Wood ear mushrooms have been used as food since ancient times, but it wasn’t until recent years that they became more well known.
They were originally harvested from rotting logs in forests across North America, where they grow on tree stumps or fallen trees.
Their name refers to their appearance – resembling ears when cut open.
They look similar to button mushrooms, which makes them easy to confuse with this edible variety.
What Are Wood Ear Mushrooms?
The wood ear mushroom has an oval shape like most other fungi.
It grows underground in decaying logs and branches of dead trees.
When the log breaks into pieces, these mushrooms sprout out through the cracks.
This means you may find them growing along your property line if there are any old trees near by.
You can also find them in parks, forested areas, and even urban neighborhoods.
Mushrooms don’t need soil or water to survive, so once they break off from the stump or tree branch, they can easily spread to new locations.
If you see these mushrooms growing nearby, you might want to dig up some samples!
These “ear-shaped” mushrooms are generally white, although they do come in different colors including yellow, purple, brown, gray, pink, red, blue, green, and black.
Like many mushrooms, they contain nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
But unlike other types of mushrooms, they aren’t poisonous.
In fact, they’re quite healthy because they’re rich in protein, fiber, vitamin C, iron, calcium, copper, zinc, selenium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and B vitamins such as riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (B3).
Why Are They Called Wood Ear Mushrooms?
The term “wood ear” was first used by Native Americans who lived near the areas where these fungi grew.
It referred to how people found them, because of their resemblance to an animal’s ear.
That said, there’s no evidence to suggest that any other animals ever ate wood ear mushrooms.
People began referring to the mushrooms as “ear mushrooms” after Europeans started using them as food.
It seems likely that this was due to the fact that their shape resembled the human ear so much.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that scientists began studying the mushrooms and learning about them.
Scientists realized that they weren’t actually related to anything else, and that they had evolved independently.
Wood ear mushrooms aren’t closely related to any other type of fungus, nor are they even close relatives of plants.
So why did people start calling them “ear mushrooms”?
Well, it could be because of their unique shape.
But also, many people think that the name came from the way they sound when you eat one.
Apparently, if you put your tongue next to the mushroom cap while chewing, you can hear what sounds like someone whispering.
This doesn’t seem very scientific though, does it?
And besides, we all know that wood ear mushrooms don’t make any noise when you chew them!
What Do Wood Ear Mushrooms Taste Like?
Wood ear mushrooms are commonly found growing in the springtime in areas where there has been heavy snowfall.
You can find these mushrooms at farmers markets throughout the year if you know what you’re looking for.
While not everyone will agree on how they taste, most people who eat them describe them as having an earthy flavor.
It’s important to note that they aren’t very delicate flavors, so don’t be afraid to add extra ingredients to your cooking process if needed.
If you’ve never tried them before, start slow by making small portions of the dish.
If you enjoy the way they taste, try adding other ingredients such as bell peppers, onions, garlic, soy sauce, and sesame oil.
In short, wood ear mushrooms are great additions to any meal, especially those featuring Asian dishes.
You can also use them as part of a meatless diet.
What Are Some Popular Wood Ear Mushroom Recipes?
Wood ear mushrooms are available year round, though the best time for harvesting them depends upon what part of the country you live in.
In colder climates, these fungi can be found growing on dead trees during winter months, while in warmer areas, where they don’t freeze much at all, they tend to pop up anytime after summer has ended.
The most common way to prepare wood ear mushrooms is by frying them in oil, then adding garlic, onions, carrots, peppers, peas, corn, soy sauce, and other spices before serving them over white rice.
You can also use dried wood ear mushrooms in soups or in salads.
A simple wood ear mushroom recipe
This simple wood ear mushroom recipe calls for fresh, cleaned wood ear mushrooms, chopped into bite-sized pieces.
These should be sliced lengthwise, so that each piece contains two rows of the cap and stem.
Then, add them to a pan along with 1/4 cup vegetable broth, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon minced onion, and 3 cloves of finely diced garlic.
