Mushrooms that make your brain work better

Mushrooms that make your brain work better

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Nootropics is an emerging segment in F&B. It’s populated with food products containing ingredients that can enhance our cognitive function – and the demand for nootropics is driving a flurry of new research studies that investigate the true impact of products that make cognitive claims. 

Mushrooms are at the heart of the nootropics category. We’re seeing a boom in brands that offer mushroom-based products with marketing campaigns centred around their potential to make our brains work better. 

And while this is exciting, it’s certainly not a new idea: humans have a long history of using mushrooms to influence the brain. 

One theory suggests that mushrooms shaped the evolution of our species 

Some scientists believe that our brains wouldn’t be the way they are today without mushrooms. 

The theory was first put forward by ethnobotanist Terence McKenna, in his 1992 book Food of the Gods. Essentially, he suggested that eating certain fungi that had a psychotropic effect might have played a pivotal role in the development of the modern human brain, and the culture that also grew as a result. 

He argued that the development of language and conscious self-reflection could be attributed to the mushrooms that our ancient ancestors ate around two million years ago. 

More recently, scientist Dr. Thomas Falk suggested that McKenna’s hypothesis also explains why humanity went through a ‘creative explosion’ about 40,000 years ago. There seemed to be a leap in humans’ cognitive ability at that time – and it might have been linked to mushroom consumption. But that’s only one of many possible causes – we don’t really know. 

McKenna’s work has been criticised for being highly speculative, and not based on solid evidence. But it’s an interesting starting point for looking at our relationship with mushrooms (and nootropics in general) today. 

Fungi as a food trend

Mushroom markets are doing well – and specifically, mushroom-based products that promise cognitive enhancement. 

In numbers: 

  • Using 2023 as its base year, a recent report by IndustryArc estimates that mushroom tea market size will reach USD $215 million by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 7.3%.
  • Research by SNS Insider found that the already booming mushroom coffee market will grow at a CAGR of 5.5% until 2030, when it’ll reach $4.12 billion.
  • And Grand View Research estimated that the functional mushroom market size (which includes mushroom-based supplements) was $31.71 billion in 2023, and will grow at a CAGR of 11.2% until 2030

In short: people are spending a lot of money on mushrooms. 

Studies continue to support the claims made in mushroom marketing

Yes, it’s a trend – but it’s rooted in real knowledge. A growing body of evidence shows that mushrooms really do make a difference to our brains. 

A recent study by Applied Food Sciences (AFS), for example, looked at the effects of a functional fungus called lion’s mane (hericium erinaceus). 

Lion’s mane has a nootropic effect because of its ability to simulate Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) synthesis, which supports human cell growth and has a protective effect on the nervous system. The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients, focused on the acute cognitive benefits of the fungus in healthy adults. 

It found that in a very short space of time, lion’s mane improved: 

  • Reaction time and accuracy during cognitive tasks
  • Mental clarity, focus, and (by extension) productivity
  • Working memory
  • Mood and perceptions of happiness and well-being

And this is just one of many studies showing that mushrooms really do change the way our brains work – both in the short-term, and over longer periods of time. 

Research-savvy consumers are driving the growth of nootropics

If we could boil the continued growth of the nootropics category down to one driver, it’d be this: 

Consumers who are increasingly informed about the effects that ingredients have on their overall health, and who have more access to food research than ever before. 

More and more people know that the ingredients they consume influence their state of wellness – including their state of mind. And they know where to find up-to-date information about the products that will improve their lives. 

That, combined with marketing campaigns that highlight nootropic effects, means that this segment is poised for continued growth. Consumers are interested in the micronutrients they put in their bodies – and mushrooms are rich in nutritional value and functional properties, with results that consumers can see (or feel) very quickly. 

Are you in the nootropics market? We’d love to hear from you.

Join us at InFlavour 2024 to get ahead of the curve with the latest market segment developments in F&B. We can’t wait to see you there.

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