Wood ear mushrooms are easy to identify in their raw form. They grow on wood, and they're shaped like ears. Chances are you'll find them dried, though, because these mushrooms aren't often available as fresh products in supermarkets. Wood ear mushrooms, which are full of B vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, are commonly used in different Asian dishes. Certain compounds in wood ear mushrooms have even been associated with medicinal benefits.
What Are Wood Ear Mushrooms?
Wood ear mushrooms are known by many names. They're often called black, jelly or wood ear fungus, and may also be known as cloud ear, Judas's ear, jelly ear or kikurage mushrooms. All of these mushrooms belong to the Auricularia genus, while wood ear mushrooms are specifically Auricularia auricula. As their name implies, wood ear mushrooms look like ears and can grow on many types of wood or other plants.
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Wood ear mushrooms have been cultivated in China since A.D. 600 and are now popular around the world, especially in China, Japan and Thailand. Wild wood ear mushrooms can be picked off tree branches, while farmed wood ear mushrooms can be cultivated on various plant-based structures, from sawdust to straw. While you can obtain them fresh, it's more common to find wood ear mushrooms in dried form. In order to eat dried mushrooms, just rehydrate them before cooking them or integrating them into a cold dish.
Nutrients in a Wood Ear Mushroom
Wood ear mushrooms are known for being low in fat and calories but rich in protein and other nutrients. A wood ear mushroom is a particularly good source of the B vitamins. One hundred grams of raw wood ear mushroom has:
- 7 percent of your daily value (DV) for vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- 16 percent of your DV for vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- 40 percent of your DV for vitamin B5
- 6 percent of your DV for vitamin B6
- 5 percent of your DV for vitamin B9 (folate)
- 32 percent of your DV for copper
- 5 percent of your DV for iron
- 8 percent of your DV for magnesium
- 16 percent of your DV for selenium
- 6 percent of your DV for zinc
Wood ear mushrooms are also a good source of dietary soluble fiber, omega fatty acids like linoleic acid and antioxidants.
Wood Ear vs. Other Mushrooms
Compared to other mushrooms, like oyster mushrooms or the common white mushrooms that you can find in virtually every supermarket, wood ear mushrooms usually tend to have larger quantities of minerals. The only exception to this is potassium, which wood ear mushrooms only have trace amounts of. You might not expect it but, common white mushrooms also contain vitamin D, while most other mushrooms, including wood ear, essentially only have B vitamins. Wood ear mushrooms also have more protein and less fat than most other mushrooms.
You should know that wild wood ear mushrooms and commercially cultivated wood ear mushrooms may have different amounts of nutrients. When wood ear mushrooms are farmed, they are usually grown on artificial sawdust logs and supplemented with wheat or other plants. The plants these mushrooms are supplemented with can influence final nutritive values. However, wood ear mushrooms are capable of growing on just about any plant-based material, not just sawdust logs, which means the plant they're grown on can also influence their final nutrient content.
Many wild mushrooms have vitamin B12. This includes oyster mushrooms, which grow on trees like wood ear mushrooms. So far, the vitamin B12 content of wild wood ear mushrooms hasn't been studied, but cultivated mushrooms don't usually contain this nutrient.
Read more: The 18 Most Nutritious Vegetables
Wood Ear’s Health Benefits
Mushrooms are typically considered to be healthy foods, and many of them are also considered to have medicinal properties. Mushrooms are considered to be of medicinal value in countries like Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Although this may sound like an herbal remedy or old wives' tale, some of the compounds found in mushrooms have even been used in clinical trials.
The bioactive compounds in wood ear mushrooms are thought to have:
- Anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic properties, even against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, two common disease-causing microbes
- Anti-tumor properties
- Anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties
- Anti-coagulant activity and cardioprotective properties
- Anti-diabetic properties related to their water-soluble dietary fiber
- Lipid-reducing properties
Typically, the lectins and antioxidants in mushrooms are the components of mushrooms that are associated with such health benefits. While wood ear mushrooms certainly have these beneficial properties, these effects may not be obvious when consuming wood ear mushrooms in food. The bioactive compounds in wood ear mushrooms may only be clinically useful when these compounds are isolated and given to people in large amounts.
Wood Ear Mushrooms in Food
Wood ear mushrooms can be used like most other mushrooms. Whether they're a component of noodle dishes, soups, stews or stir-fries, you can easily identify them in any dish because of their umami flavor and unique, squeaky, crunchy texture. This unusual texture is part of the reason you'll infrequently find wood ear mushrooms served on their own; they're most often finely sliced and cooked alongside other ingredients.
Given their texture, it's unlikely you'd want to put wood ear mushrooms on a pizza, unlike white mushrooms or portobello mushrooms. Blending these mushrooms may also not be the best idea. They won't give you the same creamy texture of other mushrooms. Don't let their different consistency make you shy away from using them, though. Wood ear mushrooms can be delicious when integrated into dishes correctly.
Wood ear mushrooms are excellent in buns, dim sum and stir-fries. They easily take up the flavor of any other ingredients they're cooked with, so they're also ideal in hotpots and ramen. If you don't mind their unique texture, wood ear mushrooms can also be used in salads and work with flavors like soy, vinegar, chili and cilantro.
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