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Consumers are increasingly turning to foods and beverages with specific health and wellness benefits, such as immunity, energy and relaxation, and mushrooms, which have been shown to provide many of these health claims, are increasingly sprouting up as a functional ingredient for these types of products. In fact, the market for the ingredient is growing forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 6.1% from 2022 to 2029, according to the “Functional Mushroom Market” report from Data Bridge Market Research.
Medicinal mushrooms have been on the radar of food and beverage professionals for many years due to promising health research around 2012, according to Jamba Dunn, founder and CEO of functional beverage brand Rowdy Mermaid, who added that the industry was expecting that mushrooms could take about a decade to become a mainstream ingredient.
“That timeline was shortened due largely to the pandemic and the sudden interest in natural immunity boosters,” he said. “In early 2020, we attended a talk on the state of functional ingredients and foods and mushrooms were mentioned, but only as a food with potential properties. By Q1 2021, however, there were already dozens of mushroom-infused beverages and foods promising immunity and nootropic benefits, and the category has grown exponentially since that time.”
Consumers seek out food as medicine
The most common functional mushrooms are reishi, lion’s mane, and chaga — which Dunn calls “the big three” — because of their status as well-researched foods that are broadly grown.
“Mushrooms have been used forever in traditional Chinese medicine and in other cultures,” said Nirmal Nair, founder and CEO of Sempera Organics, to FoodNavigator. “But we’re seeing a trend here towards food as medicine and people are discovering that mushrooms have a lot to offer.”
He also shared that Google Trends showed that searches for immune health and medicinal mushrooms rose significantly during the pandemic as people sheltered at home and became more concerned about their everyday health.
“The challenge is that functional mushrooms have so many benefits that it often feels a little absurd listing out all of the functions on one package,” said Dunn, citing that mushrooms can help in lowering blood sugar, preparing the body to fight viruses, weight loss and more.
Dunn added that as mushrooms are often thought of as poisonous in popular culture, he is also looking to dispel these fears around the ingredient as a whole.
“Mushrooms used in products are not foraged in someone’s backyard, they are raised in sterile laboratories and they are well-studied organisms,” he said. “Getting that information to the public will also help the industry grow.”
Mushrooms shine in functional beverages
Several other drink brands have embraced mushrooms, such as Lifeway Foods’ MSHRM Oat line and Four Sigmatic’s Think Cold Brew Ground Coffee. Rowdy Mermaid’s line of kombuchas contains mushrooms, but the additive is really spotlighted in the brand’s line of Sparkling Tonic with Adaptogens.
“Typically beverages using mushrooms covered up that flavor with milk, coconut, coffee and other bitter herbs and flavors,” said Dunn. “Our product is light and fruity, much like a robust sparkling water and there is absolutely zero mushroom taste or funk.”
Rowdy Mermaid opts not to use dehydrated mushrooms in their products unlike most other mushroom-based beverages, but rather purified extract of beta glucans to better correlate the weight of the ingredient with the researched function.
“We are building products using scientific research as our guide and we want our consumers to feel the benefits of our beverages,” said Dunn.
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