In this age of functional foods, medicinal mushrooms products might be the new kale or kombucha in terms of popularity, and with even more health benefits. With consumer interest thoroughly piqued, year-on-year sales for food products with medicinal mushrooms have soared between 200-800%, with some projections predicting the mushroom market will rise to nearly 70 billion dollars in the next five years.
In this article, we’ll take a look at eleven interesting mushroom products which boast not only great taste, but also surprising health benefits that are increasingly backed by scientific studies. We’ll find that mushrooms aren’t just great on your plate, but also in your mug, and even on your face.
1. Mushroom Coffee
With almost two-thirds of America drinking a cup of joe per day, it’s no surprise that mushrooms found their way into the coffee world. A relatively recent newcomer to the coffee superfood arena, mushroom coffee is thought to help with stress resilience, support healthy immune function, and aid productivity by boosting energy levels. When you combine coffee and mushrooms, they synergize beautifully. The adaptogenic and alkalizing properties of the ‘shrooms eliminate much of the negative side effects associated with regular coffee. With half the caffeine of a regular cup of coffee, mushroom coffee can get energy levels soaring without interfering with quality sleep or causing uncomfortable jitters. Additionally, the polysaccharides and prebiotics present in the mushrooms can help the beneficial bacteria in the gut flourish, balancing the gut microbiota and adding protection from uncomfortable GI issues that regular coffee can exacerbate.
Four Sigmatic (link) is an especially reputable and well-sourced supplier of mushroom coffee, holding a consistent #1 spot in instant coffees on Amazon. Founded in 2012, its products are 100% organic, plant-based, keto-friendly, and contain little to no sugar. It combines instant Arabica coffee with functional mushrooms such as lion’s mane, chaga, cordyceps, and the anxiolytic herb Rhodiola Rosea into a delicious blend that tastes like an earthier, smoother version of normal coffee. It can be purchased as coffee grounds to make in a coffee maker or as a pour over, or, alternatively, as instant coffee packets that are ideal for easy transport. I especially like the packets when camping, all you have to do is add boiling water and in minutes you have an earthy, delicious mushroom coffee.
Lion’s mane has been extensively studied for its nerve-promoting and antidepressant properties due to its presence of several nerve growth factor promoters, notably erinacines and hericenones. It can help increase concentration, boost memory, and aid productivity. Cordyceps has been associated with boosting exercise performance as well as anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and immune-enhancing properties as a result of its beta-glucan and antioxidant content. In addition to its high density of nutrients, Chaga has been implicated in lowering cholesterol, preventing cancer, supporting the immune system, and reducing inflammation, to name a few things.
2. Mushroom Tea
Mushroom tea is another popular and delicious option when drinking mushrooms. Steeping mushrooms in tea have been common for centuries in Asia, where mushrooms like reishi (otherwise known as lingzhi mushroom) is commonly consumed as a tea.
Chaga tea is common in Siberia and other parts of Northern and Eastern Europe. The mushroom grows on birch trees and kind of looks like a lump of coal, but is known as a fantastic health tonic and has a variety of health benefits, especially antioxidant support, immune support, and anti-cancer activity.
Mushroom teas are commonly made from concentrated extracts, tea bags, or in powder form, dissolvable in boiling water. Many contain other natural herbs, spices, and sweeteners to mask any bitterness. Reishi is especially known to be bitter because of its triterpenes content, which also accounts for its blood pressure-lowering, allergy-fighting, and cancer-preventing effects.
Some common mushrooms for steeping include lion’s mane, chaga, cordyceps, maitake, reishi, and the more magical varieties of the Psilocybe genus. Reishi, or Ganoderma lucidum, is among the most well-studied of the functional mushrooms, with studies increasingly backing its beneficial health effects ranging from hormone regulation to stress reduction, immune support, digestion improvement, and even cancer prevention. In general, mushroom tea benefits largely come from the heavy antioxidative properties and their ability to fight inflammation. The beta-glucans and phytochemicals also confer mushroom tea disease-fighting, immune enhancing, and blood sugar-stabilizing properties. In Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, these mushrooms are considered “adaptogens” because they help the body homeostatically adapt to biological, physical, and chemical stress by mechanisms such as reducing cortisol levels or regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Buddha Teas (link) offers Reishi mushroom tea in tea bag form that’s perfect for winding down the day, while Terrasoul offers a powdered form where you simply add a tablespoon to a cup of near boiling water with an optional sweetener for taste. If you’re looking for increased energy and focus, Four Sigmatic provides a great combination powder of Lion’s Mane, Ginger and Matcha Green Tea that works as a fantastic coffee substitute to get your morning going.
