Wood ear mushrooms are so called because their convoluted surface resembles a human ear and they grow wild on the trunks of trees. They have a mild neutral flavour and a slightly woody aroma, but are appreciated for their crisp ‘squeaky’ texture.
Most commonly associated with East Asian cuisine, wood ear mushrooms are used in stir fries, with or without meat, and hot and sour soup. Other common names for Auricularia Polytricha include Jews Ear, Judas’ ear, jelly ear and cloud ear.
Mushrooms were historically considered a cheap substitute for meat Wood ear mushrooms are high in protein, important for a vegetarian diet. They are also a good source of fibre and contain a wide range of vitamins and important trace minerals.
Wood ears have been used in China for thousands of years for nutritional and medicinal properties. It is believed wood ears have anti-clotting properties and their consumption is good for heart and circulatory conditions as well as alleviating sore throats. Modern scientific research is endorsing similar findings.
Fungi spores are carried on the wind and wood ear mushrooms grow wild on fallen wood and the trunks of living trees in temperate and sub-tropical zones worldwide. Although commonly associated with willow, beech, walnut, poplar and especially elder trees, in Australia it can be found growing wild in moist eucalyptus and rainforest environments.
Australian grown wood ear mushrooms were exported to China in the early 20th century, but China is now the main global exporter of dried wood ear mushrooms. Commercially cultivated wood ear mushrooms are grown on artificial logs composed of compacted agricultural waste such as seed husks, sugarcane fibre, sawdust or corn stalks.
In Australia, wood ears and other exotic mushrooms are available fresh or dried from Asian grocers and some mainstream supermarkets.
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