You will be hard-pressed to find another bio-based material source with as many potential applications as fungi. New processing techniques allow for greater customization, and producers can make everything from consumer goods like leather and paper to construction materials like insolation and bricks. Plus, the pun possibilities are almost endless.
Fungi are an entire kingdom of organisms (in the way that plants and animals are also kingdoms), including yeasts, molds, and mushrooms. The mushrooms that we all know and love are actually just the fruiting body of many species of fungi (see below). The bulk of a mushroom-producing fungus is actually made up of its mycelium, or root-like structure.
More than 146,000 species of fungi have been identified, but there may be as many as 1.5 to 12 million yet to be discovered.
Source: Undecided (2021)
Depending on the species, fungi can be beneficial or harmful. Certain species help plants fix nutrients to grow and provide food for animals and people. Other types of fungi are “aggressive pathogens” that attract insects, can cause disease in plants, extinction of animal species, and allergies or even death in humans. Certain mycotoxins can even penetrate the skin of humans.
Source: Half Hill Farm
Grow underground and around the roots of plants, forming a symbiotic relationship that enhances plant growth.
Feed on decomposing plant and animal material. Responsible for many of the mushrooms you see when walking through the forest.
Source: National Parks Service
Attack and feed off of plants, animals, and other mushrooms. Parasitic fungi can kill their hosts.
This is just a snapshot of some of the alternatives available. It is not intended to be comprehensive or a list of suggested solutions. If you've encountered any great uses that aren't listed here, please feel free to get in touch.
When creating products from mycelium, the root network is allowed to grow but never to produce fruit (the mushroom). Cultivating mycelium requires tightly controlled and sterile conditions (light, airflow, temperature, humidity, etc.) in either a bio-reactor or industrial fermenter (solid-state fermenter). There are two primary processes:
There are 35 species of mushrooms being commercially cultivated, but only 10 have reached industrial cultivation. These mushrooms are mainly used for food and medicine, but also have value as raw material.