Wood ear mushroom also known as kikurage mushrooms (in Janan) is a very popular ingredient in Asian cuisines. It is super beneficial to our bodies. It is widely loved because of its either crunchy or soft texture. The Chinese name "木耳" contains both two types- one is a wood ear mushroom with a light brown color called 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"). This black color makes them very unique and is always combined in recipes to enhance the colors of the dish.
What are Wood Ear Mushrooms
Wood ear mushroom is a group of edible fungus grown in China and popular in many other Asian cuisines. Since they grow on wood and look like ears, people named them wood ear mushrooms. The most common two spices are regular wood ear mushrooms and black wood ear mushrooms.
They can be harvested either in the Spring season or in Autumn. Natural wood ear mushrooms can be found in moist forests and now they are cultivated as food widely in China.
In Japan, wood ear mushroom is called kikurage mushrooms and are usually used in Ramen noodle soup.
Difference between the two spices
They grow up on different trees. But the directest way for users to distinguish the two types 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 in the picture below. Regular wood ear mushrooms are larger and with lines on the surface while black wood ear (黑木耳) is totally black and smooth in appearance.
In addition, wood ear mushroom has a thinner texture while black wood ear with a thicker texture.
When looking at the appearance, you may wonder is this edible? The answer is 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 for the crunchy texture. But they can be super good when sauces are mixed in. The two types of wood ear mushrooms taste different too. Regular wood ear mushroom is thinner and crunchier. While black wood ear fungus, which is much thicker, has a much smoother and less crunchy texture
What does wood ear tastes like
While wood ear mushrooms don't have a strong flavor of their own, they are often described as tasting slightly earthy or woodsy. The texture can be either crunchy or sticky and soft depending on the cooking time. When cooked, wood ear mushrooms can take on the flavor of the dish they are included in, making them a very versatile ingredient.
Fresh wood ear mushroom is also edible but super hard to store. So the most common package we get from the stores is dried wood ear mushrooms. Dried wood ear mushrooms are packaged in plastic bags usually. It doesn't need picky storage conditions. After opening the package, store them in an air-tight container or bag to avoid water or moisture. The storage time can be up to 1 year while well stored. In order to get a longer storage time, it is important to make sure that the wood ear mushroom package is not open and has been properly sealed. Storing in an airtight container is a much better choice. Avoid any chance of meeting water or else the wood ear mushroom will go bad.
How to rehydrate dried wood ear mushrooms
Since we bought dried wood ear mushrooms in most cases, it is essential to rehydrate them before using them. So following is the step for rehydrating wood ear mushrooms at home.
1. Rehydrate Wood Ear Mushroom
Firstly wash them 2 or 3 times and soak them in warm water for 20 minutes or cold water for 1 hour. Make a small batch each time
2. Clean and trim the mushrooms
After soaking, the wood ear mushrooms need to be re-washed carefully and removed from the hard end part. Some bad-quality wood ear mushrooms may contain lots of sand, which will further spoil your dish. When completely cleaned, drain completely.
Caution: rehydrated wood ear mushrooms must be used within one day. Long-soaked wood ear mushrooms or black fungus might be poisonous and harmful to the body.
How long to cook wood ear mushrooms
Wood ear mushrooms can present totally different textures when cooked for a short or long time. In salads, stir-fries, and soups, we only need to cook them for 1 to 2 minutes. However, in stews and some soups, they can be sticky and soften after 20 minutes of cooking.
Wood Ear Mushrooms Recipes
Following are the recipe ideas for wood ear mushrooms. Check the find your favorite ways.
1. Wood ear mushroom and pork stir fry
Wood ear mushrooms can be used in daily stir-frying protein dishes. It can add a lovely crunchy texture to savory pork, chicken, or beef stir-fries.
Wood ear mushroom is the essential ingredient for hot and sour soup. The main role is adding crunchiness and riching nutrition.
3. Moo Shu Pork
Moo Shu Pork is a traditional Chinese dish that is typically made with shredded pork, egg, dried lily flower, and wood ear mushrooms. Then this stir fry is further served with a moo shu pancake also known as a Peking pancake. Wood ear is added into rich the color.
Wood ear mushroom salad is a very easy and popular Chinese side cold dish. This salad is mainly seasoned with soy sauce, garlic, sugar, and vinegar. It has a lovely savory and sour taste. This can be very easy and the wood ear mushrooms are quite crunchy in this dish.
5. Buddha's Delight - Chinese Vegetable Stew
Buddha's Delight is a traditional Chinese dish that is often popular among monks. The dish is made with a variety of vegetables, wood ear mushrooms, tofu, and glass noodles, and it is usually steamed or stir-fried.
6. Steamed chicken with wood ear mushrooms
Wood ear mushrooms also are used in steamed dishes. It can be used to steam chicken with dried lily flowers.
Hot Wood Ear Mushroom Salad
- ⅓ cup dried wood ear mushroom
- 4 chili pepppers
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ red onion , shredded
- 2 scallions
- 3 tbsp. vegetable cooking oil
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 2 tbsp. light soy sauce
- 2 tsp. vinegar
- ½ tbsp. chili flakes
- Pre-soak the wood ear in warm water. Clean well and remove the roots.
- Cook soaked mushrooms in boiling water for around 1 to 2 minutes.
- Transfer out immediately and soak in cold water to cool down.
Prepare the sauce
- Add garlic, scallion and chili flakes. Heat the oil and pour the oil over the chili powder to activate the aroma.
- Add all of the remaining seasonings. Mix well.
Assemble the salad
- Completely drain the wood ear mushrooms, add shredded red onion.
- Pour the sauce over. Mix well and serve.
So, I hope you have some ideas about how to use this amazing black food in your kitchen. And I would love to hear your inspirations about how to cook wood ear mushrooms.
How to remove the woody smell from the black fungus?
Is it still edible?
What do you mean by woody smell? Are you talking about dried black fungus or fresh ones? If they has the smell because of long time keeping, I suggest discard them.
I am very interested in this question. Someone who sells black wood ear recommended a particular brand. When you soak this brand of wood ear, it emits a smell that is not present in supposedly less quality brands. However, I would not call the smell "woody" (earthy, muddy, or mushroom-like). To me, I associate the smell with something synthetic, fake, man-made, such as bad perfume. Does anyone know whether good wood ear is supposed to have a smell of any kind? Thank you!
I do not believe high quality wood ear has woody taste because usually we get dried ones not fresh ones just pickled from the wood. They should be free of any odd smell. If you smell strong woody or sour taste, those wood ear mushroom might be processed via chemistry technology.
I love black fungus but from what I gather, it seems like there are two main types.
The thin texture, which is thin and crunchy.
The other type, thick texture, which is jelly like and of smooth texture.
How do you choose between the 2 types?
Personally I like the second type. They have much better taste.