Waiter, There’s Some Mushroom In My Coffee!

The viral trend of coffee that is coffee but also not coffee began in the US in 2023 and is, well, mushrooming’ all over the place now. But is it really as beneficial as brands claim? Let’s take a look.

Published On May 27, 2024 | Updated On May 27, 2024

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A few weeks ago, a friend of mine tried to talk me into swapping out my morning coffee with what one could easily call ‘the coffee that went viral’. And suddenly my social media timeline was packed with mushroom coffee of all shapes, sizes and forms. 

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So, I went ahead and bought one, just to see what the whole brouhaha was about. Mine came in this pretty pack and looked like roughly-cut chunks of chocolate – I had to obviously powder it and put it in a jar because who wants to measure cubes early in the morning. This coffee powder claimed to be 100 per cent vegan with zero preservatives, contains natural extracts of Ganoderma or Reishi mushroom and 100 per cent Arabica coffee. The Reishi mushroom is known to have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for the longest time and is native to China, Japan and Korea. Apparently, it offers a large number of health benefits and is also called ‘immortality herb’. 

To make this coffee, one has to add it to water, bring it to boil and then add sugar and milk and sip on it. I have had it without adding any sugar and it tastes just fine. Actually, the coffee tastes quite good, somewhere between a creamy mushroom soup and coffee put together in a cup (no, there is no such dish). Has it helped me so far? I have no idea. However, it’s clearly riding a tidal wave. 

According to marketsanddata.com, the global mushroom coffee market was valued at USD 3.01 billion in 2023, expected to reach USD 5.18 billion in 2031, with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 7.03 per cent for the forecast period between 2024 and 2031. 

Now here’s probably why mushroom coffee went viral towards the end of 2023. Apart from helping with cutting down on caffeine dependence, these coffees aid in lowering blood sugar, reducing bloating, and help with inflammation and even hypertension. They don’t claim to fix it but only ‘help’. 

Another brand of mushroom coffee I stumbled upon uses Lion’s Mane and Chaga mushroom and is supposedly Keto-friendly. As per the information on the bottle, while Lion’s Mane helps with focus, memory-boosting etc, Chaga helps with immunity and heart-health. Plus, the whole mix has a lot less caffeine than your usual coffee. 

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The reishi mushroom

My biggest red flag moment however was when I read that Ashwagandha was also being used as a filler to the mix. Now here's the problem, if you read up on mushroom coffee on the internet, quite a few articles will tell you how it's inspired/motivated by the ancient Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. Sure, mushrooms have been part of Chinese medicine for centuries, but in Ayurveda it’s really not that common. And most importantly, both the fields of medicine are highly customised. Therefore, what’s good for you might not be good for me, even if we are dealing with similar conditions. Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine are mostly prescribed as per an individual’s requirement of treatment and not by generic symptoms. 

Deepa Kannan, a Bengaluru-based allied functional medicine practitioner, Ayurvedic practitioner, author and a yogini at OHA Health, throws some light on the matter. “Mushrooms and even Ashwagandha are considered to be adaptogens, which basically means food substances that grow in a part of nature that has withstood a lot of stress and therefore it’s considered that these food substances can help us to reduce our own stress. However, while both mushroom and ashwagandha have a fair bit of benefits, they’re not suited to everyone. In Ayurveda, medicine is highly personalised, so proper Ayurvedic doctors wouldn’t prescribe it to anyone and everyone,” she said. 

Mushrooms also contain oxalate, much like spinach, a compound that when taken without moderation can combine with the calcium in the body and lead to kidney stones, so therefore if you must have mushroom coffee, says Kannan, “remember that moderation is key.” Kannan also reminds us that mushroom, as per Ayurveda, is considered to be ‘tamasic’ by nature – food that can dull the mind and bring inertia, pain, etc. “Except in minute and rare cases, Ayurveda wouldn’t recommend mushroom as a medicine because it’s considered to be mould and if anyone has unhealthy microbiomes in their body, they might get fungal overgrowth.” 

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Neha Sahaya, a Mumbai-based clinical nutrition and wellness consultant and the founder of Neha Sahaya Wellness says that while mushrooms have extensive scientific support of being beneficial, with over 200 papers published in the past decade, “regarding the effectiveness of coffees claiming various benefits, there's a significant issue with many nutrition products: dosages.” 

She also adds that most of these coffees utilise extracts. “Extracts are the most concentrated form of any food, unlike powders, which contain minimal active nutrients. Thus, extracts are essential for effective supplementation, albeit costly. For instance, 500mg of a mushroom extract provides more benefits than 5 grams of mushroom powder. So, in essence, extracts are the optimal choice.” Sayal says that she's had clients who’ve reported benefits from consuming such coffees, particularly when formulated with quality ingredients and proper dosages. 

In an article in the Guardian, Professor Nicholas Money, a mycologist at Miami University in Ohio, who had previously told the publication that some of the claims being made were “without scientific foundation and amount to little more than snake oil”, told a recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sliced Bread’ programme devoted to the topic that it was “complete BS”. “Mushrooms probably do contain some really, really useful compounds but I want to see the science,” said Money, who published a review on medicinal mushrooms in 2016 and whose book Molds, Mushrooms, and Medicines was released in 2024. “Show me the evidence – that’s my bottom line with all of these products. On the plus side, probably, these products are not harming any consumers … the placebo effect is so powerful if somebody feels better after drinking mushroom coffee, go for it,” he says in the article. 

Mumbai-based nutritionist and lifestyle educator, Karishmma Chawla, who specialises in gut microbiome, hormone health and functional medicine, however does not think it’s just a placebo. “Coffee has its own benefits, and so do mushrooms. So, if your body can take it and you don’t react negatively to either of these ingredients, you can have it. The problem is when you add sugar and creamers to it, taking away the health factor of coffee. Mushrooms are adaptogens and do help with energy levels and immunity, and if you’re hooked onto too many stimulants through the day, something like this can actually help you cut down on your caffeine intake. I am a big fan of bio individuality – so one cup of coffee can be great for one person and poison for another because it’s not good for their gut health. So, what’s most important is that you need to know if your body can take it,” she says.


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