A new group of functional foods: Adaptogens

With a world that is changing with an ever increasing speed, our diets and eating habits are in constant evolution too. Modern agricultural technology and logistics have created a wealth of different foods in the supermarkets for us to choose from. This abundance gives us previously unknown amounts of freedom in creating our own unique diet. This makes diets found in the West increasingly susceptible for trends, both local and global.

Parallel to this, the food and nutrition sciences have been gathering huge amounts of data on the effect of food on our bodies. Even though causal relations are often very hard to prove in this, we now know that the food we eat has enormous effects on our health, mood, energy levels and much much more. You not only are what you eat, but also feel, live and work like you eat.

Slowly but surely, this knowledge is dissipating from the university labs into our kitchens, affecting the choices we make. Especially younger generations (Millenials & Gen Z) are increasingly interested in food that’s good for them, leaving the unhealthy favorites of their parents for what they are. This creates demand for new and healthy products, an opportunity that clever entrepreneurs are more than willing to take. The result is an inexhaustible stream of novel products, custom made to fit the diet and lifestyle of contemporary urban youngsters.

In this context, the rise of functional foods doesn’t come as a surprise. Functional foods are products in which one or more components are added or removed to increase their nutritional value. Well known examples are products that are sugar-free, contain added vitamins or anti-oxidants, or are rich in omega fatty acids, probiotics or fibres. An interesting new addition to these functional foods are products containing a group of substances called adaptogens.

Adaptogens are traditionally used in herbal medicine to support the body’s natural ability to deal with stress. Their name stems from their ability to ‘’adapt’’ their function according to the unique needs of our body, adjusting and calibrating itself depending on our emotional and physical environment. Many benefits have been attributed to this group of herbs (energy regulation, stress reduction, improvement of wellbeing), none of which are currently approved claims by the EFSA. There seems to be a growing interest from the food industry however, which might deem these potent herbs to be interesting additions for their formulations.

The first products containing adaptogens can be found today in the form of drinks, teas and powders. Adaptogens have a functional effect in low concentrations, so there seems to be little restriction preventing their incorporation in many types of food. It will be interesting to see in which products these interesting novel ingredients turn out to be most popular. Only time will tell if this new trend will turn out sustainable or will ends up in the grave yard of hypes and onehitwonders.


Nick van Lanen

Business Development Manager