Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: The rising opportunity for mushrooms in food and beverage

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Growing awareness of the powerful health benefits of mushrooms as well as increasing demand for their rich umami flavor, is quickly elevating the ingredient from the lowly status of the occasional pizza topping or meat substitute for vegetarians to one of must-have, superfood status. 

This demand is reflected in the 9.5% compound annual growth rate of mushroom sales predicted by market research firm Markets and Markets, and its estimate that global sales of mushrooms will grow from just $29.4 million in 2013 to $50 million in 2019.

But even as mushrooms’ popularity and sales grow, there still remain plenty of Americans who refuse to eat them either out of dislike or fear of their spongy flesh and unfamiliar shapes or a general lack of knowledge about their safety and how to prepare them.

For these consumers, as well as those seeking the benefits of mushrooms beyond the ubiquitous white button variety, several manufacturers are stepping up with innovative products that disguise the presence of fungi so well that even the staunchest of haters could be won over.

One example is the new line of Wellness Bars from purely elizabeth. made with Om Mushroom powder combinations which will hit stores this summer. 

“Bars are something that our customers and retailers have been asking us about for years but it is obviously such a crowded category that I felt like for us to do something we need to do it really different and be able to standout,” Stein said. “I have been taking mushrooms every morning for the past three years as an energy supplement from the OM Mushroom Company and started seeing mushrooms popping up here and there and not to mention that I had learned about the power of mushrooms at nutrition school, and I thought, wow this would be such a cool opportunity to be able to incorporate mushrooms’ extraordinary health benefit into a bar.”

Those benefits are displayed prominently in the name of each of the five bars in Purely Elizabeth’s new line, which includes Energy, Shine, Refresh, Mind and Immunity. Joking that there is a bar for every ailment and need, Stein explained that the bars benefits come from different mushroom blends.

Interestingly, while the function of each bar is front and center, the fact that mushrooms are the source of those benefits is not. Rather, this information is relegated to the ingredient deck and two small callouts – one in the top right corner on the front of the pack and one in the top left corner on the back

“We struggled a lot in the packaging design in do we want to call it out really largely that says hey this is made w mushrooms or is that going to be polarizing to people? So we are still tweaking things right now, but I think having them mentioned there and the feedback we have gotten at the show and our online community everyone is really excited about the mushrooms,” Stein said.

Purely elizabeth. also sought to minimize the polarizing effects of mushrooms on Americans by formulating the bars to mask the ingredients’ earthy flavor.

Several other beverage makers also are formulating with mushrooms, and like her they are using strong, familiar flavors to make ingredient easier to swallow. For example, Rebbl, which sells a Reishi Cold-Brew and a Reishi Chocolate drink, and Four Sigmatic, which combines mushroom powder with coffee and hot cocoa powders for drinks that consumers can easily make by adding hot water. 

Choice Organic Teas also employed this strategy with its new line of mushroom wellness teas, which it showcased at Expo West. It blends reishi mushrooms with increasingly popular matcha and in a Detox tea with cacao and carob for chocolate notes. It also offers Shiitake Turmeric and Shiitake Mate as part of the line.

The power of mushrooms

But what makes mushrooms so great that these companies would go to such lengths to create products and flavors that will appeal to the masses, including mushroom-haters?

Steve Farrar, Om Organic Mushroom Nutrition’s chief technical officer, and CEO Sandra Carter explained that the mushrooms used by purely elizabeth., as well as Om’s line of consumer-facing medicinal mushroom powder blends, are different than the ones typically used in American cuisine.

“These are all mushrooms coming out of traditional Chinese medicine with the 3,000 history of use. Things like shiitake, maitake, cordyceps, lion’s mane. In general these are wood decaying mushrooms as opposed to manure compost decomposing species like the button mushroom,” Farrar said.

“They are all known for their immune modulating properties. They all have that ability, but some of the individual ones also have some unique properties. Lion’s Mane is something that is trending right now. It is known as the smart mushroom, and it has cognitive functions. … Cordyceps is one that is very popular in terms of energy enhancement, ATP up regulation and synthesis, oxygen uptake and delivery, cardiovascular aspects to it. Reishi is another pop one it is considered the premier adaptogen to help cope w stress, very good cardiovascular function to it,” he added.

The duo also sought to reassure manufacturers considering mushrooms as an ingredient in future products that might be hesitant given the ingredient’s polarizing status.

“People, especially in North America, have some maybe mixed feelings about mushrooms and what types of mushrooms, but we really help to increase awareness to the consumer,” Carter said. She also noted, “We have them in a powder form so maybe even if you don’t like culinary mush you can include them in their daily meal. They are kind of chameleon like. They take on the flavor of whatever you are mixing them with.”

Carter also noted that there is significant white space across all categories and day parts for manufacturers looking to set their products apart by adding medicinal mushrooms.

What is driving demand?

So clearly there is rising consumer awareness and plenty of opportunity, but what is really behind consumers’ rising demand for medicinal mushrooms and how likely is that this is a longer term trend that is here to stay?

Carter and Farrar suggested the upswing in gourmet cooking shows contributed, as do advances in Western medicine that are verifying Eastern medicinal practices, and consumers general desire to use medicine as food.

Mushrooms’ sustainability is another selling point

In addition to all the health benefits mushrooms promise for people, they also are healthy for the planet.

A new study from the research firm SureHarvest released March 16 found that growing mushrooms is significantly easier on the planet than some other crops and animal agriculture. Specifically, it found a pound of mushrooms requires only 1.8 gallons of water and 1 kilowatt hours of energy and it generates only 0.7 pounds of CO2 equivalent emissions.

Mycologist Paul Stamet, who Steve mentioned as a notable influencer driving consumption of mushrooms, also extols the environmental benefits of mushrooms in a Ted talk from 2008 that dramatically outlines six ways fungi can save the planet.

With so many trends aligning around one set of ingredients, medicinal mushrooms will be an area to watch going forward. 

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Comments (1)

Fletcher Street - 17 Mar 2017 | 06:30

comment is somewhat miss-informed

The inference that 'wood-decaying' mushrooms are somehow better than the common button mushroom because they decay wood is misleading. Agaricus Bisporus, or button mushroom as well as crimini and portabella have plenty of good nutrition. They are not 'manure-decaying' mushrooms however, their substrate is composed mainly of straw with some chicken or horse manure used as a source of nitrogen and attractant for the microbes that the mushrooms feed on. Most commercially grown shiitake and oyster farms grow on compressed sawdust blocks or compressed straw.Growing on logs is too slow. Cordyceps grow at altitude and feed on caterpillars that feed on a certain flowering plant. The main point is that mushrooms and fungi are unique in their nutritional contributions and in their important function in the ecology of our planet. In the interest of transparency I work at a agaricus bisporus farm and love all mushrooms!

17-Mar-2017 at 18:30 GMT

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