Japan Exotic Mushroom Journal

Tokyo, Japan 2023.10.3 01:56


The Autumn Issue of the Japanese Exotic Mushroom is officially out

Saturday, September 23 marks the autumn equinox and the start of the astronomical autumn. For mushroom farmers around the world, autumn marks the start of the busy season. Nowhere is this more intense in Japan, where both prices and demand for mushrooms shoot up between October and coast through to around the end of January. There is a scientific basis for human cravings for rich, savory foods and increased appetites during autumn—what the Japanese call shokuyoku no aki or “autumn appetite.” The reduced UVB radiation and shorter hours impact serotonin levels, which leads to increased appetite according to the theory.

Whether real or not, autumn is also the natural season for most wild mushrooms and it is no wonder that for cultures across the world this means that traditional foods for autumn often feature mushrooms. Cooler temps also mean people without home A/C (an experience that this writer, living in Japan can personally attest), are willing to turn on the hot stove for an hour or more at a time, cooking big hearty meals at home. We are pleased to release the latest edition of the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal in time for the start of autumn. The digital issue is also available here: Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal (jemj.jp)

The cover theme of the latest issue is nameko (Pholiota adioposa), with an introduction from American Mushroom Institute President Rachel Roberts on the American exotics sector, a discussion of ergothioneine that concludes my health marketing series, and a farm profile of one of Japan’s only lion’s mane mushroom farms. We will wrap up 2023 with the 4th issue of the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal in December.

While “Japanese” is in our name, our project is an English-language journal covering everything to do with exotic mushroom farming, but grounded in the Japanese growing systems that excel in growing high quality but affordable exotic mushrooms of all varieties. 2023 has been an extremely busy year for us, launching as a subscription service, getting our website running, and preparing for the Dutch Mushroom Days industry event in May. 2023 is already shaping up to be another banner year for the mushroom industry, and we hope our already global subscriber base grows even more diverse over the remaining few months.


Featured in American Mushroom News

I’m thrilled to once again be featured in one of the mushroom industry’s premier publications, the American Mushroom Institute’s Mushroom News. The July issue covering exotic mushroom varieties is the second opportunity I’ve had to discuss bottle cultivation systems. Reading about the last round of enoki-related recalls in the United States led me to rewrite an earlier article I wrote about the Japanese enoki-based condiment nametake for the 2023 Spring issue of the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal.

I love pitching enoki because it’s such a high-value product and useful way to recycle agricultural waste flows into nutritious mushrooms and useful agricultural materials such as soil conditioners and animal feeds. While the typical button mushrooms, either white or brown, that you see in supermarket aisles still dominate the market, the exotic market is seeing red-hot growth of 30% a year and little sign of tapering off. The American Mushroom Institute has done a very good job at reaching out to exotic mushroom farmers in recent years, and I think the AMI represents the changing mindset of the industry.

Whereas I think, a lot of the big players in the mushroom industry who grow Agaricus varieties (button mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, and portabellas are all Agaricus varieties), used to have a view that exotic mushrooms were just a niche for random folks growing a small quantity of shiitake for restaurant use and gourmet markets, more are now coming around to the wide range of taste, textures, and aromas offered by a number of commercially cultivated exotic mushroom species. More critically, I think the wider industry has realized that the health and culinary benefits of many exotic mushroom species and the push for more sustainable agricultural practices (including reduced meat consumption), represent a huge new market.

A lot of big mushroom farms in Western countries, outside the biggest Agaricus farmers, are still behind the times too, compared to where the Japanese are, and where South Korea and China have built their industries up to. The Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal was, in fact, founded based on the concern that local farmers of all scales in the West risked being outflanked by imports and regional expansions by various big mushroom growers from East Asia. The purpose of our journal is to provide good, vetted information and a network to help support small and mid-sized growers especially. We also want to get good-detailed descriptions of how the Japanese system works out there to help large producers make informed investment decisions as well.

I think a diverse market with a strong local base is simply the most sustainable system. Apart from strengthening regional foodways, diverse production also spreads the economic benefits and helps recycle various agricultural waste flows more efficiently. I look forward to future collaborations with the American Mushroom Institute, and hope to continue to expand our reach here at the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal.

Please check out the American Mushroom Institute - Mushroom News website for subscription information or be on the look out for your July issue to catch my article there.

See the Spring issue for the original article: Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal (jemj.jp)


Trends in the European mushroom industry

Europe has a long mushroom tradition. Collecting and pickling wild mushrooms is particularly popular in Eastern Europe, especially porcini (Boletus) mushrooms and chanterelles. Even today, most fresh wild mushrooms come onto the market from Eastern European countries. The production of mushrooms on an industrial scale started in the 1950s with the button mushroom. Around 180,000t/year of mushrooms are currently produced in Europe. The leading mushroom producing countries are the Netherlands, Poland and Germany.

