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Fun With Functional Mushrooms

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Functional Mushrooms Functional Mushrooms

Mushrooms are gaining a reputation as easy-to-use, versatile ingredients.

Mushrooms have long been used as medicine in Asia, particularly in traditional Chinese medicine, for thousands of years, and now are often used in recipes, but also functional foods, as well as dietary supplements.

The Cleveland Clinic has noted functional mushrooms’ unique and versatile health benefits including immune support, lower blood pressure, cognitive health, cardiovascular health and weight loss. They also contain protein, fiber and various vitamins and minerals including selenium, vitamin B6, riboflavin, niacin, potassium and zinc, the Cleveland Clinic stated.

Functional mushrooms often contain adaptogens, which are compounds designed to help the body adapt to fight off chemical biological and physical stress, according to the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.

As consumer demand for mushroom products increases, manufacturers are trying to innovate and find new ways to meet market needs while improving convenience. The Mushroom Market

According to Allied Market Research, the global functional mushroom market is estimated to reach a valuation of $19.33 billion by 2023 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.3 percent from 2021 to 2030.

“The market is as strong as ever since immune and gut health which are intertwined, continue to drive consumer interest,” said Brien Quirk, director of research and development at Draco Natural Products (San Jose, CA). “The heavy interest, long-term trend in probiotics and gut health opened the doors for mushrooms and gut health immunity research.”

Nammex (Roberts Creek, BC, Canada) is continuing to see rapid growth with customers ranging from small dietary supplement manufacturers to major food and beverage brands.

“As knowledge of the specific benefits of various species of mushrooms becomes more widespread and spikes demand, brands come to us because other suppliers have not been able to ramp up production quickly enough to accommodate their requirements,” said Nammex COO Bill Chioffi.

Michael DeLorenzo, director of private label and business development at Reliance Private Label Supplements (Edison, NJ) said his company’s Private Label Mushroom Suite sales have grown by 20.7 times in the span of four years. He observed steady and exponential growth from lion’s mane, its first mushroom product in late 2019.

Sandra Carter, founder and CEO of M2 Ingredients (Carlsbad, CA) agreed with Quirk and Chioffi that there is an increasing consumer awareness of mushroom products. She added mushrooms are still a relatively new ingredient in the Western world.

“Mushrooms have a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine as functional ingredients,” Carter said. “In the U.S., the use of mushrooms as functional ingredients to support various health benefits is relatively new. It is only in the last few decades that functional mushrooms have made their way into supplements and functional foods.”

Growing Consumer Trends

Consumers are now aware of the benefits and functionalities of mushrooms than ever before.

“Of course, specific mushrooms and consumer awareness around their functionality fueled the rapid growth of lion’s mane, cordyceps, turkey tail and reishi sales, in that order,” DeLorenzo said. “Our Mushroom Immune Support came out of the gate strongest in Year One and has shown steady double digit growth rates.”

According to Carter, there is an increased curiosity in the benefits of each mushroom species. The category is migrating from viewing mushrooms as a single ingredient to each species becoming its own distinct category, like botanicals.

“Applications such as capsules and gummies allow convenience and integration with the other vitamins and supplements they may already be taking,” Carter said. “We’ve also seen significant growth in beverage applications such as coffee and nutritional shakes where benefits from certain mushroom species, such as increased energy and focus, or improved aerobic power and endurance, deliver what the consumer is looking for in consumption of these beverages.”

Chioffi observed consumers are asking questions about the benefits and mushrooms are willing to eat and drink them in a variety of ways. Lion’s mane is particularly popular especially for its cognitive health and stress management benefits.

“Lion’s mane is one of the more neutral-tasting mushroom extracts Nammex offers and is a great candidate for functional foods and alternative delivery systems because it mixes well with other ingredients, and alternative forms to caps and tabs is a definite consumer trends,” Chioffi said.

Mushrooming Innovations

Carter said scientists are still learning about the benefits of each mushroom species, which strains are more efficacious, how they should be processes and what product applications they can be used in.

“Mushrooms are a kingdom, just like plants, so in that context, innovation is limitless,” Carter said.

Gummies, alternative coffee drinks and ready-to-drink nonalcoholic beverages are some of the most popular delivery methods, according to Chioffi.

“I’ve also seen a very cool delivery in a tube that offers functional mushrooms as a creamer alternative mixed with nut butter pastes and MCT [medium chain triglyceride] oil,” Chioffi said. “It’s super tasty and gives the coffee a rich, creamy texture.”

In 2023, Nammex introduced two innovative mushroom ingredients, ErgoGold and MycoD2 (mushroom-derived vitamin D).

ErgoGold is an extract powder from golden oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus citrinopileatus) delivers a therapeutic amount of ergothioneine (ergo) as well as beta-glucans, ergosterol, insoluble and soluble fiber, and secondary metabolites. ErgoGold is good for those sensitive to yeast and those wanting non-synthetic, natural full-spectrum ingredients, Chioffi said.

MycoD2 on the other hand is a whole food source of vitamin D derived solely from mushrooms. Nammex can utilize pulsed UV (ultraviolet) light technology to convert fungal sterol and ergosterol into high amounts of vitamin D2. The ingredient ideal for consumers seeking a whole food and vegan source that delivers the daily RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamin D in as little as 60 mg, Chioffi explained.

Draco makes use of an enhanced enzyme process that mimics what happens in the gut with the microbiome secreting enzymes to break down larger, insoluble beta glucan polysaccharides into water soluble forms, according to Quirk.

