Cloud ear fungus is a grey-brown edible jelly fungus that is often used in Asian cooking, especially Chinese cuisine. Cloud ears may also be referred to as black fungus, tree ear, wood fungus, mouse ear, jelly mushrooms.
Auricularia polytricha is usually sold in dried form, and needs to be soaked in water before use. While almost tasteless, it is prized for its slippery but slightly crunchy texture, and its potential medicinal properties, including its newly discovered anticoagulant properties. The slight crunchiness persists despite most cooking processes. Auricularia polytricha is coarser than Auricularia auricula-judae, and is more likely to be used in soups rather than stir-fries.
According to Chinese medicine practitioners, eating dried and cooked wood ear can have health benefits for people with high blood pressure or cancer, and can prevent coronary heart disease and arteriosclerosis. It may also be effective in reducing LDL cholesterol and aortic atherosclerotic plaque, as demonstrated in a study on rabbits.
Like tofu, cloud ear has no flavour of its own, but soaks in the flavours that it is cooked with.
The delicate, crinkly fungus is also valued for its crunchy texture. You’ll often find cloud ear added to hot and sour soup, and it is also featured in salads, soups, stews, and stir-fried dishes.
Storage and Usage
Cloud ears are sold mainly in dried form, in plastic bags. If stored in an airtight container, they should keep for up to a year. Before using, soak the fungus in warm water for at least fifteen minutes. It will puff up to several times its normal size. Then rinse the fungus and trim the stem where it was attached to the wood of the tree (cloud ears grow on trees such as the mango and kapok). Once the cloud ears have been cut up into an appropriate shape and size (The older the mushroom, the greater the chance that it will be tougher in texture when cooked, so it is always wise to cut the mushroom into narrow strips for cooking and serving), add them to a dish near the end of stir-frying, so that they do not lose their crunchy texture.
Fresh cloud ear mushrooms can only be stored refrigerated for several days before they begin to spoil. The dried variety will store in airtight containers for long periods of time, but are lacking significantly in flavour.