Brain Powder

A pair of chocolatiers are marrying their love of cacao with the health benefits of ancient mushrooms to create tasty new ways to dissipate the morning fog

Cru Chocolate's trio of adaptogenic mushroom-and-cacao powders

Cru Chocolate's trio of adaptogenic mushroom-and-cacao powders

Photo by Curtis Yee

In the world of natural health supplements, adaptogens—a category of herbs fittingly said to “adapt” to the needs of the body and the brain—are exploding in popularity. HuffPost just named them one of the biggest food trends for 2020, and Psychology Today recently wrote, “They can make you less anxious, less stressed and less depressed. Flipping the coin, they can make you more optimistic, full of energy and motivated.”

One particularly popular adaptogen is a powdered version of certain kinds of mushrooms. The problem: they can be bitter. Very bitter. That’s where Karla McNeil-Rueda and Eddie Houston of Cru Chocolate come in. Last year, adding to their range of sweet chocolates, the health-conscious couple (McNeil-Rueda has been taking mushroom supplements for years to help boost her immune system) launched a line of mushroom-based adaptogenic powders using cacao beans sourced from small farms in Nicaragua to cut the sharp taste of the organic mushrooms they import from China, where the medicinal properties of fungi have been tapped for thousands of years.

The result, when mixed with hot water, is a drink that you can leisurely sip to get a boost of energy in lieu of the jolt of coffee (the cacao used contains very little caffeine). Cru is careful to not make any health claims, but anecdotal evidence abounds that such elixirs made with certain mushrooms—in the chocolate company’s case, varietals known as chaga, lion’s mane and reishi—can increase focus and concentration while relieving stress (some caffeine fiends also combine the powder with their coffee or tea to help calm the jitters that come with the stimulant). McNeil-Rueda also says that the natural fat content in cacao aids absorption of the mushrooms’ beneficial qualities into your body and brain.

Cru, which operates out of the couple’s Roseville home kitchen, also blends in spices like cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg to fill out the flavor profile of the sugar-free concoctions. “With hot water, they taste like black coffee or black tea,” says McNeil-Rueda. “The concept of [consuming] chocolate with a different purpose is becoming very popular. We want people to see chocolate not as a candy, but as a food or a drink.”

Their biggest challenge with the new product? “With mushrooms, people think they’re going to trip out or see things,” she says, explaining there’s no connection to the hallucinogenic form. That said, if you’re looking for a healthier alternative to coffee, Cru’s adaptogenic powders just might help you see mushrooms in a whole—and holistic—new way. $30 per jar. cruchocolate.com