Also called adaptogenic mushrooms or medicinal mushrooms, functional mushrooms can help the body manage stress, especially if taken regularly over time. The most common ones are lion's mane, chaga, reishi, turkey tail, and shiitake. While they all have the adaptogenic properties that can help the body deal with stress better, there are some differences between them that make each one special in their own way.
While functional mushrooms are often referred to as a trend here in the U.S., it's important to note that they are not seen this way in many other cultures. In Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine (a holistic medicine practice from India), these mushrooms have been used medicinally for centuries.
Well+Good first covered functional mushrooms back in 2015 when beloved indie brands like Moon Juice and Sun Potion started incorporating them into their product lines. Before then, the major player in functional mushrooms was Four Sigmatic.
Given how stressed AF everyone seems to be, you'd think any product that promises to fight stress would catch on quickly. But even as medicinal mushrooms started popping up in new ways (like in beauty products and granola bars), the ingredient never really gained mainstream attention. But this year, a new graduating class of functional mushroom drink and powder products are looking to change that.
Getting a leg up from the ready-to-drink latte trend
While functional mushrooms have remained in the background, you know what has gone completely mainstream? Alt-milk lattes. As the alternative milk scene exploded, healthy drink brands took the next logical step and started selling pre-made lattes in bottles or cans. La Colombe, Starbucks, and Rise are just a few brands selling ready-to-drink dairy-free lattes. And the latest ones on the market have the mushrooms mixed right in there.
Erica Huss and Zoe Sakoutis, founders of functional latte brand Earth+Star, are certainly no strangers to the wellness scene. The duo also founded BluePrint, a line of organic juice and vegetable blends that have been massively popular. Both say they loved to experiment with new foods, drinks, and herbs so of course they had given functional mushrooms a try. "We just felt like this was an area [of wellness] that needed more light shone on it, similarly to what's happened with plant-based eating," Sakoutis says.
Earth+Star's product line includes canned coffee, matcha, a turmeric latte, and a cacao latte. (All are $4.99 a can.) Each one contains a blend of lion's mane, chaga, reishi, and cordyceps. "All four mushrooms have their own specific medicinal properties, and we didn't want to make consumers have to choose between them," Huss explains. While all four varieties are linked to reduced inflammation and improved immune function, chaga is linked to improving gut health, reishi is connected to alleviating fatigue, and cordyceps is linked to improving cardiovascular health.
Huss and Sakoutis also say that proper dosage was important to them. "One of our frustrations [in the beverage space] has been that some brands just put a dusting of an adaptogenic mushroom in their product just to say it's in there, but it's not truly enough to feel the effects," Huss says. "Then, people try it, don't notice a difference, and write it off." They decided to include 2,000 milligrams of the mushrooms in all of their products—which they say is on-track with the dosage usually studied in clinical research.
But the dosage doesn't make the drinks taste earthy, as you might expect. In fact, you don't really taste them at all. "We're pleased that we were able to arrive at a taste that doesn't 'taste like mushrooms,'" Sakoutis says.
Another new ready-to-drink functional mushroom latte brand is Taika, founded by Kal Freese (a World Champion barista and coffee expert) and Michael Sharon, a Facebook veteran. Sharon says he got really into coffee while working at Facebook, but he didn't like some of its side effects, like feeling jittery and anxious. To counteract them, he started taking an l-theanine supplement as well as adaptogens including ashwagandha, lion's mane, reishi, and cordyceps.
Freese's background is in food science. Originally from Finland, he landed his first job at a Michelin-starred restaurant when he was 14. After moving to New Zealand at age 15, he got really into the coffee scene and started winning barista competitions. But similarly to Freese, coffee tended to make him jittery, which led him to discovering the same herbs Freese was into. "We wanted to make a coffee drink that tasted amazing but had all the benefits of the other powders we were used to adding to our coffee, all in one blend," Freese says.
The line includes a macadamia nut latte, oat milk latte, and black coffee, all with their coffee-mushroom blend. (All $59 for a case of 12.) "We went through 30 to 40 different iterations until we got the blend exactly right," Freese says, saying they wanted to make sure it not only tasted good but that people felt the herbs working. "We knew how it made us feel, but we wanted to make sure other people felt the same effects, so we sold 50,000 products to different startups in San Francisco," Sharon says. "That served as a pretty strong beta test for us; it was similar in scale to what I saw at Facebook." After a six month cycle of listening to feedback and tweaking the blend, they landed on their final product.
How functional mushroom powders have evolved
Besides popping up in lattes, functional mushroom powders—where the trend really started from—has evolved, too.Four Sigmatic founder Tero Isokauppila, one of the first to bring functional mushrooms to the masses, says the evolution has been both great and not-so great.
"The most obvious way it's grown is there are more products in the space," he says. "This is good in many ways because it makes finding and getting functional mushroom products easier." But he adds that this is also its biggest negative, too. "Like anything that becomes popular, some brands will just put a little in the product to say its there," he says, echoing the Earth+Star founders. "Not every company uses a science-backed dosage." (Isokauppila says if a brand doesn't list the dosage on the product or its site, chances are there isn't enough in there to do much of anything beneficial.)
Four Sigmatic itself has also evolved over time too. Most recently, the brand released its own protein powders ($40 - $108), which Isokauppila says came from a request straight from customers. "That way, you could have everything you wanted to add to your smoothie or coffee all in one blend," Isokauppila says. He also says that a couple years ago, they added ground coffee with functional mushrooms to their product lines, a reaction to the rise in popularity in cold brew.
To Isokauppila's point, there are more functional mushroom powders for sale now. A few new additions include functional mushroom cacao powder Hekate ($59), Mushroom Cups ($11.16), and Rritual ($39 - $39.99). Mushroom Cups's publicist Ana Mari Rezic says that besides cordyceps, lion's mane, and chaga, the brand also incorporates wild chanterelle, which is full of iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D.
Launching this October, Rritual is a functional mushroom powder line with three blends, all formulated by a team of doctors and scientists. "Since adaptogenic mushrooms work best when taken over time, we really wanted them to be in a form that can easily become part of someone's daily ritual," says brand president Mike Hart, MD. The three Rritual products, which come in individual little packets, include: Reishi Relax with ashwagandha, cacao, and cinnamon ($39.99), Chaga Immune with eleuthero, astragalus, and schisandra berry ($39), and Lion’s Mane Focus with rhodiola, bacopa, and lucuma ($39.99).
So, are functional mushroom drinks and powders finally going to get their turn in the warm wellness sun? Only time will truly tell, but if it is something you want to try, there's no better time. There's certainly no shortage of options.
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