While many people turn to a morning cup of coffee as a pick-me-up, others might sip the beverage as a way to boost their health and performance. After all, research shows the benefits of caffeine for those looking for an edge, including reduced time to exhaustion during exercise, so you can clock more miles without fatigue. But now another health trend has joined the coffee shelves: mushrooms.
Mushroom coffee is basically powdered mushrooms mixed in with coffee grounds. And proponents of this drink combination swear that it not only tastes good, but it’s also loaded with “good for you” ingredients.
The mushrooms infused into coffee are also known as adaptogens—or plants thought to have stress-fighting capabilities. Manufacturers claim that adaptogenic mushrooms, like cordyceps, reishi, and Lion’s mane, make mushroom coffee a calming beverage, rather than a jittery caffeine fix.
To figure out how mushroom coffee stands out from your regular cup of java, we turned to a few nutrition experts. Here’s what to know before you buy.
Are there benefits to mushroom coffee?
There are many health promises associated with mushroom coffee, such as enhanced productivity and athletic performance, a boost in metabolism, and increased relaxation. The only problem is that there is absolutely zero research on mushroom coffee.
That said, “all mushrooms are rich sources of vitamins and minerals, so they do contribute nutrients and antioxidants [to your diet],” says Ginger Hultin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of ChampagneNutrition, and author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep and How to Eat to Beat Disease Cookbook.
That means that while the combined effects of mushrooms and coffee have not been proven, there is some research on the benefits of fungi for athletes. For example, a study published in High Altitude Medicine & Biology in 2014 examined the effects of rhodiola (an herb) and cordyceps (a mushroom) supplementation on male athletes who were training at high altitude. The athletes who supplemented with rhodiola and cordyceps were able to run for longer before reaching exhaustion than those in the placebo group.
Another randomized controlled trial found that eight weeks of supplementation with rhodiola and cordyceps slightly enhanced endurance training performance and body composition in young sedentary individuals.
There is some research on other varieties of mushrooms and their health benefits, too, such as reishi for improving immune response and Lion’s mane for mitigating impaired cognition, but the populations studied were small groups (less than 50 people) and football players or cognitively impaired men, so the results don’t necessarily translate to runners.
That said, while there is some research on the benefits of mushrooms for athletes, we still need more science to solidify their pay-offs.
Besides the lack of scientific evidence, Shaw does point out a pro to mushroom coffee that she has personally experienced: “One of the cool things [about] mushroom coffee is that it’s actually lower in caffeine but gives me the same ‘jolt’ I’m looking for,” says Shaw. For example, a cup of Four Sigmatic’s instant mushroom coffee has 50 mg of caffeine, compared to almost 100 mg in a cup of regular coffee. So for those who like some caffeine in their life but find coffee to be “too much,” certain mushroom coffees may do the trick.
Are there drawbacks to mushroom coffee?
There aren’t too many drawbacks to drinking mushroom coffee, other than putting a dent in your wallet. “This specialty coffee can get a little pricey (most brands cost around $20 for a 12-ounce bag of beans), so while it’s a fun, trendy, functional food to try out, it’s not a must-have for health if you’re on a tight budget,” says Shaw.
Not to mention that very high doses of medicinal mushrooms are used in research to show any health benefits. Most mushroom coffee manufacturers don’t disclose the amount of shrooms in their products, meaning that it’s unlikely that you will reap the same benefits from a cup of mushroom joe.
As with all new additions to your diet, though, Hultin advises checking with your medical team to make sure the mushrooms do not interact with any medications you may be taking.
What to know before you buy
“Be sure to check the label and read the ingredients,” says Hultin. She suggests watching out for added sugars or flavors. “It’s important to know what’s in all of your foods and beverages because these ingredients can add up throughout the day,” Hultin adds. For example, the max recommended dose of caffeine per day is 400 milligrams or about 4 cups of coffee so keep that in mind when sipping mushroom-infused variations.
As for brands to look for on shelves, Shaw is most familiar with Four Sigmatic, which comes in whole bean, ground, instant, pods and even lattes with powdered mushrooms mixed in. They also feature non-mushroom additives in their coffee, like probiotics and ashwagandha.
Brainchild is a Seattle-based mushroom coffee distributor that uses beans from small farms. They have ground and instant coffee with mushrooms, like Lion’s mane, cordyceps, chaga, and reishi, as well as tea with mushroom infusions.
And if you’re looking to switch things up a bit, Om sells mushroom coffee, mushroom matcha lattes, and mushroom hot chocolate.
The bottom line on mushroom coffee
If you want a cup of coffee with less caffeine and maybe some mild health benefits, then there’s no harm in trying mushroom coffee. But don’t expect it to completely revolutionize your health. And keep in mind that it does have a slightly earthier taste than normal coffee. So if you like it, go for it. If you compensate by adding more sugar and cream, then consider skipping it.