“We also see a great number of products using mushrooms in functional foods and beverages, smoothies, instant drinks with benefits of ease of use, convenience, allowing for multiple ingredients of every nature,” Quirk said.

Based on the learnings from research, M2 Ingredients is launching a new selection of functional blends focused on benefits including immunity, cognition and physical performance. These blends are supported by both internal and external research.

“Mycology and the clinical use of mushrooms are relatively new fields of study in the West and for this reason, we invest in studies that will continue to provide us with a deeper understanding of each species and the synergies between them,” Carter said.

According to Chioffi, lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) supports immune and gut health, reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi) supports adaptive and innate immune health, and cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris) supports normal energy levels.

The Popularity of Mushrooms

There is a plethora of functional mushrooms commonly used in supplement products.

According to Quirk and Chioffi, some of the most popular mushrooms on the market include chaga, reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, turkey tail, poria and shiitake.

M2 Ingredients offers a wide variety of species and patented strains including reishi, cordyceps and lion’s mane. It also manufactures several more obscure species such as sun mushrooms and Antrodia.

“The exciting part for us is studying the effects of these mushrooms, both for the strains that we’ve developed and in different ratios when combined together into formulas, that go beyond the existing single-species-related benefits,” Carter said.

DeLorenzo provided a table showing the uses and benefits of some of the mushrooms from Reliance’s Functional Mushroom Suite.

“We saw that the fastest growing national brand in functional mushrooms delivered a certified organic product, so we have transitioned to full USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) status on all SKUs in 2023,” DeLorenzo said.

Manufacturing With Mushrooms

Mushrooms are versatile ingredients that can be used in multiple different formats and delivery systems. According to Carter, mushrooms are “surprisingly easy to formulate with” and in most cases, efficacious doses can be delivered without compromising taste or texture.

“Like any ingredient, there are certain flavor profiles that pair together to enhance or mute the flavors and attributes inherent in each of our mushroom powders,” Carter said.

DeLorenzo said it is important for manufacturers to purchase organic, insist on thorough raw material testing and choose mushrooms cultivated in a pristine setting on beneficial growth media (such as organic oat bran).

“It’s crucial for formulators and marketers to be clear if their offering is a mushroom or a mycelium product,” Chioffi said. “While it was once common practice among some brands to conflate the two, this is, fortunately, changing.”

Chioffi explained it is important to validate certificates of analysis, particularly when products contain mushrooms. Suppliers need to make sure products contain low to no starch levels.

“Mushrooms do not contain starch, but mycelium grown on grain does as the grain is not separated from the mycelium, so this is an easy way to know if the label should say, for example, ‘reishi mushroom’ or ‘reishi mycelium’ with the disclosure of the grain substrate ‘biomass,’” Chioffi said.

In 2023, both Nammex and the Natural Products Association (NPA, Washington, D.C.) filed citizen petitions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting that mushroom labeling require fungal parts be specified. Nammex also commissioned a survey of 10,000 consumers to provide data on what constitutes a “mushroom.”

“It is essential to do testing to make sure the extract is not adulterated with cheap filler polysaccharides from maltodextrin and that it only comes from the mushroom,” Quirk said. “Some suppliers that ferment mushrooms on a grain substrate will even have grain residues in their products that could potentially have an allergen risk, so the caveat is know your supplier.”

Science and Research

Mushrooms remain a niche topic in scientific research, but there are still plenty of studies for consumers to look at.

A small study conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine in adults with major depression, researchers reported two doses of psilocybin administered with supportive psychotherapy produce rapid and large reductions on depression symptoms. Most of the participants showed improvement and half achieved remission through the four-week follow-up, DeLorenzo explained.

“While Reliance won’t be making any ‘magic mushrooms,’ research like this and the publicity it generated predisposes the consumer to believe in other medicinal and culinary mushrooms as a valid part of the wellness plan,” DeLorenzo said.

Given the well-established immune support claims of mushrooms, there are various studies that show mushrooms block a major pathway of viral replication, Quirk explained. One of the pathways through which influenza viruses can cause infection is an enzyme called neuraminidase.

“Neuraminidase also works to facilitate the mobility of viral particles through the respiratory tract mucus membrane,” Quirk said. “It is not known exactly how mushroom’s anti-viral effects work. It could be a combination of immune boosting effects blocking this pathway. Many immune support medicinal mushrooms have been found to inhibit the neuraminidase pathway.”

Nammex is working with analytical laboratories and standard setting organizations to develop validated methods for identity, purity and potency of mushrooms. One such partnership was with Purity-IQ, a biotechnology company based in Toronto, ON, Canada.

Carter added much of the research is centered around the efficacy of mushrooms in a disease context. This is usually not applicable for use in the dietary supplement or food industries.

“We do see significant effort in developing improved testing methods to characterize mushroom products,” Carter said. “We also see research to build
clinical evidence for the use of mushrooms to support cognitive and immune health. These are key areas of focus of our own research efforts and investments in both clinical settings and in cell-based assays.”

Conclusion

Although there is still a lot of research to be done, mushrooms are set to become some of the most popular supplement ingredients.

“Some of our accounts, big accounts, got nervous when some of the mushroom SKUs were slow starters,” DeLorenzo said. “Those who exhibited patience and stayed the course were rewarded with historic CAGRs in the last two years … and it’s not too late for those who have made too hasty an exit.” NIE

For More Information:

Draco Natural Products, www.draconatural.com
M2 Ingredients, www.m2ingredients.com
Nammex, www.nammex.com
Reliance Private Label Supplements, www.reliancevitamin.com

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