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It seems like mushrooms have been everywhere lately. They had a moment with Netflix’s documentary Fantastic Fungi in 2019, which explored the magical world of mushrooms, from their healing powers to the underground fungal networks that help trees communicate. Since then, they remain a staple in many of our kitchens, but also have found their way into our bathroom cabinets and home decor, as entrepreneurs harness their health, beauty and sustainability benefits.
Food & Drink
A healthy alternative to your cup of joe
Nourishing forms of fungi are becoming part of our morning routines. Web searches for the term “mushroom coffee” – java with the addition of fresh or dried mushrooms – grew 207 per cent in 2023, according to Glimpse, a global trends platform. The drinks usually include varieties such as chaga, reishi and lion’s mane, a species native to North America, Europe and Asia, where extracts from the fungi have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.
Karen Danudjaja, co-founder of Vancouver-based Blume, which makes mushroom beverages, sees her company’s products as supplemental to the average person’s daily cup of coffee. “I love my morning coffee, but if I drink it in the afternoon, it affects my sleep,” Danudjaja says.
Their products include the bestselling Matcha Coconut blend, featuring nutrient-dense ingredients such as moringa, a plant native to India used for its potassium, alongside the mushrooms. Blume’s latest drop – the Reishi Hot Cacao blend – promises the taste of hot chocolate with the added benefit of reishi mushrooms and is sweetened with coconut sugar. Like all of Blume’s products, the hot cocoa can be mixed in with coffee or enjoyed alone.
The company opts for both reishi and lion’s mane mushrooms, which Danudjaja says offer the benefits of stress and immunity support and improved relaxation and cognitive function.
A study from the University of Queensland in Australia published last year looked at lion’s mane’s ability to boost nerve growth and enhance memory. The researchers found that hericium erinaceous, the mushroom’s active compound, helps neurons extend and connect to other neurons in cultured brain cells. Dr. Ramon Martinez-Marmol, a professor who co-authored the study, said the discovery could lead to applications to treat and protect against cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Fungi in skin care
Connie Lo, co-founder of Toronto beauty company Three Ships, vaguely remembers the tremella mushroom from her childhood. Lo’s parents ate and cooked the jellylike fungus for its health benefits. In China, the mushroom has been revered as a “fountain of youth” for centuries. When she and co-Founder Laura Burget launched beauty brand Three Ships in 2017, they began looking into tremella mushroom’s moisture-retaining properties when researching formulations for a new serum.
According to the company’s website, which publishes a scientifically researched glossary of all the natural ingredients used in its formulations, tremella’s health benefits include a reduction in swelling, immunity support and antioxidants. The mushroom is used as a source of hyaluronic acid, a naturally occurring substance that can help increase moisture in the skin, in a serum called Dew Drops.
The popularity of the serum aligns with the company’s ethos of offering natural products, part of a larger trend in the beauty industry.
Products rooted in the ancient Indian medicinal system of Ayurveda are helping to drive the trend. Ingredients such as saffron, turmeric and sea salt are prominent in Ayurvedic beauty products, promising a holistic approach to skin care, and proving popular among consumers. According to Verified Market Research, the global Ayurvedic market is expected to reach US$21.1-billion by 2028, up 70 per cent from 2020.
The veggie has become such a popular motif in home decor that vintage Murano mushroom lamps can sell for more than $1,000 on second-hand decor sites such as 1st Dibs.
Now companies are taking mushrooms beyond decor, like MycoAudio, which uses mycelium – the underground root system of fungi – to make audio products, including its flagship EK and R1 ceramic-shell speakers.
The mycelium replaces acoustic foam, a lightweight material made from polyurethane, typically used to insulate speakers. One reason for the swap, says company founder and creative director Antoine Provencher, is that mycelium is more environmentally friendly.
The speakers themselves have a biological aesthetic: The R1 comes in colours such as clay, which evokes the image of planet Earth; the green looks nearly amphibious, like the wet skin of a frog.
Provencher’s studio, workshop and lab are located in Montreal, where he grows, harvests and dries reishi mycelium on hardwood in a protected environment. Once dry, the mycelium becomes a spongelike substance.
Mycelium has also been used in other applications. In 2021 Stella McCartney released a line of vegan-leather garments using mycelium-based leather. “It’s a really durable and natural material,” Provencher said.
So far, he has showcased his pieces at Brain Dead Studios in Los Angeles and, last April, at the Milan Design Week. “People want sustainable pieces and there’s a new appreciation for natural material and biotechnology,” Provencher said.