After working in hospitality for 20 years, and running her own café and juice bar, Zoey Henderson has gained a good grasp of what the new generation of health-conscious consumers want from their beverages.
It's thanks to this market insight, alongside her own personal health journey, that she feels she's hit the mark with her adoptogenic drinks brand Fungtn.
“My personal health journey was developing at the same time as my career journey," she explains. "Over the years, I started suffering badly with allergies and asthma and with keeping mental focus. In a bid to improve my health I have started to follow a vegan diet and I have cut right down on alcohol.
“I also became increasingly interested to find out how what I eat and drink could help with those issues so I completed a naturopathic nutrition diploma in which I learnt about healing foods and plants.
“That was what really encouraged my interest in plants and fungi in particular – they are amazing little helpers that the planet has given us."
Henderson explains the science behind adaptogenic mushrooms backs their ability to: help balance our hormone levels, support our immune system, and reduce inflammation.
And with market research revealing the rising interest in ancient wisdom and Chinese remedies for natural preventative health solutions, especially since the pandemic, Henderson feels the market is now ready to enjoy the benefits of medicinal mushrooms in the form of functional beverages.
“There’s been an influx of CBD products but those haven’t been well regulated.
"But that industry did succeed in getting people interested in putting natural ingredients into products for functional wellness. It also opened people's eye to the idea that different natural compounds can provide some of the same effects as alcohol, such as relaxation, but without giving you a high.”
The range of vegan, gluten and additive free beers contain 0.5% alcohol – on a par with some Kombucha drinks, and even a ripe banana - and includes three varieties: a Lion’s Mane IPA with neurotrophic benefits; an immunity-boosting Reishi Citra Beer; and a Chaga Lager with antioxidant properties to help fight free radicals.
Each bottle contains one gram of organic mushroom - the functional recommendation is 1-5 grams.
Henderson adds that not only does the mushroom addition provide a health benefit, but it also provides the mouthfeel and the body that can be lost due to the removal of alcohol.
She hopes the taste, trending ingredients and health benefits will see her brand flourish in multiple markets.
“Ultimately, our aspiration is to be a global brand – by Christmas we hope to be growing in Copenhagen, New Zealand and Australian, and eventually we’d like to enter Canada. These are all areas with populations very open to natural preventative health solutions.”
The mechanisms of mushrooms
The biologically active constituents of mushrooms - principally polysaccharides, triterpenoids, proteins, enzymes, steroids, sterols, nucleotides, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals - have been shown to have several therapeutic properties.
Boosting white blood cells
Reishi mushrooms are known as the mushroom of life in Chinese medicine because of their high level of beta-glucans - a form of soluble dietary fiber that's strongly linked to improving cholesterol levels and boosting heart health.
Test-tube studies have shown that reishi can affect the genes in white blood cells, which are critical parts of your immune system. What’s more, these studies have found that some forms of reishi may alter inflammation pathways in white blood cells.
Research has suggested that some of the molecules found in the mushroom can increase the activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells which fight infections and even cancer.
Nature for neurons
Often referred to as 'Nature's Nutrient for the Neurons', studies have found that lion’s mane mushrooms contain two special compounds that can stimulate the growth of brain cells: hericenones and erinacines.
What's more, some studies have suggested that lion’s mane may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
A study in older adults with mild cognitive impairment found that consuming 3 grams of powdered lion’s mane mushroom daily for four months significantly improved mental functioning, but these benefits disappeared when supplementation stopped.
New animal research has found that lion’s mane mushroom extract has anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in mice. Researchers believe that improved functioning of the hippocampus may explain the reductions in anxious and depressive behaviours.
Chaga mushrooms are rich in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, including: B-complex vitamins, vitamin D, potassium, rubidium, cesium, amino acids, fiber, copper, selenium, zinc, iron, manganese, magnesium, calcium.
It's thanks to its anti-oxidant properties that chaga mushrooms have previously been suggested as being able to slow the ageing process, reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called “bad” cholesterol.
Some research on mice suggests that chaga may help regulate the production of cytokines, supporting the immune system by helping cells communicate with one another. This could help fight infections, from minor colds to life-threatening illnesses.
Chaga’s role in regulating cytokine production may also help control inflammation.