Recent launches include ones from Gaia Herbs and a pending launch from Amazing Grass. Both companies are responding to what is characterized as a rising tide of consumer awareness and acceptance of the medicinal qualities of mushrooms has never been higher. Demand is greatest in Asia, where the fungi have had a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine and other herbal medical systems, but is growing elsewhere, too. The worldwide market for Reishi, Chaga, Shiitake, Maitake and others was pegged at $18 billion in 2014 (up from $6 billion in 1999).
Both Gaia and Amazing Grass have focused their launches in part on pairing mushrooms with adaptogenic properties with herbs that are also classified as adaptogens. Gaia’s new line includes five products, one of which is based on pairing Cordyceps with Ashwagandha. Turmeric, Schisandra and Astragulus are also employed on the herbal side, along with Maitake, Reishi, Shiitake and Turkey Tail on the fungal side. The products are formulated around specific conditions, such energy and stress, liver defense, immune support and so forth.
“We’ve utilized mushrooms in several of our products for some time. But now they are the leading raw material in this line of ‘Mushrooms plus Herbs’,” said Todd King vice president of marketing for Gaia Herbs.
Amazing Grass, a maker of powdered superfood, protein and herbal products along with nutrition bars, is planning a line of ‘organic elixirs’ that will launch in June. The company said the goal was to formulate products using the synergistic benefits of herbs and mushrooms working together.
“When we began developing our Organic Elixir line around adaptogenic herbs and trending health needs we knew mushrooms were some of the most effective ingredients we could use. That’s why we chose Reishi, considered a superior adaptogen and Cordyceps, one of the most prized energy enhancing adaptogen in our stress reducing elixir blend,” said Ryan Therriault, vice president of marketing and innovation at Amazing Grass.
King said Gaia was well aware of the controversy in the industry about the use of mushrooms. Fungal biomass consists of fruiting bodies and mycelium, the threadlike structures that spread through the material being digested, whether it’s humus in the soil, rotting wood, or another substrate. What consumers think of as ‘mushrooms’ is in fact the fruiting bodies that arise from the mycelium. Some suppliers might be inclined to harvest the whole biomass and grind it up and call it ‘mushrooms,’ though the practice, when not disclosed, yields a material in which the bioactive compounds can be greatly diluted.
“We have a strong partner on the sourcing side cultivating fruiting bodies so we can make a very high quality product,” he said. “And by utilizing the fruiting bodies our we believe that our synergistic formulations yield an efficacious and potent product.”
Critical biomass/fruiting body distinction
Roy Upton, founder of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, said making the mycelium/fruiting body distinction is of critical importance because the bioactives formulators and consumers look to mushrooms to deliver tend to be concentrated heavily or exclusively in the fruiting bodies.
“For example, the fruiting body ganoderma (Reishi Mushroom) products are typically much more rich and broad containing the representative ganoderma triterpenoids than mycelium biomass products,” he said.
But Upton also cautioned that just sourcing material from the fruiting body is only the first step. How the final ingredient is made is also of critical importance.
“If you only grind up the fruiting body into a cap or tablet then you do not deliver enough material and it is largely undigestible due to a high amount of chitin. . . This is why it is important to use fruiting body extracts; one, so you can concentrate the amount being delivered because mushroom doses are typically large; and two, for increased digestibility,” Upton said.
Upton said many consumers are unaware of the biomass/fruiting body distinction and must rely on the labeling practices of reputable companies to guide them.
“Recently adopted trade recommendations by AHPA allows for the word ‘mushroom’ to be used on the PDP irregardless of plant part; however, they do state that the particular type of ingredient be properly listed in the ingredient panel. These are trade recommendations and not legal standards so how people apply them may differ. The more reputable companies clearly identify the type of products they have and federal law requires that plant part be accurately disclosed.This should apply to biomass versus fruiting bodies,” he said.
Eye toward evolution
King said the synergistic benefits highlighted in Gaia’s new line are intended to mimic the place fungi occupy in nature. These organisms and the botanical materials upon which they feed have co-evolved over millions of years.
“These products are each designed for a specific end use. We set out to formulate these products to utilize these herbs and mushrooms in the way that plants and fungi have worked together for eons,” King said.
“Consumers' receptivity to herbs and for that matter, mushrooms continues to grow. It’s exciting to see the understanding of mushrooms grow beyond their culinary uses to the larger population,” he said.