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Add a splash of oat milk or sprinkle of cinnamon to your coffee and no one will bat an eye. But tell a friend that you’re incorporating mushrooms into your cup of joe and she may raise an eyebrow.
Making mushroom coffee doesn’t mean dunking a portobello in your mug. And don't trip out — mushroom coffee doesn’t contain psychedelic mushrooms, either. Mushroom coffee is usually made from a powder blend of ground mushrooms and coffee beans. Increasingly, you can buy the powder online and in grocery stores, and even some cafes in New York, Los Angeles and Miami have begun to offer mushroom coffee.
While coffee is inherently healthy, mushroom coffee boasts its own unique benefits and is becoming a popular way to cut back on caffeine. Even without as much of a buzz, there’s a lot to love about this trendy beverage.
What is mushroom coffee?
According to registered dietitian and clinical herbalist Jenna Volpe, RDN, CLT, mushroom coffee is a term used to describe certain types of coffee or coffee substitutes made with dried, powdered or pre-extracted adaptogenic mushrooms.
Adaptogenic mushrooms are herbs that, when taken regularly, can help the body to adapt to stress. Volpe explains that mushroom coffee is made from adaptogenic mushrooms including reishi, cordyceps, chaga, turkey tail and lion’s mane. The mushroom coffee product you’re eyeing may include one, a few or all of these mushroom types.
While the concept of mushroom coffee has only started becoming popular in the U.S. in the past several years, adaptogenic mushrooms have been used for centuries as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In TCM, consuming adaptogenic mushrooms in the form of a beverage has long been a way to reap their many benefits.
The modern mushroom coffee movement is thought to have originated in Finland during World War II when coffee beans were not available. “The first commercial brand of mushroom coffee was Four Sigmatic,” Volpe says. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the brand’s founders, Tero Isokauppila and Mikko Revonniemi, are Finnish-American. Four Sigmatic may have been the first widespread mushroom coffee brand, but it certainly won't be the last. Now, there are dozens of brands selling mushroom coffee.
How does mushroom coffee compare to traditional coffee?
The way you make mushroom coffee depends on the type you buy, so it’s important to read the directions specific to the product. Some mushroom coffees are brewed exactly like traditional coffee. Others are made more similar to tea, mixing the powder with hot water. There are even mushroom coffees in K-cup form.
Volpe explains that some mushroom coffees are a combination of traditional coffee and mushrooms while others are just the mushrooms. As you might imagine, in either case, adding mushrooms into the mix affects the taste. Just like the mushrooms you’re used to buying from the produce section, adaptogenic mushrooms taste earthy, which can be off putting to some. Some brands add chocolate, vanilla or other flavors to their mushroom coffees to sweeten the taste.
Besides the taste, another difference between mushroom coffee and traditional coffee is the amount of caffeine. “Since coffee beans are the sole source of caffeine in mushroom coffee, cutting ground coffee with adaptogenic mushrooms will reduce the caffeine content,” Volpe says.
She explains that the exact amount of caffeine in mushroom coffee varies depending on the ratio of mushrooms to coffee beans in the product. What’s most common, she says, is for brands to make a mushroom coffee with 50% less caffeine than a traditional cup of coffee. “Other types of mushroom coffee on the market are made 100% with herbs, serving as a caffeine-free alternative to coffee,” Volpe says.
The reduced amount of caffeine in mushroom coffee is one reason why many people seek it out. The other reason is the specific health benefits of the mushrooms themselves.
What are the health benefits of mushroom coffee?
It has less caffeine, or none at all. As previously mentioned, mushroom coffee has less caffeine — and some have zero caffeine. This means that if traditional coffee makes you jittery or is interfering with your sleep, mushroom coffee may be a good substitute. Also, if you are trying to cut ties with coffee but can’t go cold turkey, it can be used as a transitional beverage.
Mushroom coffee may help the body manage stress. By definition, adaptogenic mushrooms are known to help the body manage stress. (There are other adaptogenic herbs besides mushrooms that work similarly too, including ashwagandha and schizandra berry.) Adaptogenic herbs bring balance to the body by increasing or decreasing chemical reactions in the body.
It supports the immune system. “Mushroom coffee is well-known for its ability to help improve immunity,” Volpe says. This is because the biocompounds in the mushrooms help reduce inflammation, and high levels of inflammation can lead to sickness.
Mushroom coffee may help protect against chronic diseases. The anti-inflammatory properties of the mushrooms in mushroom coffee aren’t just beneficial for keeping immune health in top shape. Volpe says they may also help protect against chronic diseases since these ailments are caused by high, chronic levels of inflammation. “Adaptogenic mushrooms are being studied in integrative oncology for their potential role in cancer treatment,” she says. More research needs to be done to see exactly how adaptogenic mushrooms in mushroom coffee can be used in this way.
Mushroom coffee can help you focus. One of the reasons traditional coffee is beloved is because it helps with focus and concentration. If your mushroom coffee contains lion’s mane — or if lion’s mane is being used in place of coffee beans — you’ll also experience this benefit. In fact, this particular mushroom is currently being studied as a way to protect against cognitive diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Are there any risks or side effects to be aware of?
While mushroom coffee is widely known to be safe, Volpe says that if you have a health condition or are on medication, it’s best to talk to your doctor before giving it a try. Also, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid mushroom coffee because adaptogenic herbs have not been declared safe for these individuals to consume. (It is unethical to perform scientific studies on women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.)
As with any food, there’s always a chance of a sensitivity or allergic reaction. For this reason, if you’ve never tried mushroom coffee before, start with a very small amount — one-fourth of the recommended serving size — to make sure you don’t have a bad reaction.
If you have irritable bowel syndrome, Volpe says this may not be a good beverage for you. “All types of mushrooms are considered to be high-FODMAP, so if someone with IBS or a known mushroom intolerance is consuming a coffee alternative which contains the powdered mushrooms, they may be subject to a flare,” she says. Overall, mushroom coffee is steeped with health benefits and may even help you cut down on caffeine (if you're looking to do so).
Ready to give it a try? Here are four mushroom coffee brands on Amazon worth checking out:
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