Inonotus obliquus - Chaga
When I wrote the Article about the chicken of the woods last week, another interesting mushroom popped in my mind, which is used since centuries in traditional medicine in China, Korea, Japan, Russia, and the Baltics, but haven't reached the mass markets yet - The Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus).
The Chaga mushroom can be found in many forests of the temperate zone and mostly grows on birch, but also sometimes on elder, beech and oak trees. The chaga mushroom is pretty easy to recognise as it looks pretty different from other parasitic mushrooms in the temperate zone. It looks more like a rock hard black tumor, instead of a nice and soft mushroom.
It doesn’t have a cap or any lamellas and as the black-brownish chaga Is mostly growing on the white birch bark, you can’t really miss them. The only problem is often the height the mushroom grows. I often found this mushroom, but often in a height, where you would need a ladder to able collect it.
Today not many people are collecting these mushrooms anymore, but in the past centuries, it was often used in the traditional medicine, because of its favorable effects on the lipid metabolism, cardiac function, as well as because of its anti-inflammatory and high antioxidant values. In the last few years, some animal trials even showed some tumor-suppressing effects, but human trials are still outstanding. 1 These studies led to a slight increase in the popularity of the Chaga mushroom and some online-shops started to sell ground Chaga mushroom powder, but the powders haven’t reached the retail markets yet.
The reason for that is probably, that the production of the Chaga mushroom and the extraction of the beneficial substances is very complicated.
There are, for example, not yet efficient growing techniques for the cultivation of the mushroom on artificial growing media, which result in the same nutrient-rich Chaga mushroom with the same levels of healthy compounds.
The black-brownish tumor-like mushroom bulbs have still be cultivated on trees, which makes the harvest very complicated and not as controllable and therefore also relatively expensive. In addition, the mushroom is a very slow growing one and it can take up to 5-6 years till there is a harvestable mushroom on the outside. Depending on the surrounding climate and tree variety the mushroom is growing, the cultivation period can even take longer.
Furthermore, the mushroom can’t be eaten or used straight away from the tree. The mushroom is rock hard and has to be ground to be able to be used. You even have to soak the mushroom powder in water or alcohol for a long period to get all the good compounds, like phytosterols, Beta-Glucan, betulinic acid, and healthy polysaccharides out of the powder. Processes, most consumers of today don’t want to do anymore. The industry would have to do it and doesn't seem to do it till now, as there is also another hurdle with regard to the market success of the Chaga mushroom – The taste.
The Taste of the Chaga mushroom is not really pleasant. It is bitter, slightly astringent and can be further described to be really earthy and oaky. You would have to work with milk, sugar or maybe with fermentation processes to get to a pleasant taste consumer would buy it.
A lot of effort for a food product, but maybe still ok for supplements and pharmaceuticals, where I see the biggest potential, as consumers are looking more and more for natural alternatives, but let’s see what will happen.