On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

A Mushroom-based Coffee Alternative

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am at a conference about food and cookware, and one chef was leading a discussion on the topic of eating meat. She said that most of the meat we eat is muscle -- for example, steak is cow muscle. During a subsequent conversation, I brought up this subject and another chef immediately disagreed, saying that we are eating the “fleshy part,” whatever that is. (There was no time for any follow-up questions or requests for clarity.) Would you be so kind as to elaborate a little? -- W.L., via email

DEAR W.L.: Steak and other “muscle meats” do come from the muscle tissue of an animal. “Flesh,” as it refers to meat, can mean soft tissue such as muscle, but also fat or organs such as the liver or kidneys. But keep in mind that “flesh,” as a generic term, can refer to animal tissues in general. Hope this helps.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I was in a natural foods store looking for an alternative to regular coffee. I was told about “ganoderma,” which is made from an extract of ganoderma lucidum -- a concentration of six species of red mushroom. The plus side, as it was explained to me, is that it has excellent nutritional benefits and the flavor of coffee, but with a minimum of caffeine. I am having a difficult time finding much information on ganoderma. While this supplement was flavorful, I would like to know more about what I am ingesting. -- S.C., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

DEAR S.C.: Ganoderma lucidum is the Latin name for a species of reishi mushroom. This mushroom has long been used in Chinese medicine, and other natural medicine traditions, for enhancing the immune system. I have heard of the reishi being taken as a tea or dried as a dietary supplement, but have not tried it roasted as a coffee substitute.

Some thoughts: Mushrooms are complex organisms, and there are many different species. Some types have wonderful culinary uses, while others contain components that have medical effects. And there are a small number of mushrooms that contain powerful toxins. As is often the case with naturally occurring compounds, there can be variations from harvest to harvest. All this translates to a lot of unknowns about the precise identification and level of active ingredients.

Then there are the issues of changes that could take place during roasting. The product is being touted as providing benefits from the fresh mushroom, but is there evidence that the substances in the whole mushroom remain efficacious after roasting? If there are active ingredients, are there possible interactions with health conditions, medications or other dietary supplements?

Finally, if this is to become your regular breakfast beverage, are there issues with chronic usage? All this might come across as overly cautious, but it makes sense to have a cup of consideration when something new is being tossed into the mix. Coffee has had its popularity ups and downs (we are currently in an “up” phase), but its components are well-studied, and it’s been around for a while.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.