Production of Cultivated Edible Mushroom in China With Emphasis on Lentinula edodes

Shu-Ting Chang

Emeritus Professor of Biology and Director of Centre for International Services to Mushroom Biotechnology.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, N. T. Hong Kong


The historical records of intentionally cultivated mushrooms have been reported recently (Miles and Chang, 1997). It is indicated that the first mushroom was cultivated around 600 A.D. in China. This was Auricularia auricula. Of the leading mushrooms of today, Agaricus bisporus (1600) andVolvariella volvacea (1700), that were cultivated before 1990, Agaricus is the only one that was not first cultivated in China. The mushroom, which is produced in the greatest amount today, Agaricus bisporus, was not cultivated until 1600 in France. It should be noted that Pleurotus ostreatus was first cultivated in the USA in 1900 and several other species of Pleurotus mushrooms were initially cultivated in India after the late of 1940s. China is a leader in mushroom research and cultivation and has an enviable track record spanning over 9 centuries. Particularly in the last two decades, she has made great advances in her basic research and practical technology on mushroom industry.

Production of edible mushrooms in China

China has now become a giant producer of cultivated edible mushrooms. The total production of cultivated edible mushrooms in 1994 was 2.6 million tons, which amounted to 54% of the world output. In 1986, the total output of mushrooms in China was 568 thousand tons, which then represented 27% of the total world production, which then reached 2.18 million tons. The year of 1990 can be considered the turning point in mushroom production in China. It was the year when for the first time China produced more than one million tons of cultivated edible mushrooms. Since then, the output of China has been growing steadily at a rate of 18 to 20% per annum (Y. Pan, Personal communication). Whereas the dynamics have been maintained for quite a few years, the recent data indicate that the buoyant development is far from reaching its limits. Small is beautiful and for the cultivation of mushrooms in developing countries, it is most efficient.

In 1995, the total export of mushrooms from China was valued at 623 million US dollars for an equivalent 298 thousand tons, which represents a 54% increase compared with 1994. In 1996 the total output of mushrooms was estimated at 3.5 million tons and in 1997 the total production is assessed at about 4 million tons. This dramatic expansion in 7 years from 1 to 4 million tons is mainly due to improved cultivation technologies and the introduction of a broader variety of species at small scale farm level. Certainly, the increase of domestic markets is also a key factor of the expanding cultivation of edible mushrooms due to the improvement of the national economy.

The successful implementation of a mushroom farming strategy has the possibility to engage thousands, if not millions of farmers, in a market, which absorbs all production for consumption. The production of mushrooms in China is highly decentralised. Still, some 24 counties in seven provinces have each produced edible mushrooms in excess of 100 million Rinmibei (12 million US$) per annum. Fujian, Henan and Zhejiang all have six counties, Shangdong has three, Hunan, Jiangshu and Sichuan each have one (Table 1).

Table 1. Twenty four most productive counties of cultivated mushrooms in China in 1996

County Province Value million Rinmibei Value million USD (exchange rate 8:1)
Shouning Fujian 570 71.3
Biyang Henan 520 65.0
Qingyuan Zhejiang 370 46.3
Xixia Henan 340 42.5
Lushan Henan 320 40.0
Gutin Fujian 280 35.0
Pan’an Zhejiang 280 35.0
Jintang Sichuan 270 33.8
Shinyau Fujian 220 27.5
Zehenhe Fujian 210 26.3
Liaocheng Shangdong 200 25.0
Lushi Henan 160 20.0
Xinxian Shangdong 150 18.8
Sheyang Jiangshu 150 18.8
Muping Shangdong 150 18.8
Jingning Zhejiang 149 18.6
Fugou Henan 128 16.0
Jinyun Zhejiang 125 15.6
Songyang Zhejiang 120 15.0
Lining Zhejiang 120 15.0
Pingnan Fujian 110 13.8
Boshan Henan 108 13.5
Yunhe Zhejiang 100 12.5
Changting Fujian 100 12.5
Source: C. M. Lin (1998, personal communication)


Production of Lentinula edodes in China

a. General review

The Lentinula edodes (Xiang Gu in Chinese and Shiitake in Japanese is a mushroom that was a regional variety from Eastern Asia. Now it is a mushrooming mushroom, it is the leader for specialty mushrooms and the fastest growing species, which can be used for both food and medicine. The mushroom could become a worldwide mushroom and, since it grows well on wastes from hard wood as well as from coffee farms which include phenol substances otherwise limiting its use, it deserves special attention.

Table 2 indicates that production of this mushroom increased 660.9% between 1983 and 1997. As late as 1983, Japan accounted for over 82% of the total world production of Lentinula mushroom. At that time, China only represented 9.4%. Only eight years later, in 1991, China produced already 57% and in 1997 its share had risen to 88.8%. On the other hand, the per cent of Lentinula production in Japan has dropped from 82.8% in 1983 to 7.3% in 1997. the production of this mushroom, which was usually limited to Asian countries, has now spread to the USA, Australia, Canada, Brazil and some European countries. It is expected that more countries will grow this mushroom in the near future.

