Hot water, alcohol, or dual extraction in making of medicinal mushroom extracts: Which one to choose?

Medicinal mushroom extract is the most potent form of a medicinal mushroom product with a wide range of applications from dietary supplements to functional foods. The extract contains all of the vital ingredients of medicinal mushrooms we are looking for, such as polysaccharides, beta-glucans, triterpenes, and ergosterins. And most importantly, our bodies can easily absorb them.

Without some form of extraction, all these important ingredients stay unavailable to the human body.

The most common ways to commercially produce a mushroom extract are hot water, alcohol, and dual extraction, which uses both methods. We’ll go through each of them with some pros and cons. At the end, we’ll also give our recommendation on which extraction method we think is best.

But first, let’s recap why you need extraction in the first place.

Why is an extraction process necessary?

An extraction is generally a process in which a raw material is exposed to a solvent to release certain ingredients from the raw material. In the end, the solvent, such as hot water or alcohol (ethanol), is removed and the extract is either dried or left in a liquid state.

We want to use medicinal mushrooms mainly because of their vital ingredients, as mentioned before. These ingredients are found inside the mushroom cells, which are surrounded by chitin walls.

The human body can’t break down chitin alone, so the chitin wall must be broken down first. And that’s what the extraction process does.

The vital compounds to be extracted from medicinal mushrooms are mostly water-soluble or alcohol-soluble. So hot water and alcohol extraction are the most common ways to make a mushroom extract.

Hot water extraction: The most convenient extraction method

Hot water extraction, as the name implies, uses hot water as a solvent to extract all water-soluble compounds from medicinal mushrooms.

The mushroom raw material, usually a coarse mushroom powder, is repeatedly heated in hot water over a long period of time, usually several hours. The water shouldn’t boil however, as it can cause the vital ingredients to evaporate along with the steam.

The exact temperature and extraction time depends on the type of the mushroom.

This process gradually dissolves the hard chitin shell and protein bonds that surround the vital ingredients inside the mushroom cells. The polysaccharide content of the final extract can also be conveniently controlled by how many times the process is repeated.

The final step is to remove anything that hasn’t dissolved in the water and either dry the mass into an extract or filter it into a liquid extract.

Because water is readily available and (usually relatively) inexpensive, this is the most commonly used extraction method.


The advantages of hot water extraction are that it is gentle, convenient, and inexpensive.

It’s gentle enough not to destroy any of the delicate ingredients, most of which also happen to be at least somewhat water soluble. So you don’t necessarily need other extraction methods besides hot water. It can also be easily done in a laboratory setting, as water is usually readily available and a relatively cheap and abundant resource.


The biggest drawback is that not every vital ingredient in all mushrooms is water soluble. For example, the triterpenes found in reishi and chaga are not very water soluble. Water extraction will get some of them out, but if you are specifically looking for them, then you need to use a different type of an extraction method.

Use alcohol extraction to access those non-water-soluble ingredients

Alcohol extraction is like water extraction except that the solvent is alcohol, or ethanol in the case of consumer products. This method is also used to extract ingredients that are not water soluble, such as the triterpenoids and sterols.

You may ask, “Does a mushroom product that has gone through alcohol extraction contain alcohol? The answer is no. The alcohol used in the extraction process can be removed at the end.


As mentioned above, the ultimate benefit of alcohol extraction is that it is able to extract those components that are not water-soluble.


The biggest drawback is that the water-soluble ingredients, such as polysaccharides and beta-glucans, aren’t extracted. Beta-glucans in particular don’t tolerate alcohol very well, and some of them can be destroyed in the process.

Alcohol extraction is therefore not a method for every mushroom type, because if they don’t contain any non-water-soluble ingredients, there really isn’t any point of using this method.

The second disadvantage is that alcohol is not necessarily cheap. In fact, it usually costs more than water. That’s why alcohol extraction is usually not used, or at least not alone, because it will drive up the price of the products.

The third disadvantage is that alcohol is highly flammable. This puts a lot of emphasis on the safety procedures of the production facilities where alcohol extraction is done.

Dual extraction: Getting the best of both worlds

Since hot water and alcohol extraction alone can’t get all the vital compounds out, you can combine them to really squeeze out every last drop of medicinal mushroom goodness.

This extraction method is called a dual extraction. Sometimes you’ll might see the term “full spectrum” because that’s what it’s all about.

Basically, a dual extraction process means using both of the aforementioned methods one after the other. Usually, the water extraction is done first and then the resulting mass is left to soak in ethanol for a certain amount of time. We don’t recommend doing this in reverse order because otherwise the alcohol can destroy the beta-glucans too much.


The ultimate benefit is that you really get the most out of the mushroom: the water-soluble and the non-water-soluble components. So, this method is great for creating some special extracts that contain both types of mushroom ingredients.


Even with this method, some polysaccharides and beta-glucans can be lost.

Dual extraction is also more time-consuming and complex and therefore also more expensive.

Hot water, alcohol or both: Which extraction method to choose?

If you want to use only one method, we recommend hot water extraction. It’s the best way to extract the most important compounds in the highest possible concentration. It also works for all medicinal mushrooms.

If you have the resources, you can also use the dual extraction method on a few selected mushrooms to create some special products with higher concentrations of non-water-soluble ingredients. Mushrooms that could benefit the most from dual extraction are reishi and chaga, as they have the most non-water-soluble ingredients.

Alcohol-only extraction is our least favorite because it does not extract polysaccharides and beta-glucans. And those are ultimately the most important ingredients you want to get out of medicinal mushrooms.

So, there you have it! Hopefully you now have a good idea of the three most common extraction methods used to create medicinal mushroom extracts.

Of course, choosing the right extraction method is only one piece of the puzzle in creating a high-quality mushroom product. You can read more about what else to consider here.

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