Fermenting polypore tea with oyster mushrooms to make probiotic mead
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Okamura et al.'s research on how gourmet mushrooms produce ethanol pioneered a new kind of medicinal wine.123 This paper describes a mead recipe that substitutes Pleurotus ostreatus for Saccharomyces spp. and supplements honey with polypore tea.

The possibly widespread presence of the Adh1 and similar genes in gourmet mushrooms has implications for the art of brewing. Different ethanol producing species can successively ferment a liquid substrate, each adding to a medicinal polyculture with an array of bioactive cells and metabolites.

I attempted twice to ferment polypore sweet tea with oyster mushroom mycelium. The 1st partly succeeded and the 2nd partly failed. This paper may partly prove the concept of probiotic alcohol. I used P. columbinus in the 2nd attempt and P. ostreatus in 1st attempt out of convenience.

Materials and methods

I made two gallons of wine: one fermented with P. columbinus and another with S. bayanus (champagne yeast).

The blue oyster came from Fat Moon Farm in Westford, MA. The master specimen is in 0.6% saline at 4 °C, Stamets P-3 Value.45 The champagne yeast came from Boston Homebrew Supply in Brookline, MA.

The wildflower honey and green tea came from Harvest Co-op Markets in Cambridge, MA. Mycoterra Farm in Westhampton, MA foraged the I. obliquus and cultivated the G. lucidum and L. edodes. I found the G. frondosa, a four-pound specimen, in Boston, MA.

Preparing the oyster culture

I plated out the blue oyster fruitbody on MEA (20 g/L each malt extract and agar). Then I dissolved 10g malt extract in 500 mL water to make a broth. Its pH was 4.6 on beer test strips (pH 4.6–6.2).

I washed live cells off the colonized plate with 10 mL dH2O. Then I inoculated two 200-mL broths with 5 mL suspension each.

I fermented the cultures aerobically for 5 days at 25 °C, manually stirring them ≥ 3× daily. I tested each on agar after 2 days and used the one with stronger and cleaner growth.

G. frondosa in Boston, MA; this tree, requiescat in pace, also yielded G. applanatum

Fermenting the polypore tea

The recipe was 40 oz honey; 0.5 oz each chaga, reishi, shiitake, and maitake; and 16g green tea per gallon. The boil time was 2 hrs: the mushrooms at once, the honey at 30 min, and the tea at 10 min. I steeped half the tea twice as long. The pH was 4.2 on wine test strips (pH 2.8–4.4).

Gourmet mushrooms aren't normally fermented anaerobically for so long. The typical shelf life for commercial cultivation is two weeks on a stir plate, perhaps excluding specific environmental or industrial preparations.6 To somewhat mitigate against this, I used relatively younger starter cultures: the blue oyster at +5 days and the yeast at +20 min.

The 1.080 OG corresponded to a sugar concentration of 215 g/L and a potential alcohol range of 10.3–11.3%. This is consistent with the demonstrated alcohol potential and the sweetness range for demi-sec wine.

Extending the wine's shelf life

I don't recommend bottle refermenting the brew with a new species. In the 1st attempt, champagne yeast after pearl oyster became uncomfortably pressurized after +1 month and would likely have exploded.

Results and discussion

My approach was pragmatic: to maximize the β-glucan content of the most delicious, inebriating wine. The main goal was to make a drinkable novelty.

1st attempt results

I made several errors in this attempt: aerating the brew every 10 days, not using enough honey, and not reading the OG. I brewed and measured a proportial amount of tea after buying a hydrometer. I also neglected to read the pH.

The few who tasted the wine days after bottling confirmed its beer-like alcoholic content and champagne-like quality. The recipe was 24 oz clover honey; 0.5 oz each dry reishi and shiitake; 3.5g green tea; and 4.5g oak chips.

Species OG SG ABV Δ pH
P. ostreatus 1.065 1.022 6% nil

2nd attempt results

This attempt featured the improved recipe above and a different culture. A mechanical error with a synthetic filter disk may have caused the blue oyster fermentation to contaminate with green mold after 30 days.

Okamura et al.'s pearl oysters had largely stopped fermenting at 30 days.2 I regrettably didn't measure the contaminated batch before disposing it. Moldy food and drink is instinctively abhorrent.

Species OG SG ABV Δ pH
P. columbinus 1.080 nil nil nil
S. bayanus 1.080 1.000 10.5% –0.8

Optimizing for ethanol production

My main goal when replicating Okamura et al.'s research was to make an excellent mead. P. ostreatus was the only species I considered because it was the only one they found to produce enough alcohol for wine.

With the understanding that beer and wine can qualify as a "live probiotic" much like kombucha and yoghurt, it makes sense to add multiple medicinal species by ethanol tolerance.

Qualifying the value of medinical wine

Probiotic wine would include an estimate of the cell count by species per bottle: 1 hemocytometer count per species at bottling time.

Besides the live fermenting cells, the tea that becomes metheglin represents another delivery method. Kinoshita and Horie found in 1993 that green tea has anti-thrombosis actions.7

I selected the ingredients for their known anti-inflammatory, immunomodulating, and "safe" antibiotic actions.

The first batch after 20 days of fermenting

Wine tasting reports

I hosted a series of informal wine tastings with friends in Summer 2018. These featured the uncontaminanated yeast-fermented brew aged several months. A pre-methodical trial of the 1st pearl oyster–fermented mead with 2 friends suggests that it imparted little or no characteristic taste.