Table 2. World production of Lentinula edodes in fresh weight metric tons times 1,000

Country 1983 1991 1994 1997
Volume % Volume % Volume % Volume %
China 19.4 9.4 266.0 57.4 438.2 71.0 1,397.0 88.8
Japan 171.5 82.8 149.2 32.2 132.5 21.5 115.3 7.3
Taiwan 7.5 3.6 25.8 5.6 19.6 3.3 34.6 2.2
Korea 4.9 2.4 12.0 2.6 15.4 2.5 11.9 0.8
Others 3.6 1.8 10.2 2.2 11.9 1.9 14.0 0.9
Total 206.7 100.0 463.2 100.0 617.6 100.0 1,572.8 100.0


b. History

The Lentinula mushroom is one of the most important cultivated mushrooms in China. The mushroom is estimated to have been cultivated for the first time in China between 1,000 and 1,100 AD. First, the mushroom was cultivated on wood logs. Wu San Kwung is known by both legend and historical account as the originator of the Lentinula mushroom cultivation. He was born during the Sung Dynasty (960-1127 AD) in Qingyuan County in South Western part of Zhejiang Province on the border with Fujian Province. The area where Lentinula was first cultivated is mountainous, and cultivation continues today in a region located between 118° and 120° East longitude and 27° and 28° North latitude. The climate in this region is warm and humid. The average rainfall is 1,200 mm, and the average temperature is 17°C with 300 frost free days to be expected each year. About 98% of the land area is mountainous and the majority of trees in this area are broad-leaved, although, there are some coniferous trees present. Bamboo is almost omnipresent at the same altitudes as the region of Lentinula farming.

In the last ten years, growing Lentinula mushrooms has quickly spread out to other regions, both in Southern China, where there is a more tropical climate, as well as to the North, where there is a cold and dry winter season, e.g. Biyang County in Henan Province, which will be specially mentioned in C-2 in this section.

Artificial cultivation of Lentinula mushroom in China can be roughly divided into the following six stages:

  • Cutting method which was originated by Wu San Kuang about 1,000 years ago;
  • The wood log method based on the pure mushroom spawn inoculation system invented by the Japanese in 1928;
  • The plastic method using small plastic bags containing sawdust substrate developed in Taiwan in the early 1970s;
  • The brick method or the pressed cake method introduced in Shanghai in 1979 for large scale cultivation of the mushroom;
  • The synthetic log method developed in 1986 in Fujian Province. This innovation greatly boosted the Lentinula mushroom industry in China. Since the birth of this method, Lentinula mushroom farming has grown more than 20 times in 15 years and since 1987, China has taken over the place of Japan as the leading producer of Lentinula mushrooms and ever since has dominated the world market.
  • Small rush/plastic shed method, which is derived from the synthetic log method but was developed and adapted in Biyang County in Henan Province. The bags are much bigger and are laid on shelves of multiple layers within the shed. By this method, under the dry and cold weather, the best grade of mushroom, the flower mushroom is produced.

c. Case studies: Qingyuan and Biyan

(1) Qingyuan in Zhejian Province: the origin of cultivation of Lentinula edodes. As mentioned in history section, Qingyuan is the birth place of artificial cultivation of Lentinula mushroom back to about 1,000 years ago. The county of Qingyuan is located in a tropical monsoon climate which is considered ideal for the production of Lentinula edodes. The production of the mushroom in Qingyuan has grown from a mere 2,765 tons fresh weight in 1986 to 48,202 in 1993 and to top 106,500 tons in 1997. By now, only 20% of the production comes from cultivation on wood logs, the remaining 80% is obtained by using the synthetic sawdust dog technique. The over harvesting of wood has urged the government to encourage farmers to abandon the traditional log technique. The imminent environmental damage of logging wood for mushroom cultivation has spurred new technological breakthroughs including improving the average biological efficiency of approximately 100%. This efficient production of one county represents 10% of the world production and one fifth of the Chinese output in 1993. This was one of the reasons, the county was officially named by Chinese Government as “Lentinula Mushroom Town of China” in 1994.

It is interesting to note that the total population of the country is just under 200,000 of which 120,000 were directly engaged in mushroom cultivation. This means that 60% of the population were engaged in mushroom production and management. In terms of jobs, the mushroom industry employed in 1997 an additional 4,000 persons in the trading and marketing of mushroom, and about 2,000 are engaged in the manufacturing of plastics for bagging substrates, sales, production and maintenance of machinery, printing of labels and packaging and related businesses. The total value of mushroom production in 1997 was 46.3 million US$. It is the main source of revenue of the local government and in recent years, the economic status of the population of Qingyuan is amongst the 100 richest counties out of some 3,000 in China. This improvement is solely due to the cultivation and marketing of Lentinula mushrooms.

Prior to 1991, trading in L. edodes was conducted at numerous stores. But the regional government decided to invest in a trading floor which has been expanded since. Today, there are some 280 traders active each day, except on Chinese New Year festival. Each trader employs up to 8 persons (most of them are women). The success of the trading floor requires a new expansion in 1999 with an additional 137 trading stalls. The market system and support services such as banking, hotel and restaurants now employ 15,000 persons, of whom 3,000 are paid directly by the traders. There are 60 traders who export as many as 50 tons of mushroom dry weight per annum.

