The global mushroom market is projected to jump from $34.1 billion in 2015 to $69.3 billion by the end of 2024 amid growing consumer interest in functional foods and food as medicine, according to Transparency Market Research figures reported by Food Navigator.
As a result, many companies are looking to include the ingredient in all types of products, including foods, beverages, and even as a natural preservative. An example of the latter is the recent $2 million seed funding round raised by Chinova Bioworks. It has developed proprietary technology using mushroom-based chitosan, a natural fiber said to be effective as a natural preservative and against a broad spectrum of microorganisms.
Sandra Carter, co-founder of Om Mushrooms, told Food Navigator that the addition of mushrooms to products that consumers are willing to eat or drink has increased demand for the ingredient. Still, she said, mushrooms face hurdles that are holding back growth — most notably awareness of mushrooms such as the varieties that are available and the benefits they offer.
Consumers are increasingly seeing mushrooms as beneficial ingredients due to their functional health claims. In addition to their adaptability to different dishes and flavors, mushrooms are considered a superfood because of their nutrient profile. They contain the soluble fiber beta glucan, which scientists say can help bolster the immune system. They have virtually no fat or cholesterol and contain B vitamins, as well as selenium and potassium. Mushrooms also are easy to add to products, whether they're included in beverages such as lemonade, cider, or coffee, or made into snack chips or other food products.
Big Food companies have noted the mushroom's potential and are putting money behind the ingredient. Last fall, Kellogg invested through its VC arm in MycoTechnology, a Colorado firm making vegan shiitake mushroom-based protein. General Mills also invested $3 million in Purely Elizabeth, a company that uses functional mushroom powder in its wellness bars to increase energy, vitality and immunity. Another smaller mushroom company, Four Sigmatic, includes them in coffees, elixirs, lemonade and super blends of various mushrooms.
Now a fiber ingredient which is part of the mushroom can apparently be used as a natural preservative and an anti-microbial. According to AgFunder, while chitosan’s antimicrobial properties are known, its effectiveness as a natural preservative has been limited. Chinova Bioworks' technology can produce chitosan with the molecular characteristics to be as effective as traditional synthetic preservatives yet remain a completely natural product.
There don't seem to be any limitations on the growth of mushroom applications, although the "ick" factor may occasionally raise its head with some consumers. But since the ingredient is typically used in powder form — or vacuum-fried in the case of the snack chips — that shouldn't be as big an issue as it might be with fresh or dried mushrooms. As long as mushrooms in their various forms deliver on wellness and other claims, their popularity and continued variety of applications seems assured.