Functional mushrooms: how to maximise your vegan nutrition with fungi

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With the mycelium kingdom sweeping the vegan network, The Multiverse marketplace helps you spot quality functional mushrooms to optimise your health.

Be it, with an introduction to psilocybin mushrooms by Michael Pollan and Tim Ferriss, or through the incredibly popular documentary Fantastic Fungi, the world becomes more acquainted with the superpowers of the mycelium kingdom every day. So, it isn’t surprising to see shiitake, oyster and portobello mushrooms on the grill, and reishi and chaga in teas. Functional mushrooms are new to the wellness block, and they are here to stay.

Riddled with gut health issues and having heard of the mushroom magic, Alli Schaper found herself engrossed in reading about using fungi for her health. Months later, with a cup of reishi tea in her hands, she tells me about her journey setting up The Multiverse — the world’s first functional mushroom marketplace — with two friends, how to optimise fungi and wellness, and picking quality mushroom products for your body’s needs.

This California-based startup was made for the mushroom-curious, and Schaper and her fungi-focused team are working on their mission to make this daunting foodscape accessible with their blog while providing quality products.

“Our goal in this conversation is to help simplify it,” she says. “We want to be the middleman between the experts in the field and the customers who want to incorporate mushrooms into their diet, but don’t understand why or how to use these products. We want to create really simple daily routines for people.”

Read our story on why mushrooms are the answer to all our problems.

alli schaperWhat are functional mushrooms?

There are over 2,000 mushroom species believed to be edible and medicinal. Functionals make up about 13 of those. Psychedelics could be functional too, Schaper says. Their primary function is to boost your immune system and enhance your health, much more swiftly than most of the other mushroom species. These are the ones that do not necessarily taste delicious but are packed with antioxidants, beta-glucans, polyphenols and more, which is why they are commonly taken as supplements like tinctures or powders or added to food like protein bars. It’s certainly why mushroom coffee has made rounds on Instagram.

“I think people are stressed, tired and exhausted. Google Trends are exploding for mushrooms right now. People are looking for ways to enhance focus, boost immunity, relax more and mushrooms are providing that solution for people.”

Most common functional fungi include chaga, reishi, turkey tail, cordyceps, lion’s mane and poria cocos. “Reishi is an adaptogen. It’s incredible for relaxation and homeostasis. It’s known as the queen of mushrooms and it’s my favourite to drink before bed,” reveals Schaper. “Four Sigmatic makes some really great powders. Chaga is like the king of mushrooms and is known as the go-to immunity booster, and cordyceps are incredible for energy.

“What’s really cool about mushrooms is that the more you take them, the better they work. Rather than being a one-pill-fix-all, they compound in your system and really build up your immunity over time.”

mushroom coffee

Where to start and how to identify your wellness needs?

With influencers promoting mushroom teas and specialty stores offering a great range of supplements from tinctures to elixirs, picking products could be confusing. Personal research usually involves you identifying your body’s needs and matching those with individual mushroom functions. But to make the process handy, The Multiverse offers a small quiz to identify your needs and presents a set of products categorised by energy, immunity, chill and focus.

Coffee is a great stepping stone into this, Schaper states, in line with the ‘shroom trends: “A lot of coffee powders now are infused with lion’s mane, which is incredible for cognitive function. It’s incredible for neurodegenerative properties and also helps you reduce the jitters you get from caffeine traditionally.”

Once you’re comfortable with that, she suggests picking something simple like cordyceps, which not only make for a great afternoon snack, but work well for energy boosts too.

Schaper points out that functional mushrooms do not necessarily need to be used as supplements as the idea of that may be off-putting for some. A great alternative are products that use functional mushrooms as a secondary ingredient like mushroom jerky. She adds: “If you’re not a tincture person, that’s fine, here’s powder. If you’re not a powder person, that’s fine, here’s a snack that has functional mushrooms in them. The idea is to sneak them into your diet as much as you can.”

Check out our recipe for a vegan mushroom risotto.

How to spot quality fungi products?

“You’ll see some companies right now putting 5mg of mushroom into their product and calling it a mushroom product. That’s like putting a single kernel of salt on something and saying it’s salted.”

In the sea of supplements, where functional mushrooms are all around, it comes as no surprise that Schaper recommends reading labels to identify quality mushroom products. Here is what to look for:

Mushroom fruiting body extract

Fruiting body refers to all parts of the mushroom above the ground — stem, gills, and cap. Thus actively avoiding mycelium. While it’s great for leather, it’s not always useful for your body. The Multiverse team suggests identifying around 500mg of the individual mushroom. 

Beta-glucan levels

Beta-glucans are beneficial compounds, a sugar or complex polysaccharide best suited to support immunity and overall wellness. Schaper advises looking for products with these compounds standardised to less than 30%. Further additions of any binders, fillers or harsh solvents are also a huge no.

Avoid grains in mushrooms

When considering mycelium products like Cordyceps Cs-4, which do, in fact, have medicinal benefits, avoid products with grains that make their way into your supplements only when mushrooms are cultivated artificially. And when there’s grain, your supplement usually ends up with no mushroom.
You can test this in two ways, as listed on The Multiverse’s blog: Either perform a simple iodine test at home, or check the marketing label for these terms.

Full Spectrum
Made in the USA
Myceliated brown rice
Mycelial biomass

Checking the company’s transparency

Schaper also likes to check out the company website to identify the mushroom sourcing and extraction processes to evaluate the quality of her products. For her, transparency and sustainability are key.

Keeping these in mind, The Multiverse built national standards for mushrooms. “The idea behind creating them was to avoid repeating what happened with CBD, where you’d have a million products popping up across the space that aren’t sourcing the main ingredient from the right place, using the right part, or were not putting enough [CBD] into the product.

“The goal of what we’re doing is to make functional mushrooms really sexy, accessible and cool,” she says. As for long-term goals, The Multiverse wishes to normalise conversations around psychedelics. “Psilocybin is the future of mental health”, says Schaper. Having partnered with many psychedelic life sciences companies, the marketplace looks forward to seeing functional mushrooms and psychedelics supporting each other.

“I really believe that mushrooms can save the world if used in the correct ways. They’re changing every single industry — they’re disrupting fashion as companies are raising hundreds of millions of dollars for mushroom-based leather, they’re changing supplements and beverages, and they’re reversing environmental damage. They’re really insane.”

Muskaan Gupta
Muskaan Gupta
Muskaan is a history undergraduate at Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi. Having grown up in different cities in India, she is passionate about food and culture. When she's not experimenting in the kitchen, you can find her invested in films and music. She is always looking for new things to do, is interested in studying food history and juggles between her love for filmmaking, writing and knowing the quirks of the world.