The County is also producing medicinal extracts from L. edodes and Grifola frondosa for sale to the Chinese communities worldwide. The spent substrate is now under study for its use as a medium for earthworm cultivation which is a source of natural enzymes. In this way, the County expects to continue to increase the level of well-being in the County.

(2) Biyang in Henan Province: home of the Flower (Cracked) Mushroom. Biyang County is located about 400 km in the Southwest of Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of inland Henan. Zhengzhou is the cradle of Chinese civilization at the start of the Shang dynasty nearly 4,000 years ago. These days, Zhengzhou is best known as an inland transport hub, a crossroad for train and highway. The county is surrounded by two mountain ranges. They are rich in oak trees. About 50% of the county is covered by forests, and only 40% is farmland. The county has a population of 910,000 of which 800,000 are engaged in farming. There is no industry in the county, and therefore it enjoys the advantage of not being burdened by air or water pollution. In 1992, it was decided to proceed with the economic development of the county based on the creation of “The Lentinula Mushroom Economy”. Within five years (1997), the mushroom production value reached 18 million US$ which represents 32% of the total agricultural production value in the county.

Since the Small Rush/Plastic Shed and Big Bag Method of Biyang has been developed and adopted, the average income of the farmer has increased 5.5 times between 1991 and 1997. In the mountain ranges of the county, the cultivation of Lentinula mushrooms along with other mushrooms has permitted the government to eliminate poverty in a few years only. Now the Biyang method has been introduced to 120 counties of 15 provinces. In 1997, 300 million mushroom bags had been planted for a total production value of 375 million US$. Due to the influence of this new technique, many farmers can now produce high quality (flower/cracked) Lentinula mushrooms using sawdust mixed with other lignocellulosic biomass materials and thereby could be divorced from poverty, from which they suffered for years.

If we begin to look at what they have in their life today,
what they did not have for many years,
we begin to see what they will have more
due to the blessing of a small creature,
a mushroom, which may change their life forever.

S. T. Chang (1998)

D. Marketing Strategies

China is now the world’s largest producer and exporter of Lentinula mushroom. It is evident that production of the mushroom in China is not the problem and productivity in cultivation is not the issue either, the critical success factor is bringing the products to the market at the right time and place. If one responds better to this challenge, then better profits will be generated for the farmer which the margins of the middlemen will be squeezed. Therefore, a thorough and professional study of the mushroom industry in China and their existing domestic and international market scenario should be conducted and compiled as soon as possible. The study should involve primary market research through extensive field surveys within the country and abroad. The countries covered in global survey are the ones with a significant presence in mushroom consumption and trade such as Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, USA, U.K. and EU etc. The results of the survey should be presented in a form which is both informative as well as attractive and make an irresistible impact as regards the global scenario of the mushroom trade and the status of the Lentinulamushrom industry in China and globally.

Time has come for China to think and to design a Lentinula mushroom marketing strategy which ensures that, with the same volume of production, more income can be generated for the farmers, more qualified jobs are created and a better use of the limited resources is guaranteed. It should be noted that Lentinula is a mushroom which has both edible and medicinal functions. Therefore, this mushroom could answer the most important demands of the world market in the future because of its quality as a healthy food with high nutritional and medicinal values.

Concluding remarks

The successful implementation of a mushroom farming strategy in China has the possibility to engage thousands, if not millions of farmers, in a market which absorbs all production for consumption. The production of mushrooms in China is not the problem, the critical success factor is bringing the products to the market at the right time and place. If one responds better to this challenge, then better profits will be generated for the farmer while the margins of the middlemen will be squeezed. Although the productivity in cultivation is highly decentralised, still, some 24 counties in seven provinces have each produced edible mushrooms in excess of 10 million US dollars per annum. Time has come for China to design a marketing strategy which secures that with the same volume of production, more income can be generated for the farmers, more qualified jobs are created and a better use of the limited resources is guaranteed.

Different regions with different substrates and different microclimates produce each a variety of quality mushrooms without any reduction or substitution of the main agro-industrial activities. This implies that the production of mushrooms can be a major supplementary economic activity at all levels, in particular in numerous remote rural areas and mountainous counties not only in China but also in other less developed countries. It has a solid track record.


Chang, S. T. (1996). Mushroom Research and Development – Equality and Mutual Benefit. In “Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products” edited by D. J. Royse. The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Penn, pp 581.
Miles, P. G. and S. T. Chang (1997). Mushroom Biology – Concise Basics and Current Developments. World Scientific. Singapore. pp 194.
Royse, D. J., L. C. Schisler and D. A. Diehle (1985). Shiitake Mushrooms – Consumption, Production and Cultivation. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 10 (4): 329.
Yamanaka, K. (1997). Production of Cultivated Mushrooms. Food Rev. Int., 13 (3): 327-33.