Adaptogens are foods with properties that help our bodies respond to stress. They’re usually from plants and mushrooms, but the term is often applied to any food believed to help relieve stress. While most adaptogenic ingredients are new to Western culture, they've been used in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine for millennia.
Adaptogens in Our Snacks
Adaptogens are herbs and mushrooms that are believed to support our wellness, both physically and emotionally, if taken daily for several weeks in the quantities that studies show yield results . These ingredients used to only be available in pill form or other powdered mixes as the herbs are typically too bitter to be enjoyed on their own, but in recent years the world of snacking has caught on to the potential benefits of adaptogens. They're now available in everything from popcorn to peanut butter cups, meaning that you can snack more functionally no matter what your favorite treat is.
That said, it's important to note that the quantities of adaptogens in snacks are typically not high enough to be effective; on the other hand, snacks are often high in added sugar (even if it's organic and "natural"), and that can work against stress reduction. So eating too many of these snacks can be problematic.
There are dozens of ingredients that can be considered adaptogens. Some that you may be used to seeing in cooking and the culinary space include turmeric, tulsi (also known as holy basil), and ginger. Here are a few popular adaptogens that you may be less familiar with.
This herb has been used in Ayurveda to help with reducing stress and inflammation, among many other uses.
Rhodiola rosea is a flowering plant that grows in cold, mountainous climates. It's believed to be helpful in fighting fatigue, reducing stress, improving exercise performance, and controlling diabetes.
A Peruvian root revered for its purported ability to increase sex drive in all genders, as well as enhance both fertility and virility, maca has a malty taste that pairs perfectly with chocolate or nuts.
Turkey tail, chaga, lion's mane: these sound more like animals than vegetables, but the category of mushrooms is broad. Mushrooms are used in the hopes of improving athletic performance and immunity. And, it isn't only the niche mushrooms that are believed to have medicinal value. Culinary 'shrooms like maitake and shiitake may have adaptogenic value, too.
Snacking knows no boundaries. A snack can be just the right thing to tide you over between breakfast and lunch, or the perfect way to cap off an evening. These snacks have adaptogens added to offer functionality to the joy of snacking.
Keep in mind that adaptogens are healthful ingredients that are often ground up roots, stems, and other plant parts. They do impact the flavors of the foods they're put in, so you should expect them to be evident in taste.
Women-founded company Sacred Serve crafts vegan gelato out of young coconut meat. They refer to their low sugar, ultra creamy desserts as "handcrafted, healing gelato" for the ingredients used, which include adaptogens like chaga, mucuna, and MCT oil. Enlightened Ice Cream makes popsicles functional by adding a "botanical soothe blend" that includes turmeric and black pepper.
To add function to your crunching, oat free granola brands Lil Bucks and Supernola supercharge their granolas with adaptogens like turmeric, goji berries, reishi, and cacao nibs. Both brands have products in snackable cluster shapes, and lil bucks uses buckwheat--which is actually a seed, not a grain--as a starchy alternative to oats.
Peanut Butter Cups
The Perfect Snacks line of peanut butter cups is about as perfect as the match-made-in-heaven pairing of nut butter and chocolate could get. The cups taste shockingly "normal," yet contain twenty different superfoods, including adaptogenic rose hips. They also offer eight grams of protein per serving, making them a particularly high functioning sweet treat.
Add an "r" to gummies and you've got Grummies, a brand of candies aiming to put the fun in functional snacking. With real fruit flavors and organic sweeteners, these tiny chews aim to make ingesting adaptogens like ashwagandha and turmeric a sweeter task.
Tea, Coffee, and Drink Mixes
To combat fatigue that results from PMS and monthly cycles, De Lune makes tea with eleuthero and schisandra. They add enough peppermint for it to read as a light and pleasant digestive tea. Taika uses adaptogens to balance out the potential jitters of coffee, utilizing theanine, cordyceps, and more.
For those who like to play home mixologist, powdered mixes leave the flavor intensity up to you. Kefla offers a variety of mushroom powders, both with and without CBD, and Goldmine puts the convenience of adaptogens from astragalus to rose hips in one bottle. Nuun includes focus-boosting ginseng in their energy tabs, turning any glass of water into powerful fuel.
Cocktails and Fizzy Drinks
If you'd rather pop a bottle, there's no shortage of options these days. Elements offers the rare non-sparkling adaptogen beverage with therapeutic quantities of ingredients like schisandra and passionflower, while Free Rain tastes more like a functional La Croix. Kin Euphorics has a line of drinks designed to be used as alternative to alcohol, featuring ingredients like reishi and rhodiola.
Should you prefer small scale for your beverages, Vive makes a potent line of juice shots with elderberry and ginger, while Monfefo bottles their high-potency shots in glass. And if your ideal feel-good vibes tend to involve a little alcohol, we've got you covered: Cale herbal wines infuses their low ABV bevvies with herbs like ginseng and reishi, and AfterGlow adds adaptogens such as tart cherry and ginger to their hard kombuchas.
Being keto and vegan wasn't quite enough for IQBar; they also had to add functional ingredients like lion's mane to their sugar free protein bars. R.E.D.D. Bars feature a host of mushrooms, including cordyceps, reishi, and chaga, in their bars, along with prebiotics and probiotics for gut health.
Righteously Raw has been selling their maca chocolate bar since well before the adaptogenic root hit the mainstream. They formulate it into a truffle textured center with a crunchy chocolate shell, all in a convenient bar. Moodygirl adds ashwagandha to their "chill out" bars, and both maca and horny goat weed to their "lover" themed chocolate.
Proving that savory snacks work well with adaptogens too, NatureBox's turmeric black pepper popcorn adds functionality to one of the easiest to eat snacks.
Cooking with Adaptogens
Adaptogens are roots, barks, leaves, and other plant parts that are ground into powders. With the exception of culinary ingredients such as turmeric, MCT oil, and ginger, this ingredient category tends to taste very bitter and medicinal. As such, we don't recommend adding them to your own snack foods recipes.
Where To Buy
You can most often find adaptogens and adaptogenic snacks at health food stores or online marketplaces. We mentioned a number of popular brands above, which you can purchase directly from as well.
Adaptogens are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety or effectiveness. You should ensure the products you use are safe. In order to be effective, adaptogens should be consumed on a daily basis for several weeks, and in the amounts that studies show yield results. It's unlikely that snacks with adaptogens will provide any benefits. On the other hand, snacks are often high in added sugar, which works against stress reduction, so eating too many of these snacks can be problematic.
Adaptogens. VA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation