Wood ear mushrooms, also known as Judas’s ears, Jew’s ears, jelly ears, (black) wood ear or pepeao, are a species of edible fungi belonging in the Auriculariales genus. Their main characteristics are their jelly-like and ear-shaped appearance. Their Latin name Auricularia auricula-judae is derived from the story of Judas Iscariot who, after betraying Jesus, was alleged to have hanged himself from a tree bearing these mushrooms.
Wood ear mushrooms may not be amongst the top mushrooms favored in the culinary world; however, their medicinal properties have been used for centuries across the world. From China to the West, they are used to treat a wide range of ailments. You can find more about their medicinal properties under the health benefits section of this article.
Where To Find Wood Ear Mushrooms And When
Wood ear mushrooms grow natively in many temperate regions across the globe such as Asia, Eastern Europe, Indonesia, the South Pacific, North America, and South America. They grow in forests in clusters on both decaying and living trees such as beech, ash, and spindles. Wood ears particularly like to grow in elder trees.
They grow all year round.
How To Identify Them
Wood ear mushrooms have a gelatinous appearance that sets them apart from most other species. Wood ears resemble floppy ears in shape. Their fruiting bodies are often covered in tiny hairs and small folds and wrinkles or other irregularities. Wood ear caps do not have any gills. They are small to medium in size and their cap size is on average 1 to 3 inches across (3 to 8 cm). Their color ranges from dark beige to a deep warm brown hue that resembles that of an animal’s liver. They are also semi-transparent, especially if you examine them under the sunlight.
Wood ears do not have any poisonous look-alikes which is handy when foraging for them. There is though, at least one edible species with a very similar appearance and texture. This is Auricularia fuscosuccinea, distinguishable only by examining its spores. Wood ears have tiny spores which are long and sausage shaped. In contrast, Auricularia fuscosuccinea has more rounded spores.
Health Benefits Of Wood Ear Mushrooms
The Chinese and Native Americans used Wood ear mushrooms as folk remedies. They contain iron, copper, manganese, fiber, B-complex vitamins and selenium. Their active compounds have anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Historic texts from Europe and Asia describe the original use of these mushrooms for treating sore throats and eye inflammations. They were also used as blood tonics for treating cases of anaemia in Indonesia and Ghana.
According to modern studies, Wood ears may have the following health benefits:-
- Boost of cardiovascular health. A recent study conducted on mice has found that Wood ear mushroom extract has the ability to reduce triglycerides and bad cholesterol in the blood, reducing the risk of developing stroke and serious heart problems.
- Prevention of age-related inflammation. Wood ear mushrooms contain polyphenols and other antioxidants which mitigate free radical damage and slow down the development of inflammatory diseases found in older people such as diabetes and arthritis.
- Anti-bacterial action. Certain compounds contained in these mushrooms can stop the growth of well-known bacteria such as staphylococcus and E. coli., which are responsible for causing bacterial infections in the skin and intestines.
- Anti-cancer properties. A Korean University study has found that Wood ear mushrooms (in their dried form) can help inhibit the growth of cancer cells for various cancer types such as bone, lungs, stomach and prostate.
How To Cook Wood Ear Mushrooms
Wood ears have a very mild taste and aroma. Their gelatinous texture facilitates their use in enhancing the consistency of liquid-based Asian dishes. They are one of the few mushroom types that you can clean under running water (instead of using a damp cloth). These mushrooms do not require much cooking. They are an ideal ingredient in soups, stews, and salads so look out for recipes in these categories. You can find Wood ear mushrooms for sale in dried form.
For a nice, easy, and delicious recipe, here is an Asian salad to try:-
- 1 cup of fresh wood ear mushrooms, washed and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- Heat the canola oil and add the mushrooms. Saute lightly for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Transfer into a medium salad bowl. In a separate bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients as a dressing except for the sesame seeds. Mix well.
- Pour the dressing over the mushrooms and top with the sesame seeds ready for serving.
If you can’t find fresh whole mushrooms, you can order them in dried form online and use them later in soups and stews, using approximately 1 cup of liquid per ½ cup of mushrooms.
Wood ear mushrooms are not as rich in flavor as many other mushrooms, but their interesting texture and particularly their health benefits make them well worth checking out.
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