Last updated: August 11, 2021

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The mushroom Cordyceps sinensis, which grows in the Tibetan highlands, has been a valuable product for 1000 years. In the 17th century, it was used as a means of payment and was considered a culinary sign of prosperity in China and Tibet.

It is not only used in Chinese medicine but also in many traditional dishes. In our product comparison, we have therefore listed various products and worked out the most important aspects.




Summary

  • Cordyceps, or Chinese caterpillar fungus, is a fungus that grows as a parasite in a caterpillar or moth larva. Cordyceps sinensis is only found in the high plateau of the Himalayas at an altitude of 3000 to 5000 metres.
  • The Cordyceps mushroom is often used in powder form for traditional Chinese dishes or in teas.
  • Less frequently, it is available in liquid form as an extract. However, this variant can also serve as a refinement for many dishes.

The best Cordyceps: Our Picks

In the following section, we have selected our favourites in the cordyceps range. We give you a rough summary of the products and show you in our conclusion what we think of the products and for whom they are recommended.

Buying and evaluation criteria for cordyceps

In order to find the right cordyceps product to refine many dishes, some buying criteria should be taken into account. You should pay particular attention to the following four criteria:

Note that especially the dosage form mostly depends on personal taste, but the other three criteria should always be carefully examined. These can provide information about the quality of the preparation.

Dosage form

There are two different forms of Cordyceps mushroom for cooking. One is as a Cordyceps extract and the other is in powder form. In order for the mushroom to be processed into powder, it is usually dried at low heat and carefully ground. In the process, almost none of the special active ingredients are lost.

In the case of extracts, the extraction process is particularly important, as otherwise important ingredients can be lost. However, some manufacturers now combine both forms. Occasionally, even liquid extracts can be found on the market, but these are rather rare.

Ingredients

As with any foodstuff, one should also pay attention to the ingredients of cordyceps before buying it. Today's preparations often contain Cordyceps CS-4, which has the same properties and almost the same DNA as Cordyceps, which originally comes from the Himalayan mountains. However, CS-4 is synthetically produced, which has also made vegan variants of cordyceps possible.

Make sure your product is free from unnecessary additives such as magnesium salts or other unnecessary release agents. In addition to the natural active ingredients of cordyceps, some manufacturers also offer cordyceps with added vitamin C, for example. Such additives are not harmful, but they do not always have to be present in every preparation.

Production

Cordyceps can now also be cultivated in Germany thanks to the possibility of cultivation. We therefore recommend that you always use products from your local area. This not only avoids unnecessarily long transport routes, but you can also almost always rely on good quality with products from Germany.

If you can find out something about the extraction process of the preparation, then it should ideally have undergone the double extraction process. This process ensures that all the active ingredients of the cordyceps are completely preserved.

In this double extraction, the mushrooms are first soaked in alcohol for several weeks and then placed in hot water. If a manufacturer uses this process, it will most likely also be labelled with Dual-Extraction or Double-Extraction process on the label.

Testing

Another important feature of a good cordyceps product, is testing. Therefore, make sure that the product is labelled USP, NSF or GMP. With these labels, you can be sure that the product meets the necessary quality standards.

This is especially important for mushrooms, as they naturally absorb and store heavy metals, radiation and pesticides. Since all three of these are harmful to humans, it should be guaranteed that they are not in the product. In addition, these standards ensure that the stated amount of the product is also contained.

Guide: Frequently asked questions about cordyceps answered in detail

The topic of cordyceps can raise many questions. To give you a better overview of the topic, we have summarised and briefly answered the most frequently asked questions below.

What is Cordyceps?

Cordyceps sinensis, which is the exact name of the mushroom, is botanically classified as a tubular mushroom. They grow exclusively at an altitude of 3000 to 5000 metres in the Himalayas and other high mountains of Tibet. However, unlike many other mushrooms, cordyceps do not grow on the forest floor, but their invisible fungal spores infect a caterpillar and feed on it.

During the summer months, the fruiting body of the mushroom grows out of this caterpillar and all that remains of the caterpillar is its mummified shell.

Due to its many positive properties, the caterpillar fungus quickly became a rarity and could therefore only be consumed and paid for by very few people. In the meantime, however, Cordyceps can also be cultivated and that even without a caterpillar having to give up its life for it.

The mushroom contains polysaccharides, which are important for humans and play an important role in the body for energy storage, structural elements in the membrane and as a component of proteins and immune modulation.

What types of cordyceps are there?

In addition to the type of Cordyceps sinensis already mentioned above, there are many other species such as the needle-spored core club (Cordyceps bifusispora), Cordyceps memorabilis, the humped core club (Cordyceps tuberculata) and the pupal core club (Cordyceps militaris), to name just a few of them.

The best-known species, however, are Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.

We have already explained what distinguishes Cordyceps sinensis in the section "What is Cordyceps?", which is why we will now only deal with Cordyceps militaris in this section.

The mushroom Cordyceps militaris, which is also called "pupa club", is very similar to Cordyceps sinensis both visually and in its way of life and the combination of vital substances. Unlike its close relative, however, the pupal club grows worldwide and is even widespread in this country.

It also contains the important ingredient "cordycepin" which is said to help increase performance, fight colds, stimulate the immune system and much more. Since the pupa leg is also said to have many positive effects, this type of Cordyceps is also sold as a supplement by various manufacturers.

How can Cordyceps be processed?

There are various ways in which the Cordyceps mushroom can be processed. The traditional dishes from China are mainly soups and teas, which are refined with the help of the powder.

Cordyceps

With the help of the cordyceps mushroom, you can give your dishes a more intense flavour. The mushroom develops its special flavour in soups in particular. (Image source: Markus Winkler/ Unsplash)

It is important for both the soup and the tea that the mushroom powder is not poured over with hot or boiling water, but only with warm water. The mushroom powder is particularly suitable for vegetable broths and should steep in the water for several hours so that the full flavour develops. To brew a healthy tea, it is sufficient to steep the nutritious powder for about 15 minutes.

Another variant that is particularly suited to today's super-food age are smoothies. Both the powder and the extract of the cordyceps mushroom are excellent as a healthy ingredient in a fresh smoothie.

Here you can find some delicious recipes on the internet or food blogs. Since the mushroom extract and especially the mushroom powder develop their full flavour only after longer steeping, you can also use it as a relatively neutral ingredient in your favourite smoothie recipe.

How does Cordyceps work?

Cordyceps is said to have a lot of positive effects on humans. Some of these have been proven in studies, but others have not or have only been tested on animals.

Fortunately, cordyceps has hardly any side effects. However, some people may experience digestive problems or diarrhoea. However, due to its low number of side effects, cordyceps can be tried by everyone.

It is important to consult your doctor before taking cordyceps if you are taking other medications. Cordyceps can influence the effect of other medicines.

Conclusion

All in all, cordyceps is a true all-rounder. Especially in China, the demand for the caterpillar fungus is very high and it is already used in many medicinal applications but also in many recipes.

Whether as a healthy flavour carrier in a soup or as a neutral ingredient in a fresh smoothie. There are certainly many more possibilities and recipes in which the mushroom is particularly well suited. The only thing is that it should always be prepared with warm rather than hot water.

(Cover photo: Gina Sell/ Unsplash)

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