The black fungus (Auricularia polytricha) is not the most attractive name that ever rolled off the culinary tongue but it does have some excellent health benefits. Actually it might be nicer to call it by its other names: wood ear, Judas ear, tree ear or cloud ear. Some suppliers call it Pak Pui Wood Ear fungus which seems even more of a mouthful. The fungus is as its name suggests a dark brown if not an even black.
The fungus grows as an edible jelly fungus on trees in mountainous regions. They are collected and usually dried where they are prized for their crunchy texture which is firm. They also soak up a lot of water on rehydration.
It is found in Asia as well as many Pacific islands where the climate is warm and very humid. It often finds its way as a dried ingredient in noodle dishes especially ready meals. There are some classic Chinese dishes which rely on black fungus for their distinctive flavour. Mu Shu pork usually contains an enticing handful as well as containing tiger lily buds. many stuffed crepes also contain this mushroom which lends a slightly perfumed note to the filling.
To prepare this cloud fungus, immerse them in hot water for 20-30 minutes. They will swell up to about six times their normal size so don’t be caught out by their size. They can then be squeezed dry. Cut away any hard parts, and slice for use in stir-fries, soups, or any other savoury dish you fancy.
The dried fungus is easily stored in a cool and dry place.
The Nutritional Value Of Black Fungus
According to various nutritionists it is thought the eating the fungus helps to reduce blood clotting which means it has benefits in cardiovascular disease. The benefits are probably due to various unique polysaccharides which have also been associated with lowering blood cholesterol and various fats and triglycerides.
A beta-glucan like polysaccharide has also been found to inhibit sarcoma cells in mice although there needs to be significant research on this particular compounds before trialing (Song & Du, 2014).
Black fungus is rich in vitamin B2 or riboflavin. This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant in its own right. Riboflavin is good at protecting free radicals and reducing the impact of chronic diseases.
An immunomodulatory protein has been isolated from the mushroom which may have the properties of stimulating the immune system and improving the immune system generally. The cellular benefits have been established in cell studies (Sheu et al., 2004).
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Peng, X. B., Li, Q., Ou, L. N., Jiang, L. F., & Zeng, K. (2010). GC–MS, FT-IR analysis of black fungus polysaccharides and its inhibition against skin aging in mice. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, 47(2), pp. 304-307
Sheu, F., Chien, P. J., Chien, A. L., Chen, Y. F., & Chin, K. L. (2004). Isolation and characterization of an immunomodulatory protein (APP) from the Jew’s Ear mushroom Auricularia polytricha. Food Chemistry, 87(4), pp. 593-600.
Song, G., & Du, Q. (2012). Structure characterization and antitumor activity of an α β-glucan polysaccharide from Auricularia polytricha. Food Research International, 45(1), pp. 381-387.