Mushrooms are my favorite vegetable. I know they are not everyone’s cup of tea. But I cook with mushrooms at least once a week. I especially like pan-fried oyster or baby portobello mushrooms over pasta. So as an avid podcast listener, mushroom lover, and coffee drinker, I was intrigued when I first started hearing ads about mushroom coffee. But what is mushroom coffee, and is it good for you?
What Is Mushroom Coffee?
Mushroom coffee is instant coffee combined with various blends of medicinal mushrooms. Medicinal mushrooms are not the same fungi as the mushrooms used in cooking. Nor are they psychedelic-kind of mushrooms. Common medicinal mushrooms used in mushroom coffee include:
- Cordyceps, and
- Lion’s mane
These medicinal mushrooms are considered to be “adaptogens”. Proponents of adaptogens claim they help increase our tolerance to stress . Adaptogens are substances that have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for many millenniums. However, there is very little scientific research as of yet on adaptogens and if they work. (1)
Potential Benefits of Mushroom Coffee
The potential benefits of mushroom coffee depend on the types of medicinal mushrooms used in the coffee blend. Here is a breakdown of the potential benefits of different medicinal mushrooms:
Boosting the Immune System and Reducing Inflammation
Studies in mice found that Chaga mushrooms can stimulate the production of beneficial cytokines while reducing harmful cytokines. (2,3) Cytokines are proteins that regulate the immune system. Beneficial cytokines increase our helpful immune response to infection. Harmful cytokines trigger unhealthy long-term inflammation that has been linked to many chronic diseases, such as heart disease.
- Chaga and reishi mushrooms are particularly high in the substance triterpene, a strong antioxidant. Triterpene has been found to have strong anti-cancer properties in test tube studies. (4,5)
- Cordyceps have been found to increase antioxidant activity in aging mice. Antioxidants can reduce aging and fatigue, and improve sexual function. (6)
Lowering Blood Sugar
Cordyceps in particular has been sought after for boosting athletic performance. However, in studies in both older adults and trained cyclists, cordyceps supplements were not effective in improving performance when compared to a placebo. (10)
Some studies have found that lion’s mane improve brain function. But other studies have found the opposite. One study in older-aged adults with mild cognitive impairment found that lion’s mane improved brain function compared to placebo. In contrast, one small trial in older and middle-aged adults without cognitive impairment found lion’s mane did not improve brain function. (11)
Notably, much of the studies on the effects of medicinal mushrooms have only been conducted in animals and test tubes. There is much less research in humans with certain medicinal mushrooms and if they are effective.
Potential Side Effects of Mushroom Coffee
Despite these potential benefits, there are also potential negative effects of medicinal mushrooms.
- Cordyceps and Reishi have been noted in some people to cause some intestinal discomfort, including cramping, diarrhea, or constipation. (12)
- No studies have been done to determine what is a safe dose of Chaga. (13)
Medicinal mushrooms may also have potential negative interactions with some medications. In particular, the following groups should be especially cautious about consuming mushroom coffee:
- People taking testosterone, blood thinning, or immune-suppressing medications
- People with diabetes or high blood pressure on medication
- Anyone who will be undergoing surgery
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding*
*There are no studies on the safety of adaptogenic mushrooms during pregnancy or breastfeeding, so if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is best to be cautious and avoid mushroom coffee.
Nutrition of Mushroom Coffee vs. Regular Coffee
Mushroom coffee does not have significant differences in nutrition compared to regular coffee. Regular coffee contains some small amounts of B vitamins including riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and thiamin. (14) Both regular and mushroom coffees are low-calorie and low-sugar on their own. And of course, adding any sweeteners or milk will affect the nutritional value of any coffee.
Some brands of mushroom coffee are lower in caffeine than regular coffee. While 12 ounces of regular coffee typically contains about 150mg of caffeine, in comparison, 12 ounces of one mushroom coffee brand can contain anywhere from 0-120 mg of caffeine. Cordyceps mushrooms also tend to increase how fast the body gets rid of caffeine, and mushroom coffee with cordyceps may decrease the effects of caffeine. (15)
Nutrition of Mushrooms in General
Most mushrooms used in everyday cooking are very nutritious, just like medicinal mushrooms. White mushrooms contain vitamin D, selenium, phosphorus, and some vitamin B12. (16) Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium and bone health. Selenium is a potent antioxidant. Similar to medicinal mushrooms, even regular white button mushrooms provide many antioxidants, including glutathione, beta-glucan, vitamin C, and polyphenols. (17) The complex carbohydrates in mushrooms are also noted to aiding in blood sugar control, and may even help with maintaining beneficial gut bacteria. (18)
Compared to the small amounts in mushroom coffee, everyday mushrooms have much higher amounts of these beneficial nutrients.
What does Mushroom Coffee Taste Like?
The medicinal mushrooms are dried for the adaptogenic compounds to be extracted. Because of this, the mushrooms that are used in coffee have a milder flavor. The final brewed mushroom coffee primarily tastes like coffee – not mushrooms. This is good news if you hate the taste of mushrooms but is bad news for mushroom lovers like me.
The Bottom Line – Is Mushroom Coffee Good for You?
While there are many purported benefits of mushroom coffee, there is still only preliminary scientific research determining if these mushrooms are effective. There are also some potentially negative side effects and a few groups of people who should be cautious about consuming mushroom coffee.
Luckily most edible mushrooms that I already use on a regular basis have many health benefits, and rather than spending my money on mushroom coffee, I’ll be sticking with my regular cup of joe in the morning and cooking with my favorite mushrooms as usual.