Mushrooms To the Rescue!

Image courtesy ShutterstockSubbotina Anna.

Image courtesy ShutterstockSubbotina Anna.

Mushrooms are big right now. Yes, humans have used the fungi for eons — as food, as medicine, to trip, and even to dye clothes —but shrooms are sprouting up in new realms and in new ways these days, and they promise to revolutionize everything from fashion to furniture.

Let’s start with the most obvious: food. While mushrooms remain a staple in many culture’s diets, they’re often relegated to side status or used only to enliven a specific dish. Portabella aside, mushrooms have been mostly second fiddle. But the Pennsylvania snack brand Shrooms is making a snack out of them: they stock of crispy mushroom chips, mushroom jerky, and mushroom-based snack bars in varieties of flavors, from traditional, like sea salt, to more unique, like pizza! Elsewhere, in Indiana, the start-up Mudlrk developed Shittake chips that come in flavors like Srichacha and Ranch.

Both of these brands illustrate the rise of on-the-go savory snacks — and so does the success of Umamis Crunchy Snacks from Israel’s The Mushroom Benefit, which also offers a Cuisine Bag: a satchel of mushroom flavorings meant to enrich various cuisines, including Italian and Asian.

Meanwhile, in the beverage aisle, Choice Organic Tea sells Mushroom Wellness Teas that help with immune defense, stamina and metabolism. Similarly, the brand Four Sigmatic recently unveiled its Mushroom Hot Cacao Mix that uses reishi mushroom to help elicit sound sleep.

And while many VMS brands currently stock mushroom-based supplements to target everything from stress to sleep to fatigue, the immersive wellness brand Wavepaths is going in a more FAROUT direction: they use visual and aural cues to mimic the psychedelic effects for which certain mushrooms are well known. 

NEFFA’s mushroom-sourced apparel; image by Jeroen Dietz.

NEFFA’s mushroom-sourced apparel; image by Jeroen Dietz.

Wavepaths isn’t alone in embracing trip-inducing fungi for mental health: Researchers at Johns Hopkins endorse using psilocybin, the compound that induces trips, for psychiatric use, including treating depression. In fact, that team is so psyched about psychedelics’ potential health benefits that they’re opening a whole institute on the subject, the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.

Director Roland Griffiths remarked, “[Psychedelics] produce unique and profound change in consciousness. The center will allow us to expand on research to develop new treatments for a wide variety of psychiatric disorders. And it will allow us to extend on past research in healthy people to improve their sense of well-being.”

In a parallel to cannabis, closed minds are being opened about psychedelic mushrooms, paving the way for promising legalization initiatives: Oakland and Denver now allow adult usage within their city limits, and Oregon will vote in 2020 on whether to legalize for therapeutic applications. As Britt Bunyard, the executive director of the Telluride Mushroom Festival, told Vogue: “Up until very recently, it was just verboten to even speak about psychedelics at most wild mushroom events. Now, it’s almost becoming kind of mainstream, because so many mainstream people are talking about it.”

Considering mushrooms’ many health benefits, such as reducing inflammation, preventing heart disease, combating cancer, and wider acceptance of functional foods as medicine, we expect to see mushrooms rising in groceries, bodegas, and even vending machines in years ahead.

Image courtesy Krown Design.

Image courtesy Krown Design.

Elsewhere in the rhetorical food aisle, FAROUT has explored how flavor company Sentient’s ClearTaste taps mushrooms to counter bitterness, thus offering brands a natural alternative to sugar. And plant-based and cell-based companies are looking toward mushrooms to help fill out their products’ flavor, texture and structure.  In essence, mycelium, the mushrooms’ strong, fibrous root system, is used as a scaffolding around which the meat is grown or structured.  

And mushrooms are germinating new sustainable fashions, too. Our friends at NEFFA continue to tap mycelium to weave sustainable and biodegradable fabrics, while Bolt Threads, best known for synthetic spider silk, is perfecting a mycelium-based leather.

Also, if you’re in need of an accessory, the Indonesian brand PALA Nusantara recently launched mushroom-based watches. It’s about time!

In terms of packaging, the wellness brand Haeckels uses a blend of sawdust, flax, and mycelium to grow biodegradable containers for their upscale candles and oils. Customers are then encouraged to plant the packaging as a “bio-contribution” back to the planet. And the brand Ecovative also creates mushroom-based packaging that can be tossed without worry. Something of a valedictorian in the space, Ecovative recently created a new company, Atlast, to pursue the mushroom-meets-meat method above. And they’ve also created MycoBoard, which can be used to create furniture, walls, and even cabinets.

Speaking of furniture and other domestic accoutrement: vanguard designer Phil Ross and his team at California’s Mycoworks grow earthen-hued chairs, bricks and other pieces through a blend of mycelium, corn husks, and saw dust, while London-based Sebastian Cox employs mycelium and woodchips to create small stools and lampshades. 

In the Netherlands, the fabulous Krown Design taps mycelium ice boxes, sculptures, coasters, and lamps. They also sell GIY [Grow It Yourself] kits so you too can experience the wonder of sprouting your own eco-friendly products. (We’ll be interviewing Krown designer Jan Berbee in the weeks ahead; stay tuned!)

Image by Marco Beck Peccoz, courtesy Carlo Ratti.

Image by Marco Beck Peccoz, courtesy Carlo Ratti.

On a larger scale, Italian architect Carlo Ratti teamed with the energy company Eni and the aforementioned Krown to erect “The Circular Garden,” a series of arches made from mycelium. Executed specifically for Milan Design Week, the pieces were shredded once the show closed, but the lessons remain: “Nature is a much smarter architect than us,” said Ratti. “As we continue our collective quest for a more responsive ‘living’ architecture, we will increasingly blur the boundaries between the worlds of the natural and the artificial. What if tomorrow we might be able to program matter to ‘grow a house’ like a plant?” 

Cleveland, Ohio’s Redhouse Architecure is doing just that. Sort of. Via a process they call “biocycling,” they tear down derelict homes, blend the debris with mycelium, and use the result to create new, stronger, and more sustainable structures they believe will solve the global housing crisis. 

And if there’s one fungus that can do it, it’s the mighty mushroom!