Here Come the 'Shrooms

Everything you need to know about functional mushrooms.

April 1, 2023

Did you know spring is the best time to forage for mushrooms? Now, we don’t recommend going out on your own with nothing but a pamphlet of mushroom pictures to forage your own dinner (yes mushroom poisoning is a real thing). Instead, adding mushroom nutritional products to your daily diet is easier than ever and you can do it from your living room while staying out of the emergency room.

Functional mushrooms are finding their way into everything. Whether it’s pre-workouts, coffee alternatives, protein creamers, or hot chocolates – functional mushrooms are quickly becoming the perfect healthy base for numerous plant-based, natural applications.

In this article, we will discuss the growing market of functional mushrooms, as well as the varieties and benefits of each. In addition, we will be outlining how functional mushrooms work in different products and our flavoring process for this ancient and recently ‘re-discovered’ superfood.

Why The Sudden Interest?

Mushrooms have been part of the human diet for thousands of years. Rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, most mushrooms (at least the edible ones) are also a terrific low-calorie source of fiber and protein. Some countries have been mushroom fans for centuries.

China, for example, consumes around 20 kg per capita (all fungi). While in leading European countries consumption is around 3-4 kg per capita.

In the USA, mushrooms were hailed as the superfood of 2019 which, according to experts’ calculations, has increased their consumption over the past six years by 240%. Yes, it seems that the secret is out.

Over the past three years, we have seen a dramatic spike in interest in functional mushrooms, and that’s just the beginning. Allied Market Research has reported that “the global functional mushroom market generated $7.98 billion in 2020, and is estimated to reach $19.33 billion by 2030, witnessing a CAGR of 9.3% from 2021 to 2030”. The reishi mushroom market alone will grow to be a $5.06 billion market by 2027.

One reason for the sudden interest is the continuing rise of plant-based alternatives. More and more consumers are turning away from traditional meats and animal products in favor of plant-based options. Secondly, consumers want to know that what they’re consuming will benefit them in some way.

Whether that’s immune and gut health, sleep, energy, cognitive and mental health, or digestion, consumers want their products to do more than satisfy their appetite, they want them to improve their overall health.

A survey conducted in February 2023 outlines that more than 50% of Americans are interested in foods that aid in immune and gut health, two issues that can be improved with the use of functional mushrooms. Not only that, more than 50% were interested in multi-beneficial products.

Functional mushrooms are like hitting two birds with one stone as using them can provide multiple health benefits with a single ingredient.

FMCG Gurus Health and Wellness Study – Feb 2023

What Does “Functional” Even Mean?

With an ever-expanding market it’s no wonder everyone is trying to get their hands on functional mushrooms, but what are they exactly?

There are over 14,000 mushroom types in the world with over 5,000 naturally occurring in the United States. Some varieties are benign, and found in every grocery store in the country, while others can cause extreme sickness, possess psychedelic properties, or are lethal when ingested.

With such a wide array of possibilities it’s common to confuse the term “functional” with “edible” when discussing mushrooms, but there is a difference.

“Functional mushrooms” refer to varieties offering additional health benefits beyond general nutrition. While all mushrooms contain varying levels of vitamins and minerals (including copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins), there are other benefits to functional mushrooms that aren’t shared with all edible varieties.

For example, some health benefits functional mushrooms provide are antioxidant and inflammatory properties, immunity boosts, gut health, and brain health. There are numerous species of functional mushrooms, but a select few are repeatedly used. Varieties such as tremella, enokitake, shiitake, oyster, and lion’s mane.

But it doesn’t stop there. Depending on the variety, some functional mushrooms can provide even more benefits when used. Below, we outlined the top five most popular functional mushroom varieties, and what they supposedly bring to the table.

Functional Flavorings

You may be wondering how combining multiple mushrooms into beverages affects the taste. How can you have a mushroom-based coffee creamer, or hot chocolate and not taste the mushrooms? Simple. As those of you that have cooked with mushrooms can attest, most of these famous fungi have light subtle flavoring where they often bring more texture to a product than they bring flavor. Mushrooms (raw, cooked, or powdered) have a creamy, velvety texture to them which lends itself to cream-based drinks like coffees, creamers, or hot chocolates.

We get requests to flavor mushroom-based products with decadent, dessert flavors like chocolate cake or salted caramel because the product provides the creamy texture those flavors are experienced with.

That’s not to say you can’t have a fruity mushroom product if you wanted one. By using their creamy texture, you can pair it with fruity flavors to create a flavor like peaches and cream, or strawberry shortcake.

While the texture is the most prominent element to consider when flavoring functional mushrooms, they do come with a subtle taste, often bitter. The mild bitter and earthy taste is something that can be used to a product’s advantage.

In coffee alternatives, coffee beans already have a strong bitter taste to them, so having a mushroom alternative is right in line with tasting like the original, only not as strong. In this instance, our R&D team would work less on covering up the bitter notes and more on finding flavors that pair well with the bitter taste.

The mild bitter and earthy taste is something that can be used to a product’s advantage.

Mushrooms in Products

As you can see, not all mushrooms are created equal, which is why it’s common to see a blend of mushrooms used in products. MUD/WTR® is a classic example of blending multiple functional mushrooms into one product to reap the most benefits.

They utilize lion’s mane, cordyceps, Chaga, and reishi as well as other spices to create a healthy coffee alternative. The combination of multiple varieties adds to the potential health benefits, without adding to cost or undesirable flavors.

Mindright® is another brand working in the coffee alternative industry. They came up with their Brain Boost Coffee Enhancer that supports mood, energy, and focus. The functional mushrooms used are lion’s mane and cordyceps. Lion’s mane in particular is said to help with memory loss, improved concentration, and reduced irritability.

Coffee alternatives and creamers aren’t the only product functional mushrooms are good for. The brand Ambrosia created a mushroom-enhanced pre-workout powder that includes lion’s mane, reishi, and cordyceps. As previously mentioned, cordyceps help alleviate fatigue and increase the amount of ATP in the body making it a great functional mushroom to utilize in a pre-workout.

**Registered Trademarks are the property of their owners.

Make Room for the 'Shroom

Understanding the market, varieties, and benefits of functional mushrooms helps guide how to utilize them in products. Whether it’s pre-workout beverages, coffee alternatives, or plant-based options, functional mushrooms are popping up in more and more products across the industry and Sensapure is ready to flavor them all.

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