Lately, I've been checking out some awesome mushroom chocolate, reading the labels carefully.
We are living in what I call a “reading the labels” movement that has left us all, as you guessed it, reading every label for every food item we buy.
Hey, I’m not complaining because while it’s tiring for some people, for others like myself grocery shopping has become a consciousness-raising adventure to find the highest quality foods our body-temples deserve.
One result of the health food explosion over the past 25 years is that it has created a hyper-competitive quest for labels to contain the purest ingredients humanly possible. And what was once mundane grocery store shopping is now something between a fact-finding mission and a university-level biology class.
And while there is no definition to be placed in the enviable “superfood” category, one organic compound sticks out in both the modern and ancient context for all-around human health: edible wild mushrooms.
Used in traditional Chinese medicine and throughout Asia for at least the past 2000 years for their anti-aging, anti-carcinogenic, immune and energy boosting qualities, mushrooms in the Western medicinal context is finally moving from the exotic into the everyday. And no, hallucinogenic mushrooms need not be placed in the context of “everyday”.
Nutrient-packed mushrooms with healing qualities can be absorbed into the cookbooks of almost any cultural cuisine in creative and utterly satisfying ways. One of these is combining mushroom extracts with cacao to produce a chocolate bar that shoots into the stratosphere in terms of health benefits.
Mushroom chocolate bar
Most people associate chocolate with the delectable, sugary treat reserved for after a meal or as an all-too frequent guilty pleasure.
The root ingredients of chocolate - cacao powder, sugar and milk - provide an opportune medium for adding a potent, medicinal mushroom extract that results in an all-around nutritional snack and even a pre- or post-workout supplement.
Reduce the sugar and milk to a minimum, and the guiltiness of a chocolate or cacao bar nearly disappears.
Just like when three of four great musicians from your favorite bands get together and form a “supergroup”, mushroom and cacao powders together form a unique team, all depending upon which species of mushroom you use (there are thousands of edible varieties, while around 25 are commercially produced today).
Medicinal mushrooms are a type of fungus that generally grow outdoors, and one of the staples of traditional Asiatic medicine is the reishi mushroom. Known as the “Mushroom of Immortality” or the “divine fungus” the reishi (in Chinese known as lingzhi) is known for its detoxifying effects and at one point was reserved exclusively for the royal class.
There are over 100 varieties of reishi and are most commonly red in color and grown on logs in high mountain forests in Changbai Mountain in Manchuria and Wuyi Mountain in South China. It cannot be consumed in its raw form because it cannot be absorbed into your bloodstream, so must be extracted into a liquid, oil or powder.
Lower grade versions that are sold inexpensively are not derived from the mushroom caps, which are the fruiting body of the mushroom that contain the most nutrients. Instead they are taken from the mycelium of the fungus, which is the branching, thread-like structure that reaches out to other organic material within its vicinity to break down.
10 pounds of mushroom caps yield only 1 pound of powder, so some producers seek to maximize their yield by selling the crushed mycellium which has very little medicinal value. Once again, the research-minded consumer is not only always checking the ingredients, but also where the ingredients come from, and how they are being produced.
As far as health benefits, reishi and most medicinal funguses function as “immune regulators” which normalize the hormonal, cardiovascular, nervous and digestive systems. People who regularly take reishi show a reduction in fatigue and depression because the body’s core processes are working more efficiently and thus prevents nutritional and energetic blockages.
Another key function of reishi is that it greatly enhances the liver’s job of detoxifying harmful substances from the body. By quickly eliminating foreign bacteria and substances we are combating cancerous growths, reducing inflammation and stress, all while easing aches and pains and boosting energy. With these major benefits in mind (with few to no side effects) it should go without saying reishi is greatly prized for its ability to bestow longevity.
This long, tubular, finger-like mushroom is usually brownish orange in color and grown high in the Tibetan Himalayas. It is the most expensive fungus in the world clocking in at whopping $20,000 per kilogram. Because it cannot be produced in a commercially viable manner, 99% of the cordyceps on the market is derived from the mycelium and not the fruiting body of the organism, and grown in a lab on a grain such as rice instead of dead larvae in the wild.
Though more sweet than the bitter-tasting reishi, the commercially grown version has shown to give similar health benefits, most importantly being a boost in energy, heightened athletic performance, focus, and enhanced cognition.
It is a popular substitute for caffeine, but unlike caffeine, which also gives heightened alertness albeit with a crash later on, cordyceps does not bind to receptors in the brain like caffeine. Instead, it increases cellular efficiency by regulating immune responses, which speeds up oxygen uptake to the cells, thereby giving a brightened and energetic disposition. It is known to reduce depression, balances kidney function (and thus blood-sugar levels), and regulates hormonal levels which may be why it has been known to increase libido and has even been used as an aphrodisiac.
Growing in cold northern climates in North America, Siberia and Europe, the chaga mushroom resembles a mass of dirt growing on the side of birch trees. The exterior substance is the mycelium, but inside is the orange fruiting body which is then ground up into the powder and consumed as is or sometimes inserted into capsules.
Chaga shares the immune-modulating, anti-oxidation, and cancer fighting qualities of most medicinal mushrooms, and is a very well-known herbal tea with a dark, earthy and slightly sweet flavor. It has also become popular in recent years as a coffee substitute.
Packed with more anti-oxidants than berries, chaga is yet another great anti-aging mushroom that also promotes healthy hair and skin. It is a popular treatment for dry scalp and general haircare in Mongolia (which has an arid, cold climate perfect for chaga). It is also a particularly beneficial as an amino acid supplement for vegetarians and vegans.
Chocolate mushroom snack
As one can clearly see, mushrooms are an excellent superfood in many important respects, and support a holistic approach for enhancing most of our vital organs and internal ecosystems; this is the perfect, healthy snack.
And since consuming mushrooms as a powder is one of the easiest ways to regularly consume it, mixing it with cacao and turned into a chocolate bar is a solid, satisfying and delicious way to ingest the many nutrients without sacrificing flavor nor the health benefits.