The mushroom boom: Fungi offers versatility and health benefits

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

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Getty Images

Related tags mushrooms Chinese herbology adaptogen

The idea of consuming fungi may not sound appetizing to everyone, but Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine practitioners have been using adaptogenic mushrooms for thousands of years.

However, it wasn’t until recently that mushrooms have gone mainstream. More than 10,000 known varieties exist, and mycologists suspect that this is only a fraction of the number of mushrooms out there. 

Ingredient manufacturer Wixon says in order to be identified as an adaptogenic substance, a mushroom must help the body adapt to stress and provide a normalizing effect on it. Most mushrooms identified as adaptogens are associated with immunity, cognitive health and stress relief. The company listed the following as the most common adaptogenic mushrooms and their promoted health benefits.

  • Reishi - provides immunity, relieves stress and anxiety
  • Lion’s Mane - aids in memory and cognition
  • Chaga - antioxidant and supplies immunity
  • Shiitake - promotes immunity
  • Maitake - supplies immunity and healthy blood sugar level
  • Cordyceps - provides energy and stamina, improves endurance and lung function
  • Turkey Tail - supports immunity

Adaptogens got their name for being versatile and easy to adapt. In his book Healing Mushrooms​, Tero Isokauppila defines the term in his book:

“To qualify as an adaptogen, a mushroom must help the body in a non-specific way. That last part is important because rather than serving a single, targeted purpose, adaptogenic mushrooms will adapt their healing properties to whatever your body specifically needs at a given time in order to restore you to peak functionality. Think of adaptogens this way: You know that good friend who comes over to your house to vent after she’s had a bad day, but sees that you’re over the moon about some terrific news and promptly adjusts her demeanor to celebrate your happiness with you? That’s what an adaptogen does in the human body — it senses what the body needs and alters its behavior in whatever way necessary to foster peak health,” ​he wrote.

Mushroom market 

The plant-based market is only picking up steam. Brands are greening up their portfolios to attract mainstream consumers who want to incorporate more plant-based options into their diets. For many, it’s not about adhering to a particular diet such as veganism, it’s about achieving a healthy and sustainable balance between meat and vegetables. According to Innova Market Insights, half of US consumers report health as the reason for buying plant-based alternatives to bread, meat or dairy.

As part of their product development project, Wixon had their taste experts dig into adaptogenic mushrooms. Staying on trend, Wixon says they’re focusing fungi because consumers want more plant-based products to supplement their diets. 

“What we’re finding,”​ says Wixon Marketing Manager, Becca Henrickson, “is that as more consumers seek out plant-based alternatives to meat products and healthier food options, mushrooms can provide the desired texture and health halo they want. Mushrooms are widely known for their earthy and umami-rich flavor, but their popularity is fast-growing for their associated health benefits and meat-like texture, as well.” 

There are a number of mushroom dietary supplements on the market. Researchers have found combinations of mushrooms that have a wide range of beneficial health effects, from giving the immune system a boost to improving cognitive function. 

In 2017, the US mushroom market produced $5 billion in revenue, according to The Guardian​ and it is expected that number will hit $7.4 billion by 2020. Additionally, Market Research Future​ is predicting that the mushroom extract market will experience a 6.3% CAGR until 2023.

"A myriad of Applications"

“Looking at these adaptogenic mushrooms from a culinary perspective allowed us to really discover their possibilities,”​ explains Wixon Corporate Chef Ryan Kukuruzovic. “We were able to use the expected earthy, umami-rich flavors in a range of savory applications from meatballs to pizza crusts and even savory oatmeal. But what’s really fascinating is accentuating some of the naturally sweet notes of the mushrooms in ice cream, beverages and cookies. With our flavor masking expertise and technology, we’re able to maximize desirable flavors and minimize or eliminate unwanted ones to create fantastic tasting products with better-for-you benefits in myriad applications with these mushrooms.”

So are mushroom dietary supplements in store for Wixom? We'll have to stay tuned, according to their publicist Kitty Kevin. She told NutraIngredients-USA that while Wixon is using adaptogenics in a protein drink and other applications, they can’t discuss products in development. 

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