People and mushrooms share about 40% of the same DNA, which is good and bad in that it makes absorbing the medicinal benefits of some mushrooms easier, but it also makes people more vulnerable to fungal diseases, said Tero Isokauppila, co-founder and president of Four Sigmatic, which was previously Four Sigma Foods.
The second part is what scares a lot of people and stops them from consuming all but the most basic and easy to recognized mushrooms, he said.
He also acknowledged that taste and texture of mushrooms is off-putting to many people, which, he adds, is a shame given that “mushrooms are the original superfood” and packed with nutrients that can help people.
“There is a lot of history and extensive scientific support for using mushrooms, but if you are not used to eating them from early on as a child it is hard to jump into,” he said.
Four Sigmatic can help though by making consuming mushrooms as easy as adding hot water to its blends of powdered fungi drinks.
In January 2015, the company launched in the US eight drink mixes packaged in brightly colored and whimsically designed individual sachets. The line includes two mushroom coffee mixes made with either cordyceps and chaga or Lion’s Main and chaga to help users wake up and stay focused but without the jitters that regular coffee can cause.
There also are two blends with hot cacao, which like the coffee, are familiar flavors that mask the taste of the mushrooms. However, the blends still have a slightly earthy undertone that belies the base ingredient.
Four less familiar elixirs round out the line, including a Reishi blend to help users “loosen up,” Chaga of immunity support, cordyceps for energy and Lion’s Main for brain power.
The packaging also helps bring consumers into the category by making mushrooms appear less serious and intimidating with lighthearted claims that the drinks are like a “hug for your brain” or offer your immune system super powers without the cape.
Consumers who want a deeper understanding of the scientific support for the mushrooms’ benefits can get more information on the company’s website, which provides detailed explanations of how adaptogens and nootropics work.
A “shroom boom”
Four Sigmatic’s efforts – along with those of other innovative companies in the space – to make mushrooms more accessible seem to be working as early consumer adoption is fueling a “shroom boom,” according to a company representative.
Isokauppila agrees that when he first started marketing mushroom products two years ago many people were weary and uninterested, but now that is changing.
“Until the last year, it has not been the trendiest thing ever, but surprisingly now it is really picking up,” he said.
He attributed the growth to increasing consumer demand for products that not only taste good but also offer a functional benefit.
In addition, “the trend towards ancient foods, or you can call it paleo or primal or heirloom, is growing, and mushrooms are literally one of the oldest foods available,” he said.
Finally, he said, innovations that are making mushrooms taste better are creating “entry level” products that bringing people into the category, where once they are comfortable they likely will try more mushrooms in different formats. He compared the progression to consumers eating California Rolls and then becoming more adventurous with eating sushi.
With that in mind, he expects the growth of mushroom products to increase exponentially going forward. And to help it maintain its momentum, Four Sigmatic is launching additional products, including a lemonade and children’s products in 2016.
In addition, in 2016, the firm “spread the mushroom gospel” and educate consumers about which fungi to eat and their benefits, Isokauppila said.