What the Heck Is Mushroom Coffee?
Some claim this adaptogen-infused coffee is the secret to better immunity and health overall. Here's what you need to know about mushroom coffee.
The health claims behind mushroom coffee are nothing short of magical; promises of immunity, anti-aging, and even "crash-free coffee." But are any of these claims true? And what exactly is mushroom coffee?
What Is Mushroom Coffee?
Mushroom coffee is real coffee with mushrooms mixed in. Instant coffee or ground coffee is sold with medicinal mushrooms (not button or portabella) added. Because it’s real coffee, it contains caffeine, unless the grounds are decaffeinated.
Generally, mushroom extracts are used in mushroom coffee. Extraction is the process in which harvested, dried mushrooms are cooked in water and then dried into a fine powder which is added to coffee. Medicinal mushrooms contain tough bio-active compounds which the human digestive system is unable to break down and extract naturally.
What Are Medicinal Mushrooms?
Chaga – Sometimes known as "immunity mushrooms," chaga are foraged in North America, Europe, and Asia and are widely used in herbal practices to boost immune function. The beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber in chaga may lower cholesterol. “They’re considered an adaptogen, and like most plants, chaga contain antioxidants,” says registered dietitian Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist, owner of Nutrition By Carrie. “Unfortunately there are no definitive studies about additional health benefits.”
Lion’s Mane – Similar to chaga, these fungi grow on tree bark in a white bushy form resembling a mane. Lion’s mane can be used in cooking, as they’re not as fibrous as chaga. Lion's mane mushrooms have been associated with mental health and lowering cholesterol. “Despite a reputation as the ‘smart’ mushroom, there are no strong studies to back this up. But as it’s a plant fungus, lion’s mane do contain antioxidants,” says Dennett.
Cordyceps – Originally found on insects, this fungus is now generally cultivated in labs. Cordyceps is touted to be a sports performance enhancer and to be good for heart health notes Vicki Shanta Retelny, registered dietitian nutritionist, producer of the podcast Nourishing Notes. In a recent review study, researchers found there were a few solid studies associating Cordyceps with decreased inflammation and increased immunity, however most of the studies were done in a petri dish or on animals.
It's important to note that all of the above mushrooms can be harmful to people with certain health conditions. For example, chaga are high in oxalates and may hinder the absorption of nutrients and could interfere with diabetes medications, notes Retelny. “More human studies are needed for safety, efficacy and proper dosage of medicinal mushrooms,” cautions Retelny. If you're interested in consuming foods, beverages or supplements that contain these mushrooms, speak with your health care provider first.
Where Does Mushroom Coffee Come From?
Chaga mushrooms have long been a part of Eastern European herbal medicine practices. During World War II when coffee was rationed, these mushrooms which grow in the forests of Finland were steeped as a tea. “The rich earthy drink tastes very much like coffee,” says Tero, the Finnish founder and creator of Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee.
Lion’s mane are native to the forests of North America, Europe, and Asia and are used as a culinary and medicinal mushroom there.
Cordyceps mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years to treat several conditions such as respiratory diseases, liver and kidney problems, hyperglycemia, and tumors.
Several entrepreneurial mushroom coffee companies have tapped into the world’s love of coffee and added potentially beneficial mushrooms to coffee. Some of the most popular brands include: Four Sigmatic, VivoLife, La Republica, Laird Superfoods, and Neuroast.
Is Mushroom Coffee Healthy?
The health benefits of coffee have been more widely studied than those of mushroom coffee. “Coffee is a mixture of over 1000 bioactive compounds including a very high concentration of antioxidants which reduce cellular damage and inflammation. The bottom line is medicinal mushrooms may have benefits, but by no means is adding them to coffee a magic elixir,” explains Retelny.
If consumed, all mushroom products should be bought from a reputable source.
What Does Mushroom Coffee Taste Like?
Coffee! The earthiness of the mushrooms isn’t really perceptible beneath the coffee flavor. So if you choose to sip mushroom coffee, drink it as you like your regular coffee.
Serena Ball, MS, RD is a registered dietitian nutritionist, food writer, and mom of four children. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com and is the author of the best-selling The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and the newly released Easy Everyday Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Instagram.