Mushrooms have long been a staple in the culinary (and psychedelic) community, but this past year, they've burst onto the superfood scene. No longer relegated to stir-fries and stroganoffs, mushrooms are being lauded by functional medicine experts everywhere for their abilities to fight cancer, quell inflammation, balance blood sugar, and more.
"Mushroom extracts are unique because they contain polysaccharides and beta-glucans, compounds that activate the immune system by increasing white blood cell count," says Dr. Mark Stengler, author of The Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms. "They're also one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, with anywhere from 140 to 2,000 IU per 100 grams of mushrooms.”
The healing power of mushrooms is nothing new, though. Used medicinally in Russia, China, and Japan for centuries, mushrooms are at the base of many modern pharmaceuticals, from penicillin to anticancer drugs and the first statin treatments. So if they've been around forever, why here, why now? "The main driver of this 'new' excitement around mushrooms is mostly based on their possible health benefits to many of the biggest modern-day health issues," says Foursigmatic founder Tero Isokauppila. "Mushrooms have shown great promise to be able to protect and detox our bodies from pathogens and toxins that we all unfortunately face every day. Several varieties are also adaptogenic, meaning that they help our bodies to adapt to the various stressors of modern life."
New processes have also made it easier to extract the benefits of mushrooms into easily consumed, therapeutically effective powdered extracts. You'll find some combination of reishi, chaga, cordyceps, lion's mane, himematsutake, turkey tail, and in Erewhon Market's Golden Milk Latte, Cafe Gratitude's longevity and adrenal tonics, and Moon Juice's Vanilla Protein Mushroom Shake (a perpetual favorite around the mbg office). Amanda Chantal Bacon, the woman behind the beloved-by-celebs shop and cookbook, has relied on mushrooms in her own healing journey. "The immune-balancing properties of mushrooms have been a critical part of healing from my auto-immune condition," she says. While she loves their scientifically backed healing properties, she uses them in her shop's products because they "taste good in smoothies and tea or coffee."
Ah yes—what about the flavor? With a relatively neutral, mildly earthy taste, mushroom powders blend best with strong flavors. Here at mbg, we love to make a superfood hot chocolate using chaga, reishi, and cordyceps with a generous dose of raw cacao powder and a healthy sweetener. A mushroom latte is another favorite, simply blending a powder, coffee, and milk of choice until thick and creamy. In 2017, we see mushrooms becoming a staple on cafe menus and the powdered jars taking a prominent place on any superfood-loving foodie's shelf.