Liquid Thinking

Why are we drinking mushrooms?

Why is fungi making its way into more and more drinks?

10th August 2022

From TikTok coffee trends to non-alcoholic beers, and better-for-you colas, mushroom drinks are ‘having a moment’. We ask, why is the fungi making its way into more and more drinks?

Ladies and gentleman, we’re living in the age of function over form. Yes, that’s right. Mushrooms may not look like the drinks ingredient we all need. However, functionally, apparently they are.

Said to have medicinal and healing properties, mushrooms are in some ways just the latest iteration of a wellness trend that has been chugging along merrily for the past few years. However, it has to be said, they’ve been a slow burn until now.

What is the cause in mushroom’s sudden rise to mainstream awareness? The culprit is TikTok. Collectively, mushroom coffee posts have garnered over 30 million views on the social media platform prompting numerous recent think pieces on exactly why the drink is trending.

When wellness meets social media

Specifically for mushroom coffee – which are made from a combination of coffee beans and powdered mushrooms, and can be drunk hot or cold – the ‘why’ lies in its similarity in taste to a regular coffee, minus the detrimental effects of caffeine, but plus a purported number of wellness benefits. Adaptogenic, therefore able to help the body better manage stress, the ingredient is also said to help reduce inflammation, improve immune function, cardiovascular health, gut health, and help alleviate fatigue. And, helpfully for mushrooms, flexing your discovery of this magical elixir to your wellness friends, has become a must for those that consume it.

But mushrooms have been popping up in far more than coffee. Launched in late 2020, Fungtn is a 0.5% ABV beer with three varietals all brewed with different mushrooms. From an IPA brewed with lion’s mane, to a Citra brewed with reishi, and a lager brewed with chaga mushrooms, all three are said to be medicinal, while also mimicking the taste of alcohol. All the mushrooms selected are myco adaptogens, a class of fungi known for their health benefits and that the brand claims have long been used in actual medicines, including those used to manage stress, and support the immune system; both particularly apt for these current times.

Aside from their functional value then, one of the other advantages to drinks makers when using mushrooms is their ability to taste like and mimic other ingredients. In other words, they blend in. As with mushroom coffee makers, Fungtn brand creator Zoey Henderson found that their starchiness in fact, was able to help replicate the body and depth of flavour of a regular beer.

Beyond coffee

And it seems for this particular reason, combined with their health properties, mushrooms are now sprouting up in a wider array of drinks types than ever before. Step forward mushroom cola. Plant-based brand Dram has recently launched a mushroom cola inspired by, what the brand believes to be, the first ever printed recipe for cola in American history. It uses a blend of four adaptogenic mushrooms, namely cordyceps, reishi, chaga and shitake. Again, it’s said to target immune support, brain health, and gut health, and has a spiced cola taste profile.

Energy drinks have not escaped either. Odyssey Elixir uses somewhat ‘trippy’ packaging for its Sparkling Mushroom Elixirs which are said to enhance your Energy + Focus through the use of “highly concentrated, organic adaptogenic mushrooms”.

A fine line

Psilli mushroom infused sparkling waters come in a range of flavours, all named for their different functional aim. There’s Study Buddy, Brain Boost, Energizer, Bedtime and Good Mood. However, take a look at their packaging design to see that, despite their rather zen wellness-based names, this brand is visually leaning more into mushroom’s other ‘functional’ benefit, if you catch our drift.

And that’s where things become….interesting. Adaptogenic mushrooms are very different from psilocybin mushrooms (magic mushrooms to your friends), but their place when mixed with that other mind-altering stimulant, alcohol, is blurry. Only a few brands have so far combined the two.

Chicago brewer Whiner has created Myco Dose Hard seltzer, made with ginger, citrus, rose petals and reishi, lion’s mane, shiitake, spiraling, cordyceps, turkey tail mushrooms. It doesn’t claim any functional benefits, even if the name does suggest them. Californian brand Amass also uses a number of mushrooms as botanicals in its dry gin, including reishi mushroom and lion’s mane mushrooms, selected for their umami notes.

And Madras Desert Water has added adaptogenic mushrooms to its Mexican-made RTDs, inspired by Texas’s ranch water serve, itself an ode to Mexico. Get it? The brand says their inclusion is a nod to mezcals past as a plant medicine. It also uses anti-inflammatory herbs, and anti-fungal cacti.

Booze brands so far, are also going down the wellness route. But alcohol’s relationship with mushrooms is complex. In fact brands such as new Vancouver-based start-up Clairvoyant, for example, has created a magic mushroom-based pill that aims to treat alcoholism.

Where does wellness end?

Can booze brands ever claim to truly be wellness aids however? It’s doubtful. But as the use of mushroom accelerates in the non-alc sector, and mainstream awareness begins to build, expect more full-strength brands to attempt to claim a piece of its wellness halo.

For now however, where we see mushroom really flourishing is in alcohol-alternatives, whether brands choose to utilise it for its umami taste, its ability to create body and simulate the texture and flavour of full-strength liquids, or its wellness and medicinal qualities. New functional drinks will also continue to emerge, and expect the ingredient to be applied to just about every drink type you can think of. Mushroom tonic water? Why not.

Does mushroom have any hurdles to overcome? Beyond the clued-in bio-hacker crowd, mushrooms do run the risk of sounding unappealing flavour-wise, and still have a PR job on their hands when it comes to educating consumers on the ‘why’, as well as the ‘how’, of drinking them. Yet, as the mushroom coffee trend shows, as more and more consumers look to naturally treat the stresses on their mind and body in ways that easily fit in with their lifestyle, they offer a convenient, social-media cool solution. And convenience and social media remain king. Well, if a mushroom is imbibed in a coffee, but no-one is around to see it, has it really even been imbibed?

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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