The cultivation of other mushrooms started in the 1980s with oyster mushrooms, which quickly gained popularity. Italy was Europe's largest producer of oyster mushrooms at one point, with more than 30,000t/year, but was then passed up by Spain in the 2000s.

Commercial cultivation of shiitake also started in the 1980s. From the mid-1990s, growers began adding other exotics, especially king oyster mushrooms, (also called eringii). From the 2000s, exports of king oyster mushrooms from South Korea to Europe increased rapidly. The exports were fueled by a subsidy program from the South Korean government to support the mushroom industry there. In 2020, the annual exports to Europe were almost 8000t/year.

In the meantime, mushroom varieties such as shiitake, king oyster and other oyster mushrooms, which were once considered exotics, have arrived in the mainstream. These varieties were initially offered mainly at farmer markets and in organic retail stores, but today the large supermarket chains have also become aware of these specialties. Even if the white button mushroom is still much more dominant on the market in terms of quantity, exotics now represent an important sector of the industry.

Currently there are not enough sterilized wood based substrates on the market to meet the demand of all mushroom growers. However, in recent years large plants have been built in Holland and Switzerland. The market will continue to grow in the future and the hope is that there will be sufficient regional substrates to support this growth. It is ecologically unacceptable to import substrates from distant countries by sea freight. The ideal system converts the different local agricultural waste streams into substrates and then into mushrooms.

In contrast to vegetable growing, where e.g. 1 ton of tomato seedlings can yield 8-12 tons of tomatoes somewhere else, mushroom cultivation is exactly the opposite. Around 5 tons of substrate must be shipped over long distances so 1 ton of mushrooms can be harvested. Rising transport costs will continue to provide arguments for producing substrates locally in the future.

This trend is reinforced by the desire of many to be more careful with the earth's resources, which has fueled the belief that the production of meat is unsustainable. Among other things, this leads to an increasing number of people who want to eat vegan or at least vegetarian. Here the choice of mushroom is increasingly falling on the wood decaying varieties. This is because of, on the one hand, the health-promoting effects of a wide variety of ingredients as described in this Journal, but also because, unlike the production of button mushrooms, no animal manure from intensive animal husbandry, such as like horse manure and dry chicken manure, are used to produce these mushrooms. From this point of view exotic varieties are the only true vegan mushrooms.

At this year's MushroomDays industry event in 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, the mood in the field of exotics was consistently positive. There have never been so many exhibitors from the exotic sector. In addition to the large substrate manufacturer CNC Exotics, two other new substrate manufacturers from Europe (Belgium and Estonia) also exhibited their products. Furthermore, compared to the last event in 2019, significantly more exhibitors from China (substrates+technology) and Japan were present. Especially in the field of specialty mushrooms there were more exhibitors than ever before. This underlines the need to provide more substrates from regional production. The trend towards a higher demand for mushrooms in the field of exotics continues unabated, as it has in recent years.

~Torsten Jonas, BioMycoTec GmbH,

His comments will also appear in the 2023 June issue of the Exotic Mushroom Journal


That’s a Wrap: Highlights from 2023 Dutch Mushroom Days

The Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal had it's debut at the 2023 Dutch Mushroom Days event from 5/10~5/12 and it did not disappoint. While the Netherlands is no longer the world's leading producer of mushrooms, the experience and manufacturing base of the Dutch Mushroom industry remains as strong as ever. The focus of the industry in Europe is still overwhelmingly button mushrooms (champignons), but the number booths at least partially focused on exotic mushrooms has continued to increase.

Japan has a similar level of experience, knowledge and specialized manufacturing base for exotic mushrooms. I have edited this journal with the image of the Netherlands strong in my mind: an image of what Japan with proper outreach and different regional partners could like. What's more, there were plenty of interesting ideas and techniques I saw while in Europe. This goes full circle to the other half of our ideal and that is finding ways for Japan to benefit from innovations elsewhere as well as share its own innovation.

Science is well-known for sharing, communication, cross-testing, expansive partnerships and so on. Those collaborative aspects are one of the reasons why science is so powerful and has been so successful at elevating human society, creating everything from nuclear bombs to commercial air travel to the internet. To often in industry every is crouching in a defensive posture, neither seeking advice or sharing their own ideas, even if it often means they are reinventing the wheel.

