Diving into the mushroom coffee trend: Is fungi fuel fact or fad?

Click to play video: 'Mushroom coffee at the CNE'
Mushroom coffee at the CNE
RELATED: Talking mushroom coffee at Toronto's CNE – Aug 16, 2019

Mushroom coffee, a blend of Colombian ground coffee and nutrient-packed Lion’s Mane and Shiitake mushrooms, looks and tastes like your usual morning brew. But as this health trend picks up steam, many are left wondering: does it actually deliver on its promises?

Mushroom coffee is a beverage that combines traditional coffee with medicinal mushrooms, such as Chaga, Reishi, and Cordyceps. The mushrooms are typically dehydrated and ground into a fine powder or turned into an extract before being mixed with ground coffee beans. The resulting blend is brewed like regular coffee.

Many wellness social media accounts praise mushroom coffee for its nutrient-rich blend, claiming it enhances brain function and immunity while offering a more balanced and sustained energy boost than regular coffee, without the typical jitteriness and crash from caffeine (due to the lower coffee beans count).

However, some people remain skeptical about the promised benefits and caution consumers to approach the beverage with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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Mushrooms are packed with vitamins and minerals, but there isn’t much clinical evidence to suggest that brewing them offers the same benefits as eating them whole, explained Toronto-based nutritionist Kyle Byron.

Click to play video: 'Exploring the medicinal magic of mushrooms'
Exploring the medicinal magic of mushrooms

“I think people are smart to be skeptical because if you look at the reviews on it, we should be skeptical of commercial products… be that a loaf of bread or mushrooms, coffee or a bottle of supplements,” he told Global News. “And with mushroom coffee, you would get similar benefits from making tea or coffee out of any vegetable.”

Andrew Langevin, founder of Nature Lion, an Ontario-based company that sells mushroom growing kits, coffees and powders, said he’s experienced the health benefits firsthand.

He credits drinking mushroom coffee and consuming a lot of different fungi to help alleviate his arthritis pain.

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“I used to have aches and pains in my knuckles before I started growing mushrooms,” he said. “And my symptoms went away after I started consuming mushrooms on a weekly basis. I attribute that to having a more balanced immune system.”

Are there health benefits?

Langevin and his wife started selling mushroom-growing kits in 2020 and soon expanded into coffee after discovering it at a local farmers’ market. Since then, he said, their business has taken off, especially in the last few months as the popularity of mushroom coffee has surged.

“It’s been a long road, we’ve been three years on it. But it’s really starting to take off in the last six to 12 months, we’ve picked up a lot more stores that are selling it,” he said. “I’ve watched [mushroom coffee] go from nobody knowing what the heck I’m talking about to people come to the table at our farmer’s market and they say, ‘oh, you have lion’s mane?'”
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His company sells a variety of fungi, from Lion’s Mane, known to promote brain function, to Chaga, renowned for its immunity-boosting properties, and blue oysters, which may have anti-inflammatory benefits.

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A small bag of mushroom coffee can range anywhere from $22.50 to $29.95, depending on the mushroom and the brand.

Mushrooms are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and antiviral compounds, Byron said. However, he noted that many other vegetables offer similar benefits, meaning mushrooms aren’t a magic bullet.

Click to play video: 'Ask an Expert: Foraging for mushrooms safely'
Ask an Expert: Foraging for mushrooms safely

“You can’t just rely on one food and think you’re going to get all your vitamins,” he warned.

“We recommend eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. In fact, we say eat the rainbow… so mushrooms would be in the whites, like cauliflower. So every day you’re all supposed to have a variety of colours, like blueberries and yellow peppers and oranges and raspberries.”

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When it comes to enjoying mushrooms in your morning coffee, Byron noted that the brew could provide those beneficial mushroom vitamins, but more evidence is needed to support this claim. He also emphasized the importance of consuming additional nutrients throughout the day.

Byron added that the placebo effect might also contribute to why so many people believe in the benefits of mushroom coffee.

“The placebo effect is incredibly strong. In clinical trials, half of the respondents can respond from taking something in just because they think they’re taking something. They are going to think they feel better,” he said, adding that is why clinical trials are so important when it comes to health claims.

Langevin believes more research is needed on mushrooms in general, so people can better understand their benefits, especially in powdered or extract form. He suggested that the growing popularity of mushroom coffee is due to the convenience of consuming vital nutrients first thing in the morning, calling it a “no-brainer.”

His company’s coffee is made from a mushroom extract rather than a powder, which he said delivers a higher nutritional content. The mushrooms are blended into a medium-roast instant coffee, using beans sourced from Africa and New Guinea.

“It tastes just like coffee, it doesn’t have that mushroom taste that a lot of the other ones have,” he said.

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Is the nutrition the same as eating whole mushrooms?

Would you be better off consuming a whole mushroom rather than adding it to your coffee if you’re seeking its nutritional benefits?

Byron and Langevin agree that both methods can be beneficial; it’s all about finding the right balance. Langevin, for instance, said he enjoys his mushroom-infused coffee several times a week, but opts for consuming whole fungi for added benefits.

“I have nothing against extracts, it’s very convenient and easy to use. But I feel through the extraction process, there may be something lacking in the final product that you are not getting that you would be getting with the whole food,” he said. “I think that a balance of the two things is important.”

Byron echoed this sentiment, stating that whether you’re consuming mushroom coffee, taking supplements, or eating whole mushrooms, balance is key.

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“Mushroom tea or mushroom coffee, it’s good for us. It’s a lower-caffeine sort of alternative,” he said.

“It’s going to have some health benefits, for sure. Just be skeptical about the super benefits that may be on a label.”

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