We appraised the wine according to the American Wine Society's 2010 grading scale. The serving was 4 cL at 4 °C. The reference column is a flat "good." 10 friends' scores populate the mean, median, and range columns.

Category Scale Reference Mean Median Range
Appearance 0–3 2 2 2 3–1
Aroma/Bouquet 0–6 4 3.65 4 4.5–2
Taste/Texture 0–6 4 3.8 4.25 5–1
Aftertaste 0–3 2 1.4 2 2.5–0
Overall Impression 0–2 1 1.3 1.25 2–0
Total Score 0–20 13 12.15 13.5 17–7

Nathan tried the 1st mead and said, "My score of your wine is gonna be, 'You can talk to my lawyer if you want my score.'" He described a "caramelized and fruity" taste: "my first impression was of sugar" with a "banana ester vibe." Max, a fellow winemaker who introduced me to the art, described "a huge honey swell right when we drank it."

Harry saw "a slight amount of particulates" and could "distinguish the bouquet." Max also saw particulates beyond the condensation: "I've looked at enough wines to tell what's in the glass." Chiara saw "a bit of a cloud but I like the cloud."

Harry said, "It's at least good" and described "a pleasant lack of aftertaste." The only thing Chiara didn't like was the aftertaste. Angela said it was "a little like beer," and Harry and Anonymous agreed. Chiara said, "It'd go well with blue cheese or a saltier cheese."

Talia described a "medium-full bodied" flavor and did "get a honey [smell] out of it." She tasted no "minor imperfections" but was "not sure I would have more than this amount." Max and Chiara both agreed that 4 cL was appropriate. Chiara said, "You might double down on making it something you just want a small glass of."

John described the aroma as "a mixture of well-balanced and characteristic." It had "a distinct taste" and "a brightness to it." The aftertaste was "kind of mellow: not too strong but not too weak."

Anonymous didn't like the wine and Mike agreed. The aroma was "kind of like wine" but "a little bit unappealing." The taste: "It's not really my thing—almost like wine, kind of a weird beer-type thing."

Max described "a bit of earthiness from the mushrooms" and placed it "between 'mushroom' and 'dusty'" on the flavor wheel. The flavor was "very mellow with a tangy aftertaste: it starts sweet then turns bitter, like a young romance." Chiara described a taste that "starts out smokier and gets more pungent." Max: "The violent delights have violent ends."

Max also provided recommendations for the next batch. The wine "seems like it could age a lot longer" to "mellow it out." More prominent mushroom notes and a longer ageing time would improve it. "The flavors feel too separate, not very mixed into each other."

Mushroom tea appears to make an almost-excellent mead, depending on who you ask. The taste is characteristic and the ingredients take Americans by surprise. The Commonwealth palate slowly accepts fungi.

Future work

There exists an obscure niche in the neighborhood of braggot, lambic, and metheglin that encourages further experimentation and purposeful novelty. A creative gourmand may bring to bear the emerging science of medicinal fungi on the ancient tradition of brewing.

The role of yeast in brewing is relatively static compared to other variables such as the grapes, hops, malt, etc. I mean there tends to be a 1:1 mapping between specific strains of S. cerevisiae and certain styles of beer. Lambic is a good, though somewhat uncontrolled, example of the emerging "microbial polyculture" approach to brewing.

Revived food–medicine interest may cause brewers to select multiple fermentation agents based on their medicinal applications. Even species such as Trametes versicolor, whose mycelium isn't known to produce ethanol but is fermented to make probiotic supplements, can benefit this ancient-modern paradigm of integrating food, drink, and medicine.

  1. OKAMURA, T., OGATA, T., MINAMIMOTO, N., TAKENO, T., NODA, H., FUKUDA, S., & OHSUGI, M. (2001). "Characteristics of Beer-Like Drink Produced by Mushroom Fermentation." Food Science and Technology Research, 7(1), 88–90. https://doi.org/10.3136/fstr.7.88 ↩︎

  2. OKAMURA, T., OGATA, T., MINAMOTO, N., TAKENO, T., NODA, H., FUKUDA, S., & OHSUGI, M. (2001). "Characteristics of Wine Produced by Mushroom Fermentation." Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, 65(7), 1596–1600. doi:10.1271/bbb.65.1596 ↩︎

  3. Okamura-Matsui, T., Takemura, K., Sera, M., Takeno, T., Noda, H., Fukuda, S., & Ohsugi, M. (2001). "Characteristics of a cheese-like food produced by fermentation of the mushroom Schizophyllum commune." Journal of Bioscience and Bioengineering, 92(1), 30–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1389-1723(01)80194-8 ↩︎

  4. Home Reverse Osmosis. "What's in the Water You Buy?" Online; accessed 2017-Nov-27. http://www.h2ro.com/bottled2.htm ↩︎

  5. Fungi Perfecti. "What is the Stamets P Value System?" Online; accessed 2017-Nov-13. https://www.fungi.com/blog/items/what-is-the-stamets-p-value-system.html ↩︎

  6. Paul Stamets. Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, chapter 12, pages 110–121. Ten Speed Press, 3rd edition, 2000. ↩︎

  7. Horie, N., Hirabayashi, N., Takahashi, Y., Miyauchi, Y., Taguchi, H., & Takeishi, K. (2005). "Synergistic Effect of Green Tea Catechins on Cell Growth and Apoptosis Induction in Gastric Carcinoma Cells." Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 28(4), 574–579. https://doi.org/10.1248/bpb.28.574 ↩︎