Black Fungus: What Is It and What Are Its Benefits?

Black fungus isn't associated with any side effects yet it possesses plenty of potential benefits.
Image Credit: Silvia Bogdanski/iStock/Getty Images

Black fungus belongs to the Auricularia family and its scientific name is Auricularia polytricha. It is one of the 10 to 15 different species of mushrooms worldwide and is mainly found in China, according to the University of Tennessee Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Black fungus is also called "cloud ear fungus" or "tree ear fungus" because they look like shriveled ear lobes.

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What Is Black Fungus?

As its name suggests, black fungus is often dark brown or black in color. Black fungus mushrooms have a chewy or jelly-like consistency. They are commonly sold dried but return to their original gelatin-like texture when reconstituted with water.

Black fungus thrives in humid climates where you'll often find it growing on tree trunks and fallen logs, per the University of Tennessee. Auricularia mushrooms are cultivated in China, Hawaii, India and other Asian or Pacific Island countries with a tropical climate.

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These little mushrooms are often used in Asian-style stir-fries and stews. But they're also hailed for their healing properties. Black fungus has been used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine since the 19th century, who relied on it for treating conditions like jaundice and sore throats, according to a June 2019 article published in the ​Journal of Food Quality​.

Black Fungus Nutrition

Cloud ear or black fungus mushrooms are low in calories and fats but, like many other types of mushrooms, they're relatively high in protein and fiber. According to the USDA, a 1-cup serving of dried black fungus mushrooms contains:

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  • 80 calories
  • 0.2 g fat
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 20.4 g carbohydrates
    • 19.6 g fiber
  • 2.6 g protein

Black fungus mushrooms also offer up vitamins and minerals, particularly B vitamins and iron. One cup of dried black fungus mushrooms contains:

  • 18% of the DV for riboflavin
  • 11% of the DV for vitamin B3
  • 3% of the DV for vitamin B5
  • 3% of the DV for folate
  • 2% of the DV for vitamin B6
  • 9% of the DV for iron
  • 6% of the DV for magnesium
  • 4% of the DV for potassium
  • 4% of the DV for phosphorus
  • 3% of the DV for calcium
  • 3% of the DV for zinc

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The Health Benefits of Black Fungus

All types of mushrooms are a healthy addition to any diet. In fact, enjoying a daily serving of mushrooms is an easy way to boost your diet's nutritional quality without adding many extra calories, per a February 2021 study in the journal Food & Nutrition Research.

Research has shown that black fungus mushrooms, in particular, could deliver some valuable benefits.

1. They’re Packed With Fiber

A 1-cup serving of dried black fungus mushrooms serves up a whopping 20 grams of fiber, or around 70 percent of the DV, according to the USDA. (And unlike most foods high in fiber, they're also pretty low in carbohydrates.)

High-fiber diets are known to help promote healthy digestion, lower cholesterol levels, help keep blood sugar in check and make it easier to maintain a healthy weight, according to the Mayo Clinic.

2. They Can Promote a Healthier Gut

Speaking of fiber, mushrooms are rich in polysaccharides, a special type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Prebiotics like polysaccharides help to feed the good bacteria in your gut, which can promote a healthier microbiome overall and potentially ease digestive issues, says the Mayo Clinic.

3. They’re Rich in Antioxidants

All mushrooms, including black fungus mushrooms, are rich in compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids. These compounds are known to exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The direct antioxidant benefits of black fungus mushrooms in humans aren't yet well understood, but one thing is known for sure: Boiling the mushrooms before eating can increase their antioxidant activity even more, according to a February 2019 study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology.

4. They’re a Healthy, Satisfying Alternative to Meat

Mushrooms have a chewy, meaty texture and umami-rich flavor that many people find makes meatless meals more satisfying, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. That makes them a good addition to noodle dishes, soups and stews, veggie kebabs and plant-based burgers.

Just keep in mind that they don't contain nearly as much protein as meat. To ensure your meatless, mushroom-filled meal keeps you full, be sure to add a protein source like beans, tofu or nuts.

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5. They Could Protect Cognitive Health

Higher intakes of mushrooms, in general, seem to have a protective effect on the brain, thanks to their rich antioxidant content.

Older adults who enjoyed 1 ½ cups of cooked mushrooms per week were less likely to develop cognitive impairment compared to those who ate less than one weekly cup of the fungi, found a January 2019 study published in ​The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease​.

6. They're Linked to Protecting Against Cancer

The antioxidants in mushrooms might also play a protective role against cancer, particularly breast cancer.

An April 2021 meta-analysis in ​Advances in Nutrition​ that looked at 17 studies and more than 19,500 subjects observed that those who ate 18 grams of mushrooms daily had a 45 percent lower chance of developing cancer compared to those who never ate mushrooms.

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