Forget golden lattes and enhanced waters. Mushroom coffee could be the next superfood drink, according to Four Sigmatic, the Finnish company that produces mushroom-infused products like coffee, elixirs, blends, and hot cocoa mixes.
The fungi-focused brand’s goal is simple: Make it even easier for people to consume foods that deliver powerful health benefits. Their superfood of choice? Wild-harvested 'shrooms (the legal kind).
And no, there won’t be stray shitakes floating in your mug. Four Sigmatic makes it a point to transform the fungi. To create its coffee mixes, the company produces mushroom extract powders by isolating and spray drying different mushrooms' key constituents. The resulting powder is said to contain the wild fungi’s health-promoting compounds in a highly concentrated form.
After it’s tested for safety and quality, the powder is combined with organic instant coffee grounds to create a mix that can be added to hot water, so your java is ready ASAP. (Think of it as Nescafe’s trendy cousin.)
But why should you really add mushrooms to your coffee instead of, say, your breakfast scramble? Four Sigmatic says their products enhance the health benefits of the average cup of Joe. The maitake mushroom, for example, is said to regulate blood sugar levels, while the chaga, another variety, reduces coffee’s natural acidity so the drink's easier on the stomach. Both can be found in Four Sigmatic’s green coffee mix.
This may sound like total marketing speak, but according to Health’s contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, RD, Four Sigmatic's claims aren’t unfounded: “There is some research to show that the maitake mushroom may lower blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes,” she says. And chagas have been touted for their ability to support digestive health and ward off bacteria and viruses.
But that doesn't necessarily mean you should suddenly fill your diet with the fungi. While there’s research to back up the medicinal benefits of mushrooms (records show them being used in China as early as 100 AD), knowing what you’re getting is top priority: “It's important to know that anything medicinal, even plants and natural substances, can have potential side effects and interactions,” explains Sass.
That is, if you take a blood thinner or any medication that’s meant to control diabetes or blood pressure levels, you’ll want to steer clear of consuming maitake mushrooms, since they can actually interact with those drugs. Similarly, chagas have been found to lower LDLs, raise HDLs, and reduce inflammation in mice, but studies in humans are lacking, says Sass. “It’s also important to note that chagas have a blood thinning effect, so they shouldn’t be consumed before any surgery.”
If your head is spinning from all the dos and don’ts of mushrooms’ medicinal properties, know this: Eating the culinary kind straight up is always a safe choice.
“Culinary mushrooms, like white buttons and portobellos, are very low in calories—about 15 to 20 per cup—and antioxidant-rich too,” says Sass. "Plus, they’re the only plant source of natural vitamin D, a key nutrient most of us don’t get enough of.” Since vitamin D is linked to lower rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and even some cancers, getting the nutrients from natural sources like mushrooms is encouraged.
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As for whether you should get involved with the wild varieties, or add them to your mug in the morning a la Four Sigmatic’s products, it’s best to do so with professional guidance.
“I do think there is a place for the use of medicinal mushrooms, but I generally don’t recommend that people take them on their own,” says Sass. Instead, consume medicinal mushrooms with the counsel of a qualified health care provider who knows your personal health history and is aware of any potential interactions with other herbs, supplements, or medications you may be taking.