Sautee everything together for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have softened slightly.
Next, add 4 cups of water, and bring it to a boil.
Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low, cover the pot, and let simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove lid, and continue cooking another five minutes, uncovered.
If your mushrooms aren’t soft enough for your liking, let them sit covered for an additional 5 minutes.
Finally, drain any excess liquid off, and serve hot over white rice.
Another simple wood ear mushroom recipe
If you want something even simpler than the first one, try this second version of a wood ear mushroom recipe.
It uses only three ingredients and takes less than ten minutes to make.
First, chop four large wood ear mushrooms into small pieces using a knife or kitchen shears.
Next, pour 1 inch of vegetable oil into a deep skillet (or wok), and place the pan over high heat.
When the oil starts to shimmer, add the mushrooms and saute for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Add one clove of minced garlic per pound of mushrooms, and toss around for 30 seconds.
Finally, add 3 cups of chicken stock, and bring mixture down to a simmer.
Once the soup comes back to a simmer, remove from heat and allow it to cool.
Before serving, strain out the mushroom bits using cheesecloth or a sieve.
Serve immediately over rice noodles.
How Do You Cook Wood Ear Mushrooms?
Wood ear mushrooms can be eaten raw, dried, frozen, sauteed, baked, boiled, grilled, fried, roasted, pickled, smoked, stewed, simmered, microwaved, poached, steamed, stirred-fried, tempura fried, deep-fried, braised, barbecued, roasted, sautéed, blanched, marinated, stuffed, and even smoked.
You may also find them in dishes like soups, salads, curries, sushi, pasta, risotto, noodles, omelets, tacos, burgers, sandwiches, pizza, meat loaf, casseroles, chili, breakfast burritos, and wraps.
The most common way to prepare wood ear mushrooms is by using them in a stir fry.
In fact, the word “stir fry” originates from the Chinese language, where it means “to stir-fry.”
There are several ways to make a stir fry, including frying chopped vegetables (like onions) with oil first, then adding other ingredients like meat, seafood, tofu, eggs, or chicken.
Vegetable oils such as sesame, peanut, or coconut oil are often preferred because they add flavor without any extra calories.
You might also want to try making your own wood ear mushroom sauce.
For example, you could mix together soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and honey.
Once all these ingredients are combined, let them simmer for 5 minutes before serving.
To serve, place one tablespoon of sauce onto each bowl of rice.
What Are Some Health Benefits Of Wood Ear Mushrooms?
The most important thing about these fungi is that they contain protein.
A single serving (1/4 cup) contains 10 grams of protein.
That’s the same amount found in a quarter chicken breast!
But don’t let the high-protein content fool you.
These mushrooms also provide healthy amounts of fiber and calcium, along with potassium, magnesium, copper, vitamin B6, niacin, riboflavin, folate, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, zinc, iron, selenium, manganese, vitamins D and E, and antioxidants such as beta carotene and lycopene.
In addition to being packed full of nutrients, wood ear mushrooms make an excellent source of resistant starch.
Resistant starches are carbohydrates that your body can digest slowly and break down into sugar without any other calories added.
Your body uses the energy stored by these sugars to produce insulin, which helps regulate blood glucose levels.
In short, eating resistant starches will help control hunger pangs between meals.
This type of food is especially useful if you often find yourself hungry mid-afternoon after lunch.
If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to potato chips or cookies, consider adding wood ear mushrooms to your diet.
A few tips for cooking wood ear mushrooms
- You should always wash fresh wood ear mushrooms before using them in recipes.
- The dirtier they are, the less flavorful they tend to be.
- To get rid of excess water, lay the mushrooms out flat on paper towels and pat dry with another towel.
- Let them air dry completely before storing in an airtight container.
Are Wood Ear Mushrooms Safe To Eat?
While there haven’t been any reports of people getting sick after eating wood ear mushrooms, there have also not been any studies suggesting the safety of these mushrooms either.