However, the more I spoke to guests to our booth and others at the event, the more convinced I was that the future of publishing is not just in pushing information. Just like coffee shops aren't really about the coffee anymore but having a place where you can sit and work or meet with people, in a word, a platform. Industry journals need to have good information, yes, but even more important is the network and the potential for collaboration.

2023 Mushroom Days was a crowded event. I exchanged over a hundred business cards! Walking around the crowded venture and seeing the massive scale of the button mushroom equipment and the elaborate stands of the major spawn companies really showed me the top levels of the industry. I hope that in the aftermath of the exhibition, many more growers will subscribe and help us continue to build this small, specialized network. Then, together, we can continue to work to build the exotic mushroom industry.


Dutch 2023 Mushroom Days

I am excited to announce that two of our staff members here at the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal will be attending the long-awaited 2023 Mushroom Days event at Brabanthallen in Den Bosch, Netherlands. As the premier mushroom industry conference in Europe's leading mushroom producer, Mushroom Days attracts participants from across the subcontinent and beyond. We are pleased to be representing not just ourselves at this event, but the Japanese mushroom industry as well.

After attempts to hold the event in 2021 and 2022 failed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Ukrainian War respectively, this year’s event marks the first time the industry is getting together since 2019. I expect a lot of new projects and interesting products to be on display for this year’s Mushroom Days. We will be there covering the event and advertising our subscription, networking and consulting services.

The secret to remaining competitive in the mushroom industry is knowledge, and that is true at literally every scale—even growers who are just using their garage as a fruiting room and selling to a few local clients each week as a side-income. My goal for this business conference is to learn more about the European industry and the latest trends, see the newest technological developments and hopefully even get to taste some new food products.

The write up for Dutch 2023 Mushroom Days will appear in the Fall issue of the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal, scheduled for publication in September. Until then, please follow us on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/j.e.mjournal/ or find us on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/85624198


Translating the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Industry

I like to think of my job as another form of translating. I’m not just translating the things said to me by Japanese growers or information I read in articles and statistical reports written in Japanese, but I’m translating experiences. The difficulty in translating experiences is quite a novel one, because with translating a comment someone has made to me, I am just taking those words that I know in Japanese and attaching them to corresponding words that I know in English which convey approximately the same meaning. But with experiences, I have to work around the fact that prior to coming to Japan, I did not have any experience working at a commercial exotic mushroom farm in the U.S. (where I am from). To translate these experiences, I have taken an approach of explaining them in detail as they are while learning about different cultivation norms in other regions secondhand and using those to make key comparisons. No translation is a perfect 1:1 equivalent, and much like mushrooms seem to grow differently despite the best efforts of growers to maintain every variable exactly the same, so do translations resist the best efforts to be totally consistent. Likewise, each mushroom grower has different needs, especially in large countries like the United States, which has stark differences in regional climates and demand. Thus, a major challenege of an international industry journal for mushroom cultivation lies in finding a happy medium that is useful, accessible, and interesting to as broad a swath of the industry as possible.

As the international network grows, and COVID19 restrictions are fully relaxed around the world, I hope to study and showcase growing operations around the world in the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal alongside Japanese farms, because true translation is the art of comparison. While this is the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal, that does not mean the journal is a niche project which will as a rule only deal with content from Japan: the Japanese in the name represents the starting point and foundation of the journal. When it comes to exotic mushroom cultivation, Japan’s only rival in terms of technology, scale, and experience is China, and the Chinese mushroom industry has been far more active internationally than Japan’s mushroom industry. Unfortunately, Japan’s mushroom industry, like many other industries in Japan, has until very recently been totally preoccupied with the domestic economy, hence there has never been a concerted effort to network internationally. Until the last ten years, there wasn’t much demand in “Western” markets for exotic mushrooms, other than modest shiitake and oyster mushroom production that began in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Now however, interest in mushrooms is exploding, and the industry is booming. New small start-up growers are popping up everywhere, and previously small growers are ambitiously expanding their production. What is lacking, is the infrastructure of media, professional networking, equipment suppliers, and organizational support. Much of what little does exist in Western markets is heavily geared towards button mushroom cultivation, and many growers are left without resources for the problems that emerge in cultivation or references to tackle the vagaries of scaling up production. The Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal aims to use Japan as a foundation to connect to a global network of producers, suppliers, researchers and even hobbyists, a network that can support and promote the exotic mushroom industry during a time of tumultuous growth and rapid change. I look forward to a future where exotic mushrooms are as common and as affordable as they are in Japan across the globe and the exotic mushroom industry is a major part of sustainable agricultural systems. With cooperation and shared innovation, we can bring that future into fruition.

~Jake Waalk, Chief Editor