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Specialty mushrooms are defined by USDA as any species not belonging to the genus Agaricus (button, crimini, portabella). The most common specialty mushrooms are shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and oyster (Pleuterous ostreatus), which represent the second and third most produced in the United States (USDA, 2017). Demand for specialty mushrooms is rapidly rising, as consumers look to purchase more foods that are healthy, nutritious, and medicinal. United States per capita consumption of all mushroom species was only 0.69 lbs. in 1978, but by 1999, averaged 4 lbs. per capita.

Mushrooms are nutritious, ranging from with twice the protein of most vegetables and containing all the essential amino acids for humans (Chang, 1980). They serve as an alternative protein to animal sources and also provide dietary fiber and minerals with no fat (Shah, 1997). Some report mushrooms to be more satisfying to consumers than meat proteins (Hess, 2017). Mushroom intake is positively associated in diets with a higher intake of nutrients and a higher quality diet (O’Neil, 2013).

In addition to the nutritional value, both shiitake (Mizuno, 1995) and oyster (Patel, 2012) offer an impressive array of medicinal properties including antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, immune modulating, and more.

Fig 1. Sales of Specialty Mushrooms (USDA NASS)

Sales have increased with demand (Fig. 1). In 2017, production of specialty mushrooms, grew by four percent from 2016 levels to 25.4 million pounds with a sales value of $96.2 million. While this represents a 9.6% increase from the previous year, there is still a high level of demand not being met. In 2017, specialty mushroom growers produced 26.1million pounds — a 5.5% average increase over the last five years. Yet, this averages 0.08 lbs produced per capita (Table 1), compared to the national average of 4lbs/per. This production bottleneck is partially due to lack of growers. In 2017, there were only 226 growers commercially producing specialty mushrooms the United States (USDA, 2017).

Research at Cornell over the last decade has focused on the cultivation of four species: shiitake, lions mane, oyster, and stropharia in outdoor settings. We have recently expanded our resources to include more on indoor cultivation methods, as well.


Monthly Webinar Series:

These free webinars will occur on the first Wednesday of each month, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST, and will be recorded and posted for later viewing at and at the Small Farms Program YouTube channel.


May 1, 2019

Overview and Indoor vs Outdoor Systems (Steve Gabriel)

Oysters on Coffee Ground Substrates (Renee Jacobson)


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