Discussing mushroom benefits and standardization with Sempera Organics: SupplySide East 2023


Nirmal Nair, founder and CEO of Sempera Organics sits down with Nutritional Outlook at SupplySide East 2023 to discuss the many benefits of mushrooms and the importance of standardization.

Interview transcript:

Nutritional Outlook: What are some popular mushrooms and their health benefits?

Nirmal Nair, founder and CEO of Sempera Organics: So, there are many mushrooms that are now quite popular, depending upon the condition, specific needs and age demographics. But three mushrooms that come to mind: first one would be lion's mane, second is reishi and then cordyceps. As far as the health benefits for which they are known and a lot of research has been done, lion's mane goes into the cognition. There are bioactives in lion’s mane that help with nerve growth function. So, people are using it for mental alertness and it's being tested for other health benefits related to cognition.

Reishi, it's called the mushroom of immortality in in China and that's all about giving rest. So deep sleep is one of the key benefits with reishi, and cordyceps have got bioactives that help with performance. So, used by a lot of athletes and now people have started using it as part of their daily habit to give that extra pep through their day and you're seeing it getting included with in beverages for example.

NO: Are consumers actively seeking mushroom products or are they more interested in condition specific benefits?

NN: Our understanding, having spoken to a lot of consumers and manufacturers, is that what really resonates is the targeted end benefit. So, nobody's getting up in the morning and saying I want to eat some reishi mushroom.They start becoming aware and what they really are saying is I want to sleep well, I want to have energy during the day, or I want to be alert.

It is condition specific. That's what draws them in first, and of course they want to know what's behind it.And that's when they learn about all of these mushrooms andthey'll go form the bond and the association.

NO: How do you maximize the health benefits of mushrooms during the growing process and extraction?

NN: Yeah, this is an excellent question. What we have done is really paid attention to why peopleare consuming mushrooms in the first place. Yes, we know about the bioactives. All those bioactives are locked up primarily in large molecules called beta glucans inside the mushrooms. They are attached to the cell walls and so what we are doing is standardizing our mushroom ingredients, whether they're powders or blends or extracts in terms of how much of thatbioactive containers the beta glucans are available. So that is a key part, that when you purchase or when a brand uses these mushroom ingredients is how much of the bioactives are available. And within the beta glucans, there are the actual bioactives, like cordycepin when it comes to cordyceps or hericenones when it comes to lion's mane, which needs to be measured and that is the direction that we are taking: standardization on those and then making sure that they are at guaranteed levels to have the right target benefit.

How mushrooms are grown and then processedhave a lot to do with what's in them. So, every manufacturer like us and others produce a certificate of analysis that shows what's in it. Things to look out for is product quality in terms of what it should not have, which is heavy metals, insecticides, pesticides, you know, microbials, things that come in the way of getting it into people's bodies. So, we pay a lot of attention to that. We have a clean farm. We maintain our own genetics, which are all DNA tested and therefore we know what's going into the final product that gets delivered to delivered to brands.

Then of course the key part is standardization on the bioactives, making sure the moisture level is correct, so the shelf life is preserved. So, these are all extremely important things to watch out for when coming to a decision of what quality of the product to have when it comes to mushroom ingredients.

NO: What is the fruiting body and what is the mycelium, and why is it important to include both in an extract?

NN: So there is a lot of debateonline and people talk about fruiting bodies versus mycelium.I sometimes feel that this debate is as old as the hills.The truth is, fruiting bodies and mycelium are intrinsically part of the same organism.

What we call mushrooms, technically, scientists call it fungi. Fruiting body is what you see that comes above the ground.It is actually the reproductive state of the fungi, the part that is underneath. Inside the substrate that you don't see is called the mycelium. And fungi, interestingly, the cell structure is the same whether it is a mycelium or fruiting body. What's different is, based on various characteristics, the bioactives will be not exactly the same.

The simple answer to what seemslike a complicated question is both are advantageous to have and our product offerings contain both the fruiting body and mycelium. Fruiting bodies have been definitely known for a much longer period because people would harvest [them] in the wild and all they see is what comes out of the ground, but mycelium is increasingly being investigated because now it's possible to grow it on substrates and not come in the way of digestion or putting it into your body, and we believe by the research that has come out that both have very valuable bioactives and so the answer is not one is better or the other is better. They both aregood and we have both in our product. So we believe we are able to deliver the best value to the consumer.

NO: What are some challenges to formulating with mushroom extract? Are some dosage formats easier than others?

NN: So. it depends upon a lot of factors, but let's start with organoleptics; taste. So, when people eat something, taste is the first thing that comes to mind and if it doesn't taste good, it's not going to stick.If it tastes great, it could become a habit, right?

Some mushrooms, because they're medicinal, might have some bitter tones, and therefore it is less likely to be used in a manner where it will get to the tongue first. For those kind of mushrooms, mushroom ingredients, a capsule would be a form factor because youdon't get to taste it on its way down.

For the ones that it doesn't matter, gummies are a great alternative. Sometimes taste can be masked with what else is going with, so that is why we're going to start seeing applications around functional food and beverage like mushroom. Coffee is a very fast-growing category because it blends really well.

The other factor is dosage, how much, right.Where there is a recommended dosage, about two grams of a mushroom ingredient, which is standardized to a high level of beta glucans per serving, those two grams can be blended nicely with other ingredients like coffee or chocolate or a mixture of couple of other taste-based ingredients. And it makes drinking or eating that particular product easy.

So those are the big things. Capsules are clearly most popular by volume, gummies are coming up, but we think that the big opportunity is actually in the functional food and beverage space.

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