3. Mushroom Hot Chocolate
Mushroom hot chocolate is another great functional mushroom beverage with none of the guilt of regular sugary hot chocolate. Four Sigmatic (link) is at it again with adaptogenic mushroom cacao mixes. It offers hot Peruvian cacao alongside adaptogenic mushrooms such as Reishi and Coryceps. The Reishi version is a great option one hour before bedtime as it can help reduce stress and support restful sleep. The cordyceps cacao mix, on the other hand, is great for morning or afternoon sipping to get the day started with energy or to boost the performance of a workout.
Both varieties are only 25 calories per serving, organic, vegan, paleo, dairy-free and caffeine-free. To sweeten and spice the mix, the company uses organic palm sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and stevia. If you want to take it to the next level though, you can add coconut oil, ghee, MCT oil, almond milk, coconut milk, or soy milk to make it a very healthy and creamy dessert alternative.
4. Mushroom Wine
Mushroom wine comes in two known types, wine with natural mushroom flavoring added and wine produced by fermenting certain species of mushrooms. Songi-ju is a mixture of rice wine and pine mushrooms and won the gold award from the California Riverside Wine Competition. With just over 13% alcohol content, the wine sports a natural mushroom flavor and is on the dry side. Pine mushroom is a common mushroom in Korea and is known to grow under duffs in pine forests and form symbiotic relationships with various species of trees. Flavor-wise pine mushrooms are often considered “spicy”, “intense”, and “like cinnamon”. They are rich in B vitamins, copper, potassium, zinc, selenium, and are known to promote good digestive health.
Regular wine is produced by the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but some mushrooms such as oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostrewatus), almond mushrooms (Agaricus blazei), and Enokitake mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes) can also be used to make alcohol dehydrogenase in a similar fashion. Wine made by these mushrooms has been shown to have thrombosis-preventing activity, and the high beta-D-glucan content of mushroom wine gives it purported anti-cancer effects.
5. Kefir Mushroom
Kefir, a fermented milk drink, goes back thousands of years but only recently has modern science been catching up to its numerous health benefits. They may look like tiny cauliflower heads, but kefir mushrooms are actually small grains of bacteria and yeast colonies (similar to a Kombucha SCOBY, but they don’t form a pancake in this case) that are used in the production of Kefir. It is used to jumpstart the fermentation of milk to produce a rich, creamy drink in only a matter of days at room temperature. It contains many beneficial live probiotics that can help with digestion and balancing the gut microbiota.
Additionally, the lactic acid bacteria and health-promoting polysaccharides present in the final product gives kefir immunomodulatory, anti-bacterial, antifungal, and anti-neoplastic effects. Kefir is widely available in many grocery stores, but Organic Tibetan Kefir Mushrooms can be purchased online here and made easily. Compared to regular yogurt, Kefir has less sugar, no lactose, more protein, and more than double the amount of active probiotics to further support digestive health. If you want to maximize the probiotic benefits, consume the kefir first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, or if you are sensitive to that, ten to fifteen minutes before meals.
6. Mushroom Ketchup
Mushroom ketchup was originally made in the United Kingdom and is still a popular sauce choice there today for marinating meats or making things like kidney pies and soups. The primary tomato ingredient in ketchup replaced by mushrooms to make a savory, tangy sauce that is low in sugar, gluten-free, and vegan-friendly. It conventionally was made by packing whole mushrooms in a container with salt to draw out the water content of the mushrooms, then after some time, cooking the mixture to a boiling point in an oven and finishing off with various spices after straining.
Geo Watkins sells mushroom ketchup with great customer feedback. It is described by some reviewers as very similar to Worcester sauce with a hint of mushroom and makes an excellent addition to meats, veggies, and soups. If you’re looking to make your own, this recipe is a great place to start and it is relatively simple to make.
7. Mushroom Beauty/Skin Care
Mushrooms are great on your plate or steeped in a mug, but its benefits extend all the way to caring for your skin. Many mushroom extracts are being increasingly combined with other natural ingredients into a synergistic mixture of skin-soothing, moisturizing serums, toners, masks, and more. While there are a wide variety of mushrooms used in skin care products, we’ll take a look at some of the especially popular choices.
Tremella, or snow mushroom (pictured above), is able to hold up to 500 times its weight in water, it works as a great natural alternative for hyaluronic acid, a common skin care ingredient. It is used to hydrate the skin, reduce hyperpigmentation from things like acne and sunspots, and support healthy collagen production. It can be found in moisturizing lotion like this one or fancier masks like this one from Four Sigmatic.
