Cloud ear mushrooms, a rather exotic-sounding name for a type of fungus, has been featured in Asian cooking since the 6th century. The Chinese name for cloud ear is mo-er, or "little ear," which is fitting since it vaguely resembles a human ear when fresh. Cloud ear grows in mountainous areas of India and China on the dead, rotting branches of broad-leafed trees such as the mango tree. It is sold fresh and (more often) dried and is added to stir-fries and soups. Cloud ear fungus is a bit more expensive than shiitake (black) mushrooms.
Also Known As: black fungus
Used for Its: silky and crunchy texture
Most Common Cuisine: Chinese
What Is Cloud Ear Fungus?
The cloud ear is a species of jelly fungi with the scientific name auricularia auricula. It is somewhat elastic and gelatinous, as well as silky to the touch. This fungus can be between 2 and 8 inches in diameter and does not have much of a stem or any "gills" (the ridges on the underside of the mushroom); instead, it is thin, cup-shaped, with a ruffled edge. The color of the cloud ear takes on the color of the tree on which it grew, so it can range from dark yellowish-brown to dark brown or even black.
This mushroom goes by several names, including black Chinese mushroom, black fungus, and tree ear fungus, to name a few. In Chinese cooking, it is also sometimes referred to as "black treasure."
Cloud Ear vs. Wood Ear Fungus
Cloud ear is often confused with wood ear, a distant relative of the cloud ear fungus that also grows on trees. They are both dark-colored and shaped like an ear. Cloud ear is smaller and more tender than the wood ear mushroom, but the two types of fungi can generally be used interchangeably.
Cloud Ear Uses
If using dried cloud ear, the mushroom needs to soak in warm water for at least 15 minutes; it will puff up to several times its normal size. The fungus should then be rinsed and the stem trimmed where it was attached to the wood of the tree. Fresh cloud ear should be wiped clean, with the stem trimmed, before adding to recipes.
How to Cook With Cloud Ear
Depending on the recipe, the mushroom may be added whole or cut into an appropriate shape and size for the dish. It should be added near the end of stir-frying so that it does not lose its crunchy texture; the dried mushroom needs to be reconstituted before including in a soup. Feel free to use cloud ear in any recipes calling for black mushrooms.
What Does It Taste Like?
Although the smell of the dried fungus is potent with rich umami, the cloud ear itself has a very mild taste and will soak in the flavors that it is cooked with. The delicate, crinkly fungus is valued for its slippery outer surface and meaty but crunchy texture.
Cloud Ear Recipes
Cloud ear is often added to hot and sour soup and is stir-fried in dishes like mu-shu pork, egg rolls, fried rice, and Buddha's delight. It is also employed in Szechwan and Hunan cuisine to absorb some of the spicy heat.
Where to Buy Cloud Ear Fungus
Dried cloud ear mushroom is much more common than fresh and is sold in plastic bags in a range of sizes. It can be found online and at Asian markets. Depending on where you live, you may also find it at the supermarket. Fresh cloud ear may be available in Chinese markets but will be harder to find.
Fresh cloud ear mushrooms will last a few days in the refrigerator when kept in a sealed zip-top bag. If stored in an airtight container, dried mushrooms should keep for up to a year when kept in a cool, dry place.
Nutrition and Benefits
Cloud ear fungus is high in fiber, as well as minerals such as manganese, selenium, and iron. It is also a good source of riboflavin and niacin and is high in antioxidants. These mushrooms have also been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to help prevent heart disease.