Black fungus (Auricularia polytricha) is an edible wild mushroom sometimes known as tree ear or cloud ear fungus, given its dark, ear-like shape.
While predominantly found in China, it also thrives in tropical climates like the Pacific Islands, Nigeria, Hawaii, and India. It grows on tree trunks and fallen logs in the wild but can be cultivated as well.
Known for its jelly-like consistency and distinct chewiness, black fungus is a popular culinary ingredient across a range of Asian dishes. It has likewise been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years.
This article reviews the uses, nutrients, and benefits of black fungus, as well as any precautions you may need to take.
How is black fungus used?
Black fungus is usually sold in dried form. Before you eat it, it needs to be reconstituted in warm water for at least 1 hour.
While soaking, the mushrooms expand 3–4 times in size. Keep this in mind when you’re cooking, as small amounts can go a long way.
While black fungus is marketed under several names, it’s technically different than the wood ear mushroom (Auricularia auricula-judae), its botanical cousin. Nonetheless, these fungi boast similar nutrient profiles and culinary uses and are sometimes referred to interchangeably.
Black fungus is a popular ingredient in Malaysian, Chinese, and Maori cuisine.
It’s a bit coarser than the wood ear mushroom and frequently used in soups. As it has a fairly neutral taste, it’s even added to Cantonese desserts. Like tofu, it absorbs the flavors of the dish it’s a part of.
Since the 19th century, black fungus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to alleviate symptoms of several conditions, including jaundice and sore throats.
As you can see, this mushroom is low in fat and calories but particularly high in fiber.
The same serving size offers small amounts of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, folate, and magnesium. These vitamins and minerals are vital to heart, brain, and bone health.
Potential benefits of black fungus
Despite the multiple uses of black fungus in traditional Chinese medicine, scientific research on it is still in the beginning stages.
All the same, this mushroom has been noted for its potential immune-enhancing and antimicrobial properties.
Just keep in mind that human research is limited, and further studies are needed.
Packs powerful antioxidants
Mushrooms, including Auricularia species, are generally high in antioxidants.
These beneficial plant compounds help combat oxidative stress in your body, which has been linked to inflammation and a range of diseases.
What’s more, mushrooms often contain powerful polyphenol antioxidants. A diet high in polyphenols is associated with a lower risk of cancer and chronic conditions, including heart disease.
May promote gut and immune health
Similarly to various other mushrooms, black fungus boasts prebiotics — mainly in the form of beta glucan.
Prebiotics are a type of fiber that feeds your gut microbiome, or the friendly bacteria in your gut. These promote digestive health and maintain bowel regularity.
Interestingly, the gut microbiome is closely linked to immune health. Prebiotics like those in black fungus are thought to enhance your immune response to unfriendly pathogens that might otherwise make you sick.
May lower your cholesterol
The polyphenols in mushrooms may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
In turn, lower LDL cholesterol may decrease your risk of heart disease.
One study in rabbits given wood ear mushrooms found that both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol decreased significantly.
Still, researchers weren’t sure exactly how the fungi exerted this effect, and a single animal study in wood ears doesn’t necessarily apply to people eating black fungus.
Mushrooms are thought to preserve healthy brain function.
One test-tube study revealed that wood ear mushrooms and other fungi inhibited the activity of beta secretase, an enzyme that releases beta amyloid proteins.
These proteins are toxic to the brain and have been linked to degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
While these findings are promising, human research is needed.
May protect your liver
Black fungus may safeguard your liver from harm by certain substances.
In a rat study, a solution of water and powdered black fungus helped reverse and protect the liver from damage caused by an overdose of acetaminophen, which is often marketed as Tylenol in the United States.
Researchers linked this effect to the mushroom’s potent antioxidant properties.
Precautions for use
Black fungus purchased from commercial suppliers is associated with few — if any — side effects.
Yet, as most black fungus is sold dried, it’s important to always soak it before use due to its density and brittleness.
Furthermore, it should always be cooked thoroughly to kill bacteria and remove residue. Studies show that boiling may even increase its antioxidant activity.
However, foraging for black fungus is not generally recommended given the risk of misidentification or contamination. Not only do wild fungi absorb pollutants from their environment, but eating the wrong mushroom can be poisonous or even fatal.
Instead, you should look for this unique mushroom at your local specialty store or online.
The bottom line
Black fungus is an edible mushroom that’s a popular ingredient in Chinese cuisine.
It’s typically sold dry under various names, such as cloud ear or tree ear fungus. It should be soaked and cooked thoroughly before consuming it.
Emerging research indicates that black fungus offers many benefits, such as protecting your liver, lowering cholesterol, and boosting gut health. It’s also packed with fiber and antioxidants.
While this fungus has also been used in traditional Chinese medicine, more studies are needed to assess its effects.
Mushrooms come in lots of different shapes, sizes, and colors. The ones that aren’t toxic are quite healthy and tasty, containing many important vitamins and minerals.
For many years they’ve been used for their unique ability to add flavor in lots of different cultures’ cuisines. Although they’re actually fungi, mushrooms are lumped in the vegetable category for cooking purposes. Mushrooms allow you to add extra taste without sodium or fat.
Poisonous mushrooms can be hard to identify in the wild, so you should always buy from a reliable grocery store or market. The most common types found in grocery stores are:
button or white mushroom
They each have a unique look and taste.
When choosing your mushrooms, make sure they feel firm, aren’t moist to the touch, and are mold-free. They can be stored in a paper bag inside the fridge for about five days. Brush the dirt off and rinse them lightly when you’re ready to use them.
Nutritional benefits of eating mushrooms
You can’t go wrong with mushrooms. They’re fat-free, low-sodium, low-calorie, and cholesterol-free. They’re also packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Nutritional benefits vary depending on the type of mushroom. But overall, they are a good source of the following nutrients.
Antioxidants help protect the body from damaging free