That said, because of how long they’ve been around, we do know that they don’t contain harmful chemicals like other fungi can.
For instance, most wild mushrooms aren’t recommended if pregnant women want to avoid exposure to certain toxins.
In addition, while many types of mushrooms may be toxic, they usually only become so after being consumed.
Wood ear mushrooms seem unlikely to pose a risk unless someone ingests too much at once.
For even more information about how to handle and prepare your mushrooms safely, see our guide here!
How Should You Store Wood Ear Mushrooms?
The most important thing about storing your wood ear mushrooms is keeping them dry.
If there isn’t enough water in the air around them, then mold will start growing inside the caps.
So make sure to keep your harvest covered up while stored.
If you buy your wood ear mushrooms already cleaned (which can be done online), then you don’t need to worry so much about drying them out.
However, if you want to clean them yourself, do not put them directly into a plastic bag! Instead, place them into an empty paper towel roll.
Then tie it closed and leave it somewhere exposed to the sun.
This method allows moisture to evaporate naturally, rather than letting it seep through the fibers of the paper towel.
You may also want to use an old sock instead of a paper towel roll.
Just make sure to cover it tightly with aluminum foil first.
This prevents any light from getting in so the fungus won’t rot.
Once dried, you can either store the mushrooms in a cool, dark area at room temperature, or freeze them.
Once frozen, you can transfer them to a freezer-safe container and keep them in the freezer until needed.
Be careful though, because once thawed and refrozen some fungi lose their flavor quickly.
What Is The Shelf Life Of Wood Ear Mushrooms?
The average shelf life of wood ear mushrooms can be up to six months if stored properly.
If not stored correctly, however, the shelf life will decrease significantly.
In general, fresh wood ear mushrooms will last about two weeks after purchase, so make sure not to buy too many at once.
If you buy your mushrooms already cleaned and sliced, then they may have an extended shelf life of three to four months.
However, this depends on how long they were kept before being sold, as well as whether or not they were frozen or refrigerated at some point during storage.
If you want to preserve the flavor of these mushrooms longer, freeze them instead of storing them in the refrigerator.
Keep in mind that while you don’t need to wash the mushrooms prior to cooking, you do need to remove any dirt or debris that might get stuck between the layers of the cap.
You also shouldn’t use wood ear mushrooms raw unless you enjoy eating slime mold or other strange fungi.
These mushrooms contain small amounts of amines (a chemical compound found naturally in meat) that cause nausea and vomiting in people who aren’t accustomed to eating them.
How to clean wood ear mushrooms
To clean the mushrooms, trim off the base of each one to remove any excess soil.
Then rinse them thoroughly under running water to remove any remaining dirt or debris.
Finally, pat dry using paper towels.
Are There Any Substitutes For Wood Ear Mushrooms?
While you can use other varieties of fungi in place of wood ear mushrooms, these are not interchangeable.
Button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) are very common, so if you see those for sale, don’t be alarmed!
But if you do want to substitute another type of fungus, check out our guide on substitutions here.
You may also find some recipes online that call for “wild mushrooms.”
These typically refer to a mix of different kinds of wild mushrooms available in your area.
If you see one labeled “edible” or “foraged,” then it’s probably safe to eat without cooking first.
- 1 Pot
- 4 cups rehydrated wood ears
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1-2 chili peppers
- ½ tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon scallions
- Cook the wood ears in boiling water for 3–4 minutes in a medium-sized pot. To totally cool them, drain and rinse under cold running water. Place aside and let any extra water to drain. To get rid of the surplus water, you could alternatively use a salad spinner.
- Mix the garlic, peppers, vinegar, light soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil in a sizable bowl until the sugar melts. Incorporate the wood ears after that. For 30 minutes, cover and marinate in the fridge. Before serving, whisk and combine one more because the sauce has a tendency to sink to the bottom. Place the chopped cilantro and/or scallion on the plate as a garnish.