Why Are Shiitake Mushrooms So Expensive?

Shiitake mushrooms have quickly grown to become the world’s second most commonly grown mushroom, thanks in part to their incredible umami flavor. However, shiitake mushrooms are a bit more complicated to grow and take much longer to fruit. As such, supply hasn’t kept up with demand making shiitake mushrooms pretty expensive.

How Much Do Shiitake Mushrooms Cost?

The price of shiitake mushrooms can differ based on many factors, even within the same country. However, on average, in the US, you can expect to pay around $12 to $20 per pound. This is quite similar to neighboring Canada, which averages around $12 to about $24 per pound.

In the UK, a pound of shiitake mushrooms costs around $11, while it’s approximately $22 per pound in Australia. The price in Europe can vary significantly between countries, making it even harder to provide an approximate cost. In the Netherlands, one of the top shiitake mushroom producers, you can get a pound of shiitake mushrooms for $11.

It might be slightly cheaper if you’re lucky enough to live in a country where it’s grown. However, on average, the price far exceeds that of the more common button mushroom you can get for about $3 a pound.

On average, dried shiitake mushrooms are slightly cheaper as they are easier to transport and less perishable than fresh ones.

How Are Shiitake Mushrooms Grown?

Shiitake mushrooms are traditionally grown on logs and can be classified as a wood-decay fungus.  However, you can also grow them in bags enriched with sawdust, for example.

Some expert growers recommend that novices start growing them on logs as growing in bags is a bit trickier. However, this isn’t feasible for everyone, so you’re more likely to use sawdust or sawdust pellets if you don’t live next to a forest.

Whether you’re going to use bags or logs, pick logs or sawdust that come from deciduous hardwoods such as maple or oak.

If you are lucky enough to access logs, it’s best to cut and inoculate them on the same day. This also prevents other fungi from growing on it if it’s just lying around until you use it. So before you inoculate them, you drill holes into the logs into which you’ll add the spawn.

You can buy the spawn in a couple of different forms. For example, you can purchase wooden dowels that you hammer into the holes in the logs or use sawdust spawn. Most hobby growers use wooden dowels.

If you are a new grower, you can stick with a more straightforward solution by opting for pre-inoculated logs or kits.

Once you’ve inoculated the substrate, the spawn must colonize the growth medium before fruiting. In logs, it takes about a year. During this period, keep your substrate evenly moist.

Once your substrate has been colonized, it will usually start to fruit once it rains. Fortunately, you can stimulate this process by soaking the logs or bags in water. This step is called “shocking” the logs or the bags into fruiting early.

Once you’ve prepared your logs, you will see the first mushrooms after about 6 to 12 months. However, growers recommend that you wait at least 9 to 12 months to be sure that the mycelium colony is strong.

Bags, on the other hand, start mushrooming much faster, so you can expect your first mushrooms after about 3 months.

While it may feel like a long wait until you can harvest the first mushrooms, keep in mind that your logs will continue to produce for up to 8 years.

So, what Drives The Price Of Shiitake Mushrooms Up?

There Is More Demand Than Supply:

You might only have started noticing shiitake mushrooms appearing on menus in the last couple of years, but it’s been a staple of Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisine for centuries. Cultivation is said to have started more than 2000 years ago in Japan.

Not only does the mushroom taste incredible, but it’s brimful of vitamins and proteins. It’s been a key ingredient in folk medicine and is even considered the “elixir of life” in many places. It’s the ultimate gourmet food.

Now that the west has caught on to its incredible taste and aroma, supply can’t yet keep up with the increasing demand. So due to basic economics, the price of shiitake is still pretty high.

Unfortunately, it’s not a simple matter of just ramping up the supply as there are a handful of reasons why supply is struggling to keep up.

Other Mushrooms Easier To Grow

The decision to grow shiitake mushrooms instead of button mushrooms may seem like a very rational and profitable decision. Still, there are a couple of reasons why this is easier said than done.

A whole host of factors make them harder to grow, starting with the fact that its mycelium isn’t very aggressive, meaning it needs a longer incubation time. In addition, as the mycelium is the heart of the mushroom, it slows down the process and makes it more vulnerable to less than optimal conditions.

The growth rate of shiitake can also greatly vary depending on the weather conditions. In some hot, humid areas, you might be able to harvest your first mushrooms as soon as 6 months, while in other areas with less ideal circumstances, it can take 2 years.

Other mushrooms such as button or oyster mushrooms are much easier to grow. Both in terms of growing conditions and the rate at which they grow. Button mushrooms, for example, can easily grow indoors with few resources. So growers often opt for these easier-growing mushrooms.

They Take Long To Grow

Shiitake mushrooms don’t only grow slower overall, but you need to wait longer for your first harvest. The startup costs commercial growers have is large given how long they wait to get a return.

Quite often, the first harvest is relatively small as the mycelium could have grown slower than you anticipated. If you’re growing them on logs, they only become really productive in the second or third year even.

This long wait for uncertain returns is enough reason for growers to bet on faster-growing mushrooms that can guarantee a return. Ultimately this contributes to the mushroom’s scarcity making it more expensive.

They Are More Labor-Intensive

As the process of growing these mushrooms takes longer with a few more steps than button mushrooms, for example, a greater amount of labor is needed to do this commercially.

The process of growing shiitake mushrooms is also more complex with submerging the logs in water at specified times, for example, and maybe even watering the substrate a few times a day. Growing these mushrooms is also more labor-intensive, making it more costly.

Some Countries Didn’t Have Local Production Until Recently

While the Japanese have been enjoying shiitake mushrooms for decades, other countries only caught on much later. Today Japan still produces half of the world’s supply of shiitake mushrooms.

Even though many countries are starting to catch up, only a handful of countries outside of Japan produce a decent amount of shiitake mushrooms. The Netherlands, England, and France are the leading producers in Europe, and outside of the continent, Canada and the USA are big producers. 

Conclusion

While it’s true that there are a number of factors that play a role in the price of shiitake mushrooms, one of the biggest is the fact that there’s simply not enough of it.

Most countries don’t produce enough of it to keep up with their local demand and thus are priced higher.

Unlike other types of mushrooms, shiitake take a long time to harvest and need a special environment to grow properly. It’s no wonder why maybe some producers decide to go for easier and quicker types like the button mushroom.

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