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The Future is Fungi

Mushrooms are forging a new path, extending well beyond the plate.

By: MICHELLE FRANZEN MARTIN AND DREW MAILLOUX

Known for being as versatile as they are delicious, mushrooms have long been the go-to ingredient for chefs who want to bring a certain complexity to their dishes. With an earthy, umami flavor, mushrooms are often braised, added to sauces or even used as stand-ins for meat. Aside from taste, mushrooms boast a menu of health benefits. Rich in vitamin D, mushrooms show promise when it comes to lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, while boosting the body’s circulation and immune systems. William Li, a doctor, researcher and New York Times bestselling author, says that mushrooms contain compounds called “bioactives,” a type of fiber that lowers inflammation in the body to fight disease. “These compounds boost your immune system’s ability to thwart infection,” Li says. “By amplifying the body’s natural responses, mushrooms raise your health shields to help you avoid disease.” For all these reasons, mushrooms have long been a supermarket staple. But now they’re hopping off the plate and gaining popularity in some unexpected places — including in coffee, wine, skincare and fashion.

 

Brands like Mud/Wtr are offering functional mushroom coffee alternatives and mushroom powders to consumers eager to harness the benefits of mushrooms.

 

SIPPING ON MUSHROOMS

If you are envisioning a cup of coffee with a portabella on top, breathe a sigh of relief. Functional coffee, or coffee that is produced by grinding coffee beans with any number of ingredients, including mushrooms, offers consumers more than caffeine out of their morning-time joe.

 

Regular coffee works as a stimulant, which fights fatigue by blocking receptors and increasing the body’s level of energy-regulating neurotransmitters. Eventually though, regular coffee will cause an energy crash. Functional coffee, however, works to offset these effects by adding ingredients to the ground mix that moderates the effects of metabolizing caffeine, while simultaneously reducing anxiety and boosting immunity. The end product is a dark, silky and nutty brew that mimics the look and taste of regular coffee.

 

Celebrities endorsing functional coffee range from pop-culture icons like Gwyneth Paltrow to supermodels like Elle Macpherson. Functional coffee is just one way that mushrooms are popping up inside drinkware.

 

Mushroom wine, which has been popular in South Asia for years, is hitting American bar carts by storm. Capitalizing on the growing trend of health and wellness, mushroom wine is typically categorized in two ways — regular wines that add mushroom flavoring, and wines made from fermented mushrooms.

 

Global pop star Katy Perry teamed up with Morgan McLachlan, co-founder of a Los Angeles-based botanical beverage company, to create a French aperitif-inspired, non-alcoholic drink, De Soi. De Soi uses the immune-supporting reishi mushroom, for both flavor and function, and combines them with fruit juices and herbs to create a taste that some compare to a chardonnay.

 

VERSATILITY GALORE

Mushrooms are also becoming popular in topical oils, as well as for face masks and other beauty purposes, because of their ability to fight signs of aging. Chaga and reishi mushrooms are often found in face creams, due to their antioxidant properties that help restore moisture and reduce wrinkles. Kojic acid, made from several different types of fungi, is commonly found in products that fight hyperpigmentation in skin.

 

Mushroom “leather” is being used for everything from handbags to jackets.

 

Allen Carroll, a researcher who studied soil science at Auburn University, became so fascinated by mushrooms that he began a mushroom laboratory and education center, Fungi Farm, in Dadeville, Alabama. “Mushrooms, when used topically in the form of oils and creams, help reduce inflammation and redness,” Carroll explains.

 

Mushroom skin care is becoming so popular that brands from Martha Stewart to L’Oréal are getting in on the trend. One of the many mushroom products on the market, Kiehl’s Super Multi-Corrective Cream boasts chaga mushroom, a “super mushroom” to even skin tone and boost radiance; while Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Mushroom Relief & Resilience Soothing Treatment Lotion with reishi and chaga mushrooms promises soothing hydration and to visibly minimize pores, strengthen skin and reduce redness.

 

Dr. Sony Sherpa, an author and researcher who studies the holistic effects of medicinal mushrooms at her health clinic in Sacramento, California, offers an at-home mushroom face mask recipe that releases the power of reishi mushrooms: Use a teaspoon of reishi powder, 1/4 cup of rolled oats, two drops of tea tree oil and a splash of lemon juice. Then use filtered water to smooth the mixture and apply to the face for 15 minutes.

 

Several renowned designers have launched lines inspired by mushrooms, including this one from Rahul Mishra.


MUSHROOMS ON THE CATWALK

While spring runways are typically reserved for pastels or prints, the mighty mushroom seems to be making a big impact in the fashion world. Funkier than florals, mushroom-inspired patterns have recently sprouted up in the couture collections of Daniel Del Core, Iris van Herpen and Rahul Mishra. Mushrooms are proving hard to keep in stock — whether that is the now sold-out Rodarte mushroom cape dress, which was famously worn by New Zealand singer-songwriter, Lorde, or items from Frasier Sterling’s mushroom-inspired jewelry line, a favorite accessory of supermodel Gigi Hadid.

 

Even as an alternative to leather, the mushroom obsession has made its way into the high-end lines of both Hermès and Stella McCartney. The leather, which turns the root structure of mushrooms into a material that imitates the look and feel of animal-based leather, is being marketed as a low-impact “fabric” that is just as soft and supple, while being less harmful to the environment.

 

It’s undeniable. No matter how or where you see mushrooms —whether in the kitchen or in the closet — there seems to be no end in sight for fungi as they continue to grow in unexpected places.

MUSHROOMS AT SEA ISLAND

As chef de cuisine at Colt & Alison at Sea Island, Karen Basurto is familiar with the mushrooms that are grown throughout Georgia. They inspire her dishes — including her dishes that are not traditional steakhouse fare.

 

“Mushrooms offer an umami flavor that really rounds out a dish,” Basurto notes. One of her favorite ways to use mushrooms is in risotto — a popular dish in the spring and summer. At Colt & Alison, she brings the dish together with wild mushrooms, kabocha squash, pecorino Romano and roasted pepitas.

 

Basurto also enjoys using mushrooms in a pasta ragu, a favorite vegetarian option at the restaurant. For steak lovers, a side of wild mushrooms with a Madeira glaze also has become a staple. “You can do whatever you want with mushrooms,” she says, “because they work so well with everything,”