Find out whether the mushroom coffee benefits you keep hearing about are really worth the hype.
In recent years, people have become increasingly interested in the power of mushrooms. Mushrooms have incredible healing potential, from the physical and mental therapeutic benefits they wield to the role they play in the earth's ecosystems, according to the 2019 documentary Fantastic Fungi. Many functional mushrooms are considered adaptogens, which are herbs and fungi that help your body literally adapt to the ever-evolving and often stressful world around it by increasing or decreasing the chemical reactions in your body as needed to return to homeostasis.
That said, this interest in the ways that mushrooms can benefit your body is nothing new. "Medicinal mushrooms have been used in Ayurvedic medicine and other traditions for thousands of years," explains Kimberly Snyder, a nutritionist, holistic wellness expert, MySolluna founder, and author of You Are More Than You Think You Are. "A potent kind of plant medicine, they help to support your immune system, create all-around homeostasis in your body, and help support your body with stress management."
Amid the renewed focus on the health benefits of mushrooms, mushroom coffee has emerged as a popular alternative to regular coffee. Curious if drinking mushrooms in the morning instead of your usual wake-up brew is worth the potential upside? Here, nutrition and integrative medicine experts weigh in.
What Is Mushroom Coffee?
The concept of mushroom coffee might sound a little funny to anyone who's used to only getting their java at Starbucks and consuming mushrooms via pizza topping. But a mushroom coffee alternative isn't that different from your usual caffeinated brew. Think of mushroom coffee as a regular cup of joe, but supercharged. "Mushroom coffee is essentially coffee with mushrooms — not just regular mushrooms, but medicinal, adaptogenic mushrooms that help with energy, focus, and stamina, so you get caffeine without the jitters which often impact your cortisol production," explains Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., a double board-certified integrative and family medicine physician who specializes in functional and holistic medicine. (FYI, cortisol is a hormone associated with stress.)
One thing to know is not all mushroom coffees are the same. For example, two of the most popular mushroom coffee brands, MUD/WTR and Four Sigmatic, have different sources of caffeine. The caffeine in MUD/WTR is derived from black tea leaves, whereas Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee uses Arabica coffee beans, but both have much less caffeine than regular coffee. Meanwhile, Renude’s Chagaccino mix doesn’t contain any caffeine at all, and depends solely on chaga mushrooms for a gradual boost of energy throughout the day.
As for what mushroom coffee tastes like, it doesn't have a traditional mushroom flavor, so don't expect it to taste similar to a portobello sandwich. Most people describe mushroom coffee as "earthy," and when mushroom coffee is mixed with coffee beans, the flavor is closer to resembling actual coffee. It's also incredibly easy to brew — many simply require mixing a mushroom coffee powder with water. You can also do a pour over or brew the shrooms as you would with regular coffee.
Benefits of Mushroom Coffee
Functional mushrooms have numerous health benefits, as they have high levels of nutrients and antioxidants — which are great for your immune system, says Dr. Bindiya. "They help with mood, energy, focus, concentration, and so much more," she says. "They are a functional food because by ingesting them you are gaining other benefits," and adding mushrooms to coffee can make them more palatable if you don't like eating the fungi, notes Dr. Bindiya.
Some of the more popular mushrooms used in coffee include reishi, chaga, lion's mane, and turkey tail, all of which have their own individual potential benefits, says Snyder. For example, research suggests lion's mane could have a beneficial effect on cognitive issues. And reishi may boost immune system function. A 2021 study associated higher mushroom consumption with a lower risk of breast cancer.
But as promising as the fungi sound, more research is needed to prove their health benefits. "Despite all the health claims that are attributed to mushroom coffee, more peer-reviewed studies need to be conducted in order to assess and quantify its true health benefits," explains Alice Figueroa, M.P.H., R.D.N., C.D.N., founder of Alice In Foodieland.
At the same time, there seem to be no real risks if you choose to imbibe. "Although more research is needed to substantiate the health benefits of mushroom coffee, if you enjoy drinking it, then go for it," says Figueroa. "It is generally regarded as a safe and nutritious drink, and it has a lower caffeine content than regular coffee, which may be beneficial for some." A standard eight-ounce cup of coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Meanwhile, MUD/WTR contains 35 mg of caffeine, and Four Sigmatic’s instant coffees contain less caffeine at 50mg per serving (though most of its ground coffees contain a full serving of caffeine).
The great thing about functional mushrooms is you can consume them in any way you prefer, whether it's by cooking them (lion's mane makes a tasty crab cake substitute, FYI), enjoying them as a tincture or tea, or taking them as a supplement.
Is Mushroom Coffee Worth Buying?
Whether or not you choose to make the switch to the mushroom coffee life can depend on a few factors. On the financial side of things, mushroom coffee can be pricier than regular coffee. However, if you're someone who is sensitive to caffeine, this coffee alternative might be worth exploring. "Everyone's caffeine metabolism is different, says Dr. Bindiya. "Some people metabolize caffeine quicker while others slower." How much caffeine you personally choose to ingest depends on your personal reaction. If you have a history of feeling jittery or anxious, or you experience an elevated heart rate post-caffeine, you should proceed with caution.
Need ideas for how to best try mushroom coffee? Consider adding a scoop of medicinal mushrooms to tea or organic coffee with a splash of coconut milk, which allows you to add extra mushrooms on days you want extra support (think: a nerve-wracking work presentation, or the day you close on a new house). Or, turn to the pre-made mushroom coffee mixes, which is a convenient option if you don't want to spend any extra effort on your coffee routine.
Bottom line, mushroom coffee may offer benefits that go beyond those of regular coffee. If you're trying to cut down on caffeine or want to reap some of the benefits of mushrooms without having to cook, mushroom coffee deserves your attention.