Shiitake mushrooms are a high source of antioxidants, which have anti-aging and anti-stress properties, and kojic acid. Kojic acid is a great replacement for hydroquinone, which works to reduce inflammation and lighten up hyperpigmentation of all kinds. Aveeno carries a popular moisturizing lotion with shiitake.
Reishi, or Lingzhi mushroom, is known as the “mushroom of immortality” in Chinese. It has been used in the Far East for over 2,000 years and is known for a wide range of health benefits. It’s full of beneficial beta-glucans and polysaccharides which tout anti-inflammatory and anti-stress properties. it can be used to calm itchy, irritated, dry skin and help with skin resiliency and suppleness by decreasing inflammation and helping the skin naturally retain water.
Cordyceps mushrooms, another common mushroom in skin care, are native to Northern China. They are a parasitic fungus that lives on (and ultimately kills) certain species of caterpillars. It contains high concentrations of anti-aging compounds and antioxidants that can rejuvenate the skin, help skin turnover, and improve the appearance of blemishes, wrinkles, and age spots. A well-reviewed total skin care kit from Dr. Andrew Weil’s brand MegaMushrooms incorporates both reishi and cordyceps mushrooms.
8. Mushroom Broth
Making broth is an excellent way to absorb the water-soluble nutrients that mushrooms offer while offering a savory, nutty, umami flavor. The broth, commonly made from white mushrooms, shiitake, or chanterelle, is chock full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and works as a great vegan alternative to bone broths. In addition to low calories, some purported health benefits include improving gut health, boosting the immune system, and reducing inflammation. This mushroom broth from Pacific Foods combines mushrooms with garlic and sea salt for a great addition to any soup or when making grains like quinoa, rice, or couscous. Or, if you want to make your own, this easy recipe makes a delicious broth with a much shorter simmer time compared to bone broths. If making your own, dried, fresh, or powdered mushrooms such as Nutra Organic’s powdered veggie and mushroom broth with chinese herbs all work well.
9. Mushroom Jerky
Mushrooms like portabello are often used in vegan dishes as a healthy substitute for any meat ingredients, so why not dehydrate them and totally replace meat itself! Portabella are packed with vitamin D, selenium, potassium, and other antioxidants. This Portabella Jerky from Savory Wild is gluten-free, contains no preservatives, saturated fats, or MSG, and is a great source of dietary fiber. I was surprised by the tough and chewy quality that makes jerky deliciously unique, all-the-while providing that spicy, savory kick with a hint of sweetness.
Chanterelle jerky is another jerky option and makes for a great tasting homemade snack if you have a dehydrator. In addition to anti-inflammatory properties, Chanterelles are high in protein, potassium, copper, selenium, vitamin D, and B vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, and thiamin. Once thinly sliced, they can be marinated overnight in your favorite sauce, then cooked on medium-low in a large skillet for about 45 minutes. As the water in the mushroom evaporates, continue adding marinade until thoroughly cooked. Stick in the dehydrator overnight and add your favorite spices to taste. Once made, they can store for months unless you eat them all in one sitting, which may happen.
10. Mushroom Crisps
Mushroom Crisps are a tasty, healthy alternative to potato chips. Crispy Mushroom sells portable, ready-to-eat crispy shiitake mushroom snacks that are vegan, gluten-free, low calorie and full of vitamin Bs, D, selenium, potassium, zinc, copper, and fiber. Shiitake mushrooms also contain a wide variety of polysaccharides, terpenoids, sterols, and lipids which flaunts immune-boosting, cholesterol-lowering, anti-cancer, and cardioprotective benefits.
Crispy mushroom sells a variety of flavors such as BBQ, honey butter, hot and spicy, and original. Shroom Snacks launched by South Mill Champs also sells mushroom crisps with flavors like pizza, bbq, sea salt, and spicy jalapeno. If you’ve got some time to try it out yourself, this recipe can make delicious garlic mushroom crisps in less than an hour.
11. Mushroom “Noodles”
Enoki mushrooms (also known as golden needle mushrooms) (buy here) can be used as a great, low-carb alternative to pasta noodles due to their stringy shape and noodle-like texture. These long-stemmed mushrooms grow together in large groups and are valued for their variety of health benefits in East Asian cuisine.
The mushrooms are known for their immune-boosting and cholesterol-lowering properties. Additionally, they contain ergothioneine, which is a powerful antioxidant that can help prevent cellular oxidative damage as well as proflamin, an anti-tumor agent.
The mushroom can be commonly found fresh in Asian grocery stores. They can be used in soups such as chicken noodle and miso, in lo mein or chow mein, or even replace spaghetti in a variety of Italian dishes. Due to its mild, delicate flavor, the mushrooms work very well to soak up the flavor of your favorite sauce or spices while keeping the calories low.