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Mushrooms, the ABC's

The mushrooms (Mushrooms, Linneus, 1753) or fungi (from the ancient Greek, mýkēs) are one of the prestiges of Italian cuisine as well as of gastronomic traditions, and not only, of the cultures of many peoples.

A kingdom of eukaryotic, unicellular and multicellular organisms – whose biodiversity is estimated at over 3 million species (1) – whose potential is largely unexplored.

The applications are numerous for nourishing and healing soils and plants, animals and humans. (2). Below, the ABC on the production and consumption of mushrooms for food use.

1) Mushrooms, classification

A classification in general it may be worth grouping mushrooms into four macro-categories.

A) cultivated mushrooms. The champions of global production (Royse et al., 2017), in order, are:

  • Lentinula edodes (shiitake),
  • Pleurotus spp. (oyster mushrooms),
  • Auricularia spp. (wood-ear mushrooms),
  • Agaricus bisporus (or champignon, champignon, Portobello mushrooms)

B) medicinal mushrooms (Eg. Ganoderma lucidum o Reishi, Lin Zhi),

C) poisonous mushrooms (Eg. Amanita phalloidesdeath cap),

D) other mushrooms (e.g. wild mushrooms, mycorrhizae. See notes 3,4).

2) Mushroom cultivation and sustainable development

Cultivation of the mushrooms:

  • does not require the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or chemical fertilizers,
  • has a low environmental impact (Okuda, 2022),
  • allows virtuous recovery (upcycling) of waste from other processes. (4)

These advantages ecological and economic place the cultivation of mushrooms at the forefront to contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UN Agenda 2030.

2.1) Upcycling of agricultural, forestry and food by-products

'Cultivation of mushrooms differs significantly from other types of crop production, as it can use as growing materials trees of low economic value, sawdust, clippings and branches, which are by-products associated with sustainable forest management.

Their use in mushroom cultivation can serve as a valuable resource for economic growth, instead of causing environmental pollution and subsequent health risks from incineration (Chang and Wasser, 2017).

In Japan, for example, mushrooms represent 44% of the production value generated by the forestry industry, which uses forests that occupy almost 70% of the national territory (MAFF, 2020). Mushrooms also represent over the80% of the value of non-wood forest products, including edible nuts, edible wild plants, Japanese lacquer, bamboo, charcoal and firewood.' (4)

3) Production

Production of fungi has increased 13,8 times in the last 30 years (1990-2020) to reach 42,8 million tons (FAOSTAT, 2022). China is the real protagonist of the growth, with 93% of the world production of mushrooms and truffles (or underground mushrooms), followed by Japan and the USA.

Europe in turn excels in the production of mushrooms and truffles with high added value, which are typically associated with Italian and French cuisine in particular. The variety of fungal species allowed for sale in the EU is high, around 268 fee of which 60 can now be cultivated.

4) Consumption

The consumption of mushrooms were once limited to the harvest seasons and the cold months, between autumn and winter. The growing interest of consumers in foods with balanced nutritional profiles and the development of food technologies have then favored the extension of the consumption of these precious sources of vegetable proteins to every season of the year. (5,6).

5) Nutritional and health properties

5.1) Nutritional properties

Proteins with a high biological value (with a complete endowment of essential amino acids), the abundance of dietary fibers and minimal levels of lipids characterize the composition of the mushrooms.

Vitamin D contained in mushrooms is of particular interest to vegan consumers, as are other vitamins (B and C) and minerals (Na, K and P) and a variety of health-promoting phytocompounds.

5.2) Health properties

About 2.000 mushrooms have been recognized to have health properties, primarily linked to the presence of some bioactive compounds. Which in particular:

  • lectins,
  • polysaccharides,
  • phenolic compounds,
  • polyphenols, (7)
  • terpenes.

The literature Consolidated science attributes antioxidant and antimicrobial effects to these bioactive compounds, as well as:

  • modulation of the immune system, reduction of blood cholesterol, liver protection,
  • prevention of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, tumors, diabetes mellitus. (5)

6) Toxicity risks and international rules

toxic compounds present in mushrooms are responsible for more or less serious acute and chronic syndromes, gastrointestinal or neurological manifestations in hepatic and renal insufficiency. The phenomena of intoxication are numerous and also concern the inappropriate collection, transport, storage and cooking of edible fungal species. (6)

Codex Alimentarius (FAO, WHO) adopted in 1981 the General Standard for Edible Fungi and Fungus products (Codex Stan 38-1981) and it Standard for Dried Edible Mushrooms (Codex Stan 39-1981) on hygiene and safety, identification and quality, marketing and labeling of fresh and processed edible mushrooms. (6)

# SDG3, Ensure Health and Well-being. # SDG11, Sustainable Cities and Communities. # SDG12, Responsible Consumption and Production. # SDG13, Climate Action. # SDG14, Life below Water. #SGG15, Life on land.

Dario Dongo and Irene Giunta


(1) Heath E. O'Brien, Jeri Lynn Parrent, Jason A. Jackson, Jean-Marc Moncalvo, Rytas Vilgalys (2005). Fungal Community Analysis by Large-Scale Sequencing of Environmental Samples. Appl. Environs. Microbiol., 71:9 5544-5550, 2005https://doi.org/10.1128/AEM.71.9.5544-5550.2005

(2) Giulia Pietrollini. Mushrooms, discovering an unknown universe. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade) 15.12.22.

(3) Aly Farag El Sheikha, Dian-Ming Hu (2018). How to trace the geographic origin of mushrooms ? Trends in Food Science & Technology, 2018, Volume 78, Pages 292-303https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2018.06.008

(4) Yasuhito Okuda (2022). Sustainability perspectives for future continuity of mushroom production: The bright and dark sides. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. Sec. Agroecology and Ecosystem Services. Volume 6, 2022https://doi.org/10.3389/fsufs.2022.1026508

(5) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Proteins from fungi and microfungi, mycoproteins, the ABC. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 12.10.22

(6) Rachele De Cianni, Liam Pippinato, Teresina Mancuso (2023). A systematic review on drivers influencing consumption of edible mushrooms and innovative mushroom-containing products. Appetite. 2023, Volume 182, 106454https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2023.106454

(7) Dario Dongo, Salvatore Parisi. Polyphenols and health. Vegetables that are friendly to the immune system. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 1.4.20

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

Irene Giunta
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Graduated in environmental and forestry sciences in Palermo, specialized in sustainable rural development at the Faculty of Agriculture of Perugia. She is a mycologist, she boasts numerous experiences in truffle cultivation

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