A picture of Turkey Tail mushrooms on a log with bright summer forest overtones.

Everything You Need to Know About Chitin

What do crustaceans, fungi, algae, and insects have in common? These organisms all contain a substance called chitin. 

What is chitin? 

We’ll talk more about the connection between chitin and mushrooms in a minute, but first, let’s explore how chitin is used and its benefits. 

How is chitin commercially used? 

Because it’s strong, breaks down naturally, and absorbs water, humankind has found many uses for chitin. It’s used in several products like surgical thread, fertilizer, sponges, and manufactured foods as a thickener. 

What are the health benefits of chitin? 

Research shows that consuming chitin offers people many impressive health benefits: 

  • Good source of fibre: As a great source of insoluble fibre, chitin promotes the movement of material through the colon, which can help improve digestive functioning.[*] It also increases satiety and reduces hunger, helping you feel fuller longer. 
  • Works as a prebiotic: Chitin is an indigestible carbohydrate that works as a prebiotic.[*] This means it feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which supports healthy digestion.
  • Reduces cholesterol: Chitin molecules mop up cholesterol and fat in the digestive system, lowering blood cholesterol levels.[*]
  • Antioxidant properties: Some chitin derivatives have been found to have antioxidant properties. By bonding to harmful free radicals, chitin byproducts can reduce oxidative stress in organisms, protecting against cell injury and cancer.[*]

Why medicinal mushrooms need extraction to break down chitin

Eating whole mushrooms is a great way to obtain gut-boosting insoluble fibre, but most of the beneficial compounds you want are locked inside the cell wall (composed of chitin). This is where extraction comes in. Extraction involves taking raw plant material and applying a solvent to it, such as water or alcohol. The extraction process breaks down the chitin, making the full spectrum of beneficial compounds more readily available to your body to absorb. 

There are three main types of extraction methods: 

Hot water extraction

If you drink tea, you’re familiar with hot water extraction. The mushrooms are simmered below boiling point for many hours with this method. The remaining solid plant material is strained out and discarded. 

Hot water extracts are typically used for preparing mushroom supplements because the main active ingredient in these mushrooms (beta-glucans) is water-soluble. 

Alcohol extraction

In an alcohol extraction, mushrooms are combined with alcohol and left to sit for several weeks to months. Alcohol extracts are typically used to isolate triterpenoids, sterols, and flavonoids, which are non-water-soluble active compounds found in some mushrooms.

Dual extraction

In some cases, using both hot water and alcohol extraction may be beneficial—a method referred to as dual extraction. The material is first extracted with either hot water or alcohol with this method. Next, the remaining plant material is extracted again with the other solvent. Finally, the liquid from the first extraction is combined with the liquid from the second extraction, forming what is called a dual extract. 

A new type of extraction

Here at Forage Hyperfoods, we use industry-leading ultrasonic extraction technology to produce high-potency dual extracts that feature all of the mushroom’s beneficial polysaccharides, triterpenes, and vitamins. This method is the most efficient at breaking down chitin to release 90-95% of active compounds contained in fungal cell walls, delivering a potent and bioavailable liquid extract. 

 

The takeaway 

While chitin offers many health benefits, it also blocks the absorption of the main active ingredients in medicinal mushrooms. To reap the full spectrum of benefits from functional mushrooms like Chaga, ReishiLion’s Mane, and Turkey Tail it’s essential to use an extraction process. 

Extraction can be done at home, but if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to reap the benefits of these fungal powerhouses, opt for high-quality mushroom supplements from a trusted source.

At Forage Hyperfoods, we only use the fruiting body for all of our mushroom supplements. We also use a double extraction technique for all of our tinctures and thoroughly test them for contaminants, such as heavy metals, pesticides, microbes, and gluten.

 

Try our collection of high-quality functional mushroom supplements here!

Back to blog