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.
Encyclopedia of Asian Food
By Charmaine Solomon
Reprinted by permission.
This page created July 1999
Copyright © 1994-2017,