Adaptogenic mushrooms—varieties like reishi and lion’s mane that benefit cognitive health, stress levels, and immune support—have been mainstays in wellness circles for years. But the pandemic has shown the mainstream American market what East Asian medicinal traditions have understood for decades: the potential of mushrooms for supporting health.
The extreme challenges of the pandemic created an increased interest in minimizing stress and anxiety through food, says Tero Isokauppila, the founder of functional mushroom brand Four Sigmatic. Same with cognitive support, he adds—in the era of Zoom fatigue and anxiety-induced brain fog, consumers are looking for any kind of advantage.
Taste was long a barrier to mainstream acceptance of functional mushrooms, says Isokauppila, but product innovation has made these potent fungi easier to swallow. You can now find them incorporated into premade lattes from 2020 newcomers Earth & Star and Taika, a new line of salad dressings from Tessemae’s (which dropped in October), and even chewing gum from Mighty Gum. Plant-based protein powders loaded with mushrooms will be the latest format to try, thanks to 2020 launches from Four Sigmatic. Functional mushroom brand Spore, which launched in 2020, plans to expand beyond supplements to new formats in 2021.
Even culinary mushrooms like shiitake—which is also loaded with vitamins and immune-supporting nutrients—will become more popular in 2021, says Shizu Okusa, founder and CEO of adaptogen brand Apothékary, as people look for more readily accessible ways to reap the health benefits of these fungi. Not only did mushroom sales increase during the pandemic, 63 percent of consumers plan to continue to cook with them “after things get back to normal,” according to a survey conducted by the Mushroom Council.
With global functional mushroom sales expected to grow 8 percent by 2024, keep your eyes open for new-to-you mushrooms like agarikon (nicknamed “the elixir of long life”) to start appearing in products, says Michael Zavet, co-founder of Spore. The potential of functional mushrooms for gut health is also an “emerging frontier” of research and product focus, adds Isokauppila. And considering Japanese market launches, “ready-to-drink shots are the future of what this trend could look like,” predicts Okusa. Time to make some room for ‘shrooms on your shelf.
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