Wood ear mushroom is a very popular ingredient in Chinese cuisine. It is super beneficial to our body. It is widely loved because of the either crunchy or soft texture. The Chinese name "木耳" contains both two types- one is wood ear mushroom with a light brown color called as regular wood ear (Chinese name "毛木耳") and the other similar type is totally black and thicker one known as black wood ear (Chinese name"黑木耳").
Wood ear mushroom is a group of edible fungus grown in China and popular in Chinese cuisine. Since they grown on the woods and looks like ears, people named them as wood ear mushrooms. The most common two spices are regular wood ear mushrooms and black wood ear mushrooms.
They can be harvested either in Spring season or in Autumn. Natural wood ear mushrooms can be found in moist forest and now they are cultivated as food widely in China.
They grow up on different trees. But the directest way for use to distinguish the two type is to watch the appearances.
Regular wood ear mushroom (毛木耳) generally is larger than black fungus with a lighter brown color. Also they have different features on surfaces. You can see the differences via the picture below. Regular wood ear mushrooms is larger and with lines on surface while black wood ear (黑木耳) is totally black and smooth in appearance.
In addition, wood ear mushroom has a thiner texture while black wood ear with a thicker texture.
When looking at the appearance, you may wonder is this edible? 100% yes. Wood ear mushrooms are edible and super beneficial to our stomach and digestive system. In China, we believe that wood ear mushroom has positive effects on our body including anti-tumor (anti-cancer), anticoagulant, cholesterol-lowering, and hypoglycemic effects.
They taste quite plain except the crunchy texture. But they can be super good when sauces are mixed in. The two types of wood ear mushroom tastes different too. Regular wood ear mushroom is thiner and crunchier. While black wood ear fungus, which is much thicker, has a much smooth and less crunchier texture.
Most asian stores provide dried goods sell wood ear mushrooms. Or you can get it form online stores like amazon. The price might differ from the production area , cultivate time and harvest season.
Dried wood ear mushrooms are packaged in plastic bags usually. It does't need picky storage condition. After opening the package, store them in air-tight container or bag to avoid water or moisture. The storage time can be up to 1 year while well stored.
Fresh wood ear mushroom is also edible but super hard to store. So the most common package we get from the stores are dried wood ear mushrooms. It is extremely important to rehydrate before using. So following is the step of cooking wood ear mushroom at home.
1. Rehydrate Wood Ear Mushroom
Firstly wash the them for 2 or 3 times and soak with warm water for 15 minutes or cold water for 1 hour. Caution: reheated ones must be used within one day. Long soaked wood ear mushroom or black fungus might be poisonous and harmful to body. So make a smaller batch each time.
2. Clean and trim the mushrooms
After soaking, the wood ear mushrooms need to be re-washed carefully and remove the hard end part. Some bad quality wood ear mushroom may contain lots of sands, which will further spoil your dish.
3. Decide how t cook them
Once the cleaning and rehydration process done, we can further cook it. My favorite way of cooking wood ear mushroom is to blanch in water and then add a vinegar dressing to make a salad. Or it also can be used in stir fry dishes like moo shu pork, or shredded and cook in soup like hot and sour soup or your favorite hot pot broth. In addition, steaming with protein is also a great way of cooking wood ear mushrooms since protein can provide enough flavors, like what I did in this steamed chicken and wood ear mushroom.
Wood Ear Mushrooms Recipes
Following is the recipe ideas of wood ear mushrooms. The most common way of serving black fungus is to make salad. But they have a large scope of usage.
Wood ear mushrooms salad -- the simplest and most common way of blanching wood ear mushrooms and mix in a hot vinegar dressing
Hot and Sour Soup -- Shredded wood ear mushrooms are added for the crunchy texture.