Chaga Mushrooms: The King of Mushrooms

Chaga is a mushroom type that grows on birch trees and is immensely popular for its health properties. Read on to learn more about chaga and why it’s called the “king of mushrooms”.

What are Chaga Mushrooms?

Chaga mushroom is a type of parasitic fungus, called Inonotus obliquus, that’s found commonly on birch trees. Chaga belongs to the fungus family Hymenochaetaceae and looks like a patch of decayed wood or burnt charcoal attached to the bark of birch trees. However, it can also be found on the branches of oak, poplar, beech, and alder trees, although less often. Chaga mushrooms grow best in cold climates like Siberia, Northern Europe, Russia, Northern Canada, Korea, and the Northern United States. The conk, or woody growth, of chaga mushroom grows as long as 10 to 15 inches. This strange-looking mushroom is also known as cinder conk, black mass, birch canker polypore, and sterile conk trunk rot of birch.

Flavor of Chaga Mushrooms

Chaga mushrooms are very different in taste and texture than other mushrooms you may find at a grocery store. The taste of chaga is best explained as earthy and umami coupled with a bitter undertone. Many people find its flavor similar to coffee, vanilla, and chocolate. 

The texture of chaga is somewhat hard, rock-like, porous, and crumbly at the same time. The exterior looks like a brittle coal crust while the interior is soft, golden-brown, and cork-like in appearance. Unlike other mushrooms, chaga cannot be eaten as it is, and must undergo the process of extraction to be edible. 

Image Credit: Flickr user  Distant Hill GardensCC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

Health Benefits of Chaga

Chaga is packed with antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins, and is often called the “king of mushrooms” owing to its many health benefits. Chaga is known to offer a cure for almost any disease in the world and has been used in Russian traditional medicine for centuries. It’s especially been administered as a medicinal herbal tea for boosting immunity and combating diabetes, cancer, and heart diseases. Although many of these claims are unproven, many people believe that chaga mushrooms reduce stress, prevent inflammation, and promote overall health. Chaga is low in calories, high in fiber, and surprisingly doesn’t contain caffeine, making it an ideal ingredient for tea.

What is Chaga Used For?

Chaga is usually found in chunks or powdered forms that are mostly utilized in hot or cold beverages. Chaga tea, chaga coffee, chaga smoothie, and chaga hot chocolate are popular drinks. The chaga powder or chunks are brewed in hot water to extract the flavor, and nutrients from chaga. The brewed chaga liquid is then leveraged into drinks, desserts, and sometimes savory recipes. 

Although chaga-infused drinks can be savored on their own, they may not be as pleasing to your palate. It’s recommended to add herbs, spices, and sweeteners like honey, and maple syrup into chaga drinks for a more balanced flavor. Chaga is also leveraged into sweet dishes like cakes, muffins, cookies, and ice cream. Owing to its multiple health benefits, chaga is added to soups to further elevate their nutrition. Try adding chaga-infused hot water into mushroom-based dishes such as creamy mushroom soup and butternut squash soup for a super healthy meal.  

Image Credit: Flickr user  WILLPOWER STUDIOS ( CC BY 2.0 )

Where to Find Chaga Mushrooms?

Chaga mushrooms can be found in multiple forms: powdered, chunks, tincture, syrup, and even supplements. However, chaga chunks and powdered chaga are widely available at the herbal tea section of local grocery stores. While some chaga tea brands use only original chaga mushrooms, many feature them in combination with herbs, plant extracts, and even other mushrooms. If you’re unable to find chaga mushrooms at your grocery store, you can always order them online.

Feature Image: Bluebird Provisions from Pixabay 

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