Adaptogen Guide for Foodservice Pros
Hungry for food-and-beverage industry news? Then adapt yourself – and your restaurant menus – to the following ingredients and latest buzz words in the biz. If you haven’t yet heard of amla, ashwagandha, ginseng, maca, maitake, holy basil, and cordyceps, it’s time to evolve and learn all you can about adaptogens and adaptogenic herbs.
They may be new to the U.S. market, but adaptogens are actually ancient herbs and roots that – as their name suggests – help the body ‘adapt’ to a wide range of stressors and events. Used for millennium in Ayurveda healing and in traditional Chinese medicine, adaptogens are now being infused into coffees, teas, juices, power bars, chocolate bars, chewing gum, gummy bears, granola, soups, salad dressings, and even burgers. Available as powders, liquid extracts, or consumed raw as part of a meal, today’s wellness-seeking consumers are gobbling up the goods and chefs, restaurant owners, and suppliers are updating their ingredient lists to include these super-herbs.
So, what exactly do adaptogens offer your customers? The number one purported benefit of the revitalizing plants is stress relief, followed by a large serving of adaptogen benefits that include: helping regulate emotional states and hormonal responses, restoring homeostasis (overall balance), facilitating sleep, improving brain function, supporting fertility, boosting immunity, enhancing endurance, and more. In a nutshell, adaptogenics are a natural means of helping the body cope with any number of physical, chemical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors. And for a consumer base that is thirsting for products that help them calm down, perk up, and achieve optimum health and happiness, adding adaptogens to your restaurant’s menu may be the perfect recipe for modern-day business success.
This was certainly the case for Project Juice, the organic cold-pressed juice and clean foods company, which in 2017 hit pay-dirt by adding adaptogen lattes to its menu. In the words of Project Juice co-founder Marra St. Clair: “Adaptogens are more than just an on-trend buzzword. These super-herbs have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to support healthy adrenals and to help maintain balance across all bodily systems. Now, we’re making it easy and delicious to get Adaptogens in your morning latte, to achieve the ultimate goal of having our guests leave feeling awesome.”
And lattes are not the only place adaptogenic herbs are appearing. Here is a taste of some of the latest food and beverage industry news:
- “Flavor of the Week: Moringa Emerges as New Superfood“: The National Restaurant Association reports that adaptogenic powders are gaining traction with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
- Adaptogenic herbs have been debuting across the Natural Products Expo West show floor in products such as ready-to-drink beverages that contain cordyceps, chaga, reshi, and lion’s mane, chocolate made with maca root and reishi, and multiple coffee and tea brands where adaptogens are added in powder form. The herbs have also become synonymous with the sports-nutrition world, where ashwagandha in particular is a featured ingredient, promising to boost energy and alertness levels and support the body during rigorous workouts.
- NEXT Data & Insights reports that 75% of innovations in the beverage sector involve adaptogens, while the American Botanical Council (ABC) estimates a 25% boom in ashwagandha sales alone during 2018.
- Four Sigmatic has been adding functional mushrooms to their products, while Rebbl’s has successfully launched adaptogen-infused beverages such as Matcha Latte, Maca Mocha, Maca Cold-Brew Coffee, and Golden Milk with Turmeric.
Most Popular Adaptogens
You may be wondering what are some of the most widely recognized consumable adaptogenic varieties, and what are their respective claims to fame?
The following information can help you choose herbs, roots, bark, and seeds to add to your customers’ favorite dishes, desserts, and drinks. Keep in mind that there are scores of adaptogens that can be consumed, each of which boasts a rich history and unique taste.
Ashwagandha: By far the most prolific adaptogen on the market, the ashwagandha root, aka Indian ginseng or water cherry, is a member of the nightshade plant family (a distant relative to eggplant and tomato). Used for thousands of years, it is best known for its anti-anxiety, stress-reducing, sleep-enhancing properties (i.e. ashwagandha is often added to moon milk for an extra dose of zzz’s…). Rich in iron, it was used in ancient times to support women experiencing heavy periods and as a uterine tonic for women suffering a miscarriage.
Today, the ashwagandha root is typically turned into edible powders and tinctures. It continues to be used to support fertility, to boost the immune system, and to improve endurance.
Cordyceps, Reishi, Chaga, Lion’s Mane: These functional mushrooms have been a core of healing for ages, known for their rich antioxidant content and inflammation-reducing, immunity-boosting properties. They also promote youthful-looking skin by reducing dermal oxidation. Cordyceps has gained a reputation as an overall energizer, athletic performance booster, and fatigue-combater due to its beta-glucan content.
Amla: Also known as Indian gooseberry and amalaki, amla is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants and continues to be used to support liver health, enhance memory, promote youthfulness, and increase resistance to disease.
Eleuthero: This is one adaptogen you definitely want to add to your recipes if you have customers who work long hours or in mega-stressful jobs. A gentle, soothing herb, eleuthero promotes quality sleep, supports heart health during stressful times, boosts the immune system, and helps reduce the incidence of colds and other ailments. For these reasons, it has a reputation for being ‘elderly friendly’ and is recommended for people recovering from chronic illnesses and surgery. The benefits of eleuthero have also been noticed by the sports-and-wellness sector where the adaptogen is increasingly being used by athletes to improve endurance, reduce recovery times, and support the body during intense training.
Holy Basil: A staple of Ayurvedic diets and medicine for over 3,000 years, Holy Basil is one of India’s most potent herbs. Also called tulsi, it is a member of the mint family and is most commonly consumed in the form of tulsi tea, which has a long history of consumption to ease stomach upsets, alleviate nausea, and as an expectorant for bronchitis. Health practitioners continue to recommend Holy Basil for issues related to the nervous system, for recovery from physical traumas, and as part of a treatment for depression.
Maca: Maca, a root vegetable grown in Peru, grows in eight different varieties, each of which boasts a slightly different nutritional profile. Full of vitamins and minerals, it has traditionally been used as an aphrodisiac and is currently available in the U.S. in dried, powdered form.
Rhodiola: Did you know that the ancient Vikings consumed Rhodiola before raids and that cosmonauts on the Russian Space Station used it to elevate their moods while floating in space? Now an official Russian pharmaceutical used to treat depression and the nervous system, this adaptogen is said to boost immunity and enhance mental and physical stamina. In fact, studies published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research demonstrate that amateur cyclists who consumed rhodiola finished a six-mile ride faster than a placebo group and also completed their warm-up race with lower heart rates.
Mucuna Pruriens: Dubbed the ‘dopamine bean,’ this adaptogen is actually the seed of an African legume (mucuna pruriens) that contains up to 6.1% of L-DOPA, the precursor to vital neurotransmitters such as dopamine and adrenaline. Its primary benefits are reducing psychological stress.
Tocos: High in vitamin A, this powdered adaptogen, derived from rice bran, serves not only as a non-dairy creamer but consumers sing its praises as a shortcut to healthier, better-looking skin.
Why Adaptogens are Trending
Why are ancient herbs, roots, and plants trending in 2019? The fact is that there could not be a better fit between what consumers are seeking and what adaptogens are providing. As noted by Kartikeya Baldwa, director and CEO of Ixoreal Biomed Inc., an Ashwagandha manufacturer: “Consumers are monitoring what they eat much more carefully. They are looking not only at what kind of ingredients are in their products, they are also looking at what is not there—for instance, pesticides and GMOs….Consumers are increasingly showing a preference for foods that are closer to nature, more transparent, less artificial, less chemically processed.” He adds: “For several years now…consumers are increasingly looking for functional benefits like stress relief, brain health, endurance, strength, recovery, and sexual function. Ashwagandha has been traditionally used for many of these functions.”
Adaptogens and Clean Label
As foodservice providers keep in mind that the fact that adaptogens have been used for many years is not always enough to satisfy modern consumers who are demanding evidence and validation in support of food producers’ claims. Clean labels that authenticate ingredients are in demand and it is up to you to present scientific data and evidence in a manner that is straight forward and easy to understand. You can cater to your restaurant’s customers and keep yourself out of legal hot water by ensuring the quality of the ingredients your chefs are using. Although many of the trending adaptogens are not yet regulated by the FDA, the importance of supply chain integrity remains a priority.
Maca Root Smoothie Recipe
Finally, as we wrap up this Adaptogen Guide for Foodservice Pros, here is a delicious smoothie recipe featuring the popular maca root for your customers to enjoy.
- 2 cups spinach
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1/2 frozen banana
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 tsp. maca powder
- 1 tsp. matcha or protein powder
- 1 tsp. honey (optional)
- Handful of ice
- Using a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.
- Slurp and savor!