Hymenostilbe nutans

Hymenostilbe nutans

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cordyceps and Vegetarianism

I have been asked by more than a few people who are vegetarian as to whether they can eat Cordyceps. Hmmm. I'm a dedicated meatarian who only eats vegetables because I was told they are good for me! So where do I begin? The simple answer to that question is a question: How vegetarian are you?

I have met vegetarians who will eat fish. When I first moved to Thailand I bought a Thai cookery book that had a beef dish recipe. An asterisk next to the beef ingredient noted: vegetarians can use chicken or pork. Thai Buddhism manages to get round the 'not eating meat' angle by reckoning that only a working animal such as a buffalo is technically meat. And then, of course, there are vegetarians who will eat veggie burgers, veggie sausages and even veggie bacon.

I once looked after a vegan in Thailand. It was only after a few days that I realised with horror that I had been getting him dishes that contained fish sauce. I admitted this to him and was relieved when he said that he was a pragmatic vegan. If something like fish sauce ends up as an ingredient that he did not know about he could live with that. For the rest of the trip, however, I made sure there was no fish sauce in his food.

So, how vegetarian are you? The Cordyceps that you might want to think about eating is 99.9-something-plus percent fungus. It is related to a standard supermarket mushroom or (even more closely) to something such as a morel that many vegetarian friends love to go hunting for in Europe and North America. That tiny little other percent? That WAS the insect – emphasis on the past. Cordyceps is a pathogen of insects. It infects the insect, grows inside and eventually kills the insect. The only part of the insect that remains is its cuticle – its skin. And 99.9-something-plus percent of that is made of chitin. Chitin is also what makes a fungus fibrous. Plants have cellulose while fungi and insects have chitin.

And so. How vegetarian are you? If you are a Thai Buddhist who will happily proclaim being vegetarian while eating chicken and pork – no problem. If you are a 'western' 'non-Buddhist' vegetarian who happily eats fish – no problem. If you are a pragmatic vegan? Vegetarianism, to me, is a sliding scale from one extreme to the other. As a meatarian all I can advise any vegetarian who wants to eat Cordyceps is: Where along that scale do you put yourself?


  1. From your description I think it would be safe to say they are Vegetarian, but not Vegan.
    Do all Cordyceps grow on insects?
    And as far as medicine is concerned, do they all address similar health issues? Or are there a wide variety of Cordyceps that address a wide variety of conditions?

  2. That would be my conclusion Dan. For most vegetarians I would say go for it. But for vegans I would say - stay away from Cordyceps. And as for your questions.... See what follows.