ill states.

Two fresh shiitake mushrooms isolated on white background 

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