Black Fungus: (Auricularia polytricha) see illustration. Also known as cloud ear; tree ear; wood fungus, mouse ear, and jelly mushroom. It grows rapidly on a variety of woods including mango and kapok and is very similar to another fungus called Jew’s ear (A. auricula). Some say the smaller cloud ear or mouse ear has a more delicate flavour than the larger wood ear.
It is mostly sold dried but is also available fresh. In its fresh form (or after the dried fungus has been reconstituted by soaking in water) it is easy to see how it derives its rather fanciful names. The frilly, brownish clumps of translucent tissue with a little imagination resemble the delicate curls of the human ear or billowing clouds. In the case of tiny mouse ear fungus, the rounded shapes which result when it is soaked are amusingly similar to those observed on the heads of Mickey Mouse and his Mouseketeers!
Wood fungus is prized in Chinese cuisine for its crunchy texture and therefore added to dishes only for the last few minutes of cooking. Delightful in salads, soups and stir-fries, it has no flavour of its own, but absorbs the seasonings it is cooked with.
Purchasing and storing: In its dried form there is a choice between the small variety which looks like flakes of greyish-black paper; or the larger variety which, even in its dried state, measures about 5-8cm (2-3 in) across and is black on one side, grey or beige on the other. After soaking, these need to be sliced into strips. All dried fungi keep well if stored airtight.
Preparation: Fungus must be soaked in warm water prior to use (15 minutes for small, 30 minutes for large). It swells to many times its size. After soaking, the fungus is rinsed thoroughly and trimmed of the tough, gritty part where it was attached to the wood. Then, particularly if using the large variety, it is cut into pieces of a suitable size and shape before adding to a dish.
Medicinal uses: Black fungus has a reputation in Chinese herbal medicine for increasing the fluidity of the blood and improving circulation. It is given to patients who suffer from atherosclerosis. Western medicine is now investigating centuries-old claims made by Eastern sages and finding them surprisingly accurate.
Burma: kyet neywet
China: mo-ei; wun yee
Indonesia: kuping jamu
Malaysia: kuping tikus, cendawan telinga kera
Thailand: hed hunu
Benefits of Black Fungus
A plate of dried black fungus.
Black fungus, or Auricularia polytricha, is sometimes known as wood ear, cloud ear, Judas ear or tree ear. It is a mushroom that is dark brown to black and native to Asia and some Pacific islands with humid climates, according to the Mycological Society of San Francisco. It is edible and often used in Asian cooking. It is a beneficial herb in helping with health issues by treating the lungs, stomach and liver, according to the Institute of Chinese Medicine.
The Mycological Society of San Francisco states that black fungus has a chemical that inhibits blood clotting, and because heart attacks, strokes and blood vessel diseases are linked to clotting, this fungus may improve circulation. Veg for Life also states that it contains anticoagulant substances that act like blood thinners, similar to that of aspirin.
Black fungus may lower cholesterol and blood sugar, according to the Sierra Club Pro website. Laboratory testing in mice found that this type of fungus had a hypoglycemic effect on obese mice. Serum LDL cholesterol levels were reduced by 24 percent in the mice tested.
Due to the ability of black fungus to help with blood circulation, it is also useful in helping with hemorrhoids, according to Chinese Medicine Gem. It has a cooling effect on the blood, promoting circulation and treating bruises, which may be why it is used to treat hemorrhoids.
Black fungus is beneficial to people suffering from dryness, such as a dry throat, cough or mouth, according to the Institute of Chinese Medicine. It is thought to moisten the blood and promote circulation, which alleviates conditions associated with dryness.
According to Veg For Life, black fungus contains the trace mineral germanium, which has anti-viral and anti-tumor effects. Germanium is also known to energize the body, which is why it is useful as an herb that fights off viruses.
In Chinese medicine, herbs such as black fungus are used to promote positive emotions and help with feelings of isolation, fear and insecurity, according to a Pacific College of Oriental Medicine article. Black fungus is thought to help people resist hunger, help with uterine bleeding, gonorrhea and intestinal issues, according to Chinese Medicine Gem.
The Nutritional Benefits of Wood Ear Mushrooms
Wood ear mushrooms in a bowl on a patio table
With their thin, gray-brown to black color and rubbery texture, wood ear mushrooms are not like your standard white or brown mushrooms. With no caps or stems, the wood ear mushroom, which is sometimes called cloud ear, tree ear or black fungus, is most commonly sold dried and is popular in Asian cooking. You can reconstitute dried mushrooms and then add them to soups, stir fries or even in salads. Their crunchy texture and dark, velvety color add an unusual element to even the most basic dish.
Calories, Macronutrients and Sodium
A 1-cup serving of wood ear mushrooms has only 80 calories and a negligible amount of fat — less than 1 gram — per 1-cup serving. This, plus the 2.6 grams of protein per 1-cup serving make wood ear mushrooms a high protein, low-calorie vegetable. Adult women should consume 46 grams of protein per day and adult men should consume 56 grams of protein per day, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since wood ear mushrooms do not contain sugar and have only 10 milligrams of sodium per serving, keep your wood ear mushroom dish healthy by restricting the amount of added fat and sodium you use when cooking a dish made with wood ear mushrooms. The daily upper limit for sodium consumption is 2,300 milligrams per day, and only 1,500 milligrams per day for adults who are over 51 years of age, who have a history of cardiovascular disease or who are African American.
Rich in Dietary Fiber
Wood ear mushrooms have a high dietary fiber content. A 1-cup serving of wood ear mushrooms has 19.6 grams of dietary fiber. This is more than half the minimum recommended dietary intake for adults, which ranges from 21 to 38 grams per person per day. You should ingest 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1000 calories consumed, states Colorado State University. This means that consuming 2 cups of wood ear mushrooms per day would provide between 100 to 200 percent of your recommended dietary intake for fiber.
High in Iron
Iron is an essential mineral you need to make blood cells. Iron is required to produce a number of proteins in your body, two of which are hemoglobin and myoglobin. These proteins carry oxygen throughout your body. A lack of iron can lead to anemia, which includes symptoms of fatigue, weakness and dizziness. The recommended intake for adult men and women over age 51 is 8 milligrams per day. For adult women 50 years old and under, the recommendation is 18 milligrams per day. A 1-cup serving of wood ear mushrooms has 1.7 milligrams of iron, which is between 9 and 21 percent of the daily recommendation.
Free-Radical Busting Vitamin B-2
Vitamin B-2, also known as riboflavin, provides support to your immune system and improves your body’s ability to tolerate stress. You also need riboflavin to convert carbohydrates into glucose to fuel your body, and it keeps your hair, skin, eyes and liver functioning and healthy. As an antioxidant, vitamin B-2 protects your body from the damage of free radical build-up, which may cause premature aging or increase your chance of developing cancer and heart disease. Free radicals are formed when your body breaks down food. A 1-cup serving of wood ear mushroom has 0.24 milligrams of vitamin B-2. The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin B-2 is between 1.1 and 1.6 milligrams. A single serving of wood ear mushrooms provides 15 to 22 percent of the RDA of vitamin B-1.