Why mushrooms are the next superfood
We head to Los Angeles to check into the city’s vibrant fungi-based health scene.
With the global market for functional mushrooms tipped to be worth more than 5.8 billion dollars, one of the world’s hotspots for sipping a mushroom-based health boosting drink is in laidback health-conscious LA.
And one of the field’s leading experts is Tero Isokauppila, the charismatic Finnish founder of Four Sigmatic, the adaptogenic mushroom brand sold around the world.
Perched on a chair at the Four Sigmatic Shroom Room, a cosy coffee house tucked behind the Piece Collective clothing store in LA’s bohemian beachfront Venice neighbourhood, Isokauppila says he’s had a love of mushrooms ever since he was a child growing up on his parent’s farm, which has been in the family for 13 generations.
“My goal is to help people from a health point of view.”
“My personal interest developed into studying the medicinal, healing properties of mushrooms. My goal has always been to help people from a health point of view,” says Isokauppila, who has a degree in chemistry and plant-based nutrition from Cornell University. He started Four Sigmatic in 2012.
Here at the Shroom Room you can sample top-selling drinks such as reishi hot chocolate, which is good for occasional stress relief, or mushroom coffee with chaga and Lions Mane, known as the smart mushroom. Superfood chaga is a powerful immune-system modulator. “It’s also one of the world’s highest gram-per-gram source of antioxidants,” says Isokauppila, who has authored a bestselling book on his passion called Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health.
Why the sudden surge in interest towards functional mushrooms? Isokauppila attributes the current boom to several factors.
“People are more stressed than they’ve been before, the demands of modern life are pretty hard. America, for example, uses the least amount per capita on food and the most on pharmaceuticals, so people here are looking for more natural alternatives from meditation to forest bathing, natural massages, and acupuncture. People also want more natural foods, so there’s been a big shift in returning to the foods that our grandparents ate. Generally speaking, we’re going back one or two generations in foods and as part of that, fungi are making a return,” he says.
According to Isokauppila, mushrooms help maintain our health in three main areas. “One, immune support – when we live in big cities, travel, and live longer we need to have more resistance. Two, these top mushrooms are adaptogenic, which means that they help balance stress. And three, people are interested in improving their cognitive function, as we work on our computers and always have to be on point,” he concludes.
In the heart of Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard, one of LA’s most famous strips, lies Lifehouse Tonics + Elixirs. Inside, the menu board behind the counter reads like a playlist: Greenhouse Chip, Chaga Chip Cookie Dough, Shroom Shake, Blue Light Rain, No Matcha…
“The Greenhouse Chip is our most popular drink,” says Jack Latner, Lifehouse Tonics + Elixirs’s cheerful founder. This smoothie tastes a lot like a popular ice cream-based drink by a fast food chain familiar to those who grew up in North America in the ’80s and ’90s.
But the difference is that the Greenhouse Chip is packed with healthy ingredients including cordyceps, almond milk, cashew milk, peppermint oil, cacao nibs, barley grass, wheat grass, oat grass, maca, eleuthero, astragalus, tocos, cacao butter, coconut oil, and lakanto.
And that’s the key to Lifehouse Tonics + Elixirs’s approach: “Why can’t something that’s good for you taste delicious?” asks Latner.
“Medicinal mushrooms have long-term effects.”
When Latner, who is originally from Toronto, Canada, moved to LA 12 years ago, he immediately noticed the emphasis on health. As Latner noticed that a lot of healthy drinks didn’t taste very good, he set out on a mission to create alternatives. He then spent six months in a kitchen with an expert experimenting with ingredients and recipes.
“We came up with seven or eight options that we really liked and from there we realised that we could open a place and serve drinks that people would enjoy,” he says.
Customer education is key. “One of the first questions we like to ask people when they come in here is: ‘How do you want to feel?’ And then we tell people about adaptogens. Whatever is really hurting or ailing you, whether it’s a digestive, fatigue, or immunity issue, these adaptogens, with continual use will aid you,” he says.
And what does Latner say to those who are sceptical about the powers of functional mushrooms?
“I really think these medicinal mushrooms and all of these adaptogenic herbs that are being used are actually beneficial and have long-term effects. I’m not a scientist but I’ve read many studies. We try not to make any medicinal claims, but for myself, my family, and the people who come in here all the time and the feedback that I get, a lot of people’s lives have changed for the better with these. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it for six months!”
Text Katja Pantzar
Photos Carla Coffing