Beneficial Molds

Generally the word “mold” brings to mind loaves of bread ruined by greenish-blue fuzz, nasty unidentifiable leftovers at the back of the refrigerator, and televised images of homes filled with black mold deemed “toxic” to the inhabitants.  There are thousands of types of mold and these microscopic fungi are everywhere in the environment, including in the air that we breathe.  Mold’s main function is to aid in the decomposition of the materials upon which it feeds, and when that is happening outside, it is certainly beneficial.  But when mold sets up shop within our homes and other buildings, it can wreak havoc with costly damage when there is large-scale mold growth.

In addition to being beneficial when it is outside speeding along the decomposition of decaying organic materials, mold has other benefits specific to people, including being the building blocks for the creation of antibiotics such as penicillin, as an ingredient in cheese making, and in the manufacture of soy sauce and other fermented food products.

Mold, specifically Penicillium notatum, was discovered in 1928 to be an antimicrobial agent and possible pharmaceutical by Alexander Fleming. Penicillin did not go into mass production until the mid 1940’s, but it has saved countless lives since.

Blue cheese such as Roquefort is made with molds such as Penicillium roqueforti and Penicillium glaucum.  These cheeses may be made with cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, or goats, milk, but what they have in common is the use of mold to create their distinctive blue veining.  Roquefort, Gorgonzola, and Stilton are generally regarded as among the best of the blue cheeses, particularly when they are made in their original locales.  The discovery of blue cheese was the result of the cheese being produced in European caves that contained the molds that give blue cheeses their distinctive look and strong flavor. Traditional Roquefort cheese is still made in the same caves in Roquefort, France.  Today, blue cheese can be manufactured anywhere as the necessary molds are available for purchase.

Asian cultures have long used mold, particularly Aspergillus oryzae to create “koji mold,” which is used in fermenting soy sauce.  Aspergillus oryzae is also used to ferment sake, a rice wine.

Manufacturers of plastics often use the mold Aspergillus terreus in the manufacturing plastics, and Rhizopus, another mold is used to produce cortisone.  The mold known as Neurospora is used in conjunction with genetic experimentation.

The controlled uses of mold as detailed above are certainly illustrative of the benefits that can be derived from the mold that is around us.  Unfortunately, it can be much less of a thing to enjoy when it enters our homes uninvited.  Mold growth within a home is usually indicative of a problem involving moisture and decay and should be addressed as soon as it is discovered.  When mold is found in a widespread or hard-to-reach area of a home, it is best to call a professional mold mitigation contractor to tackle and resolve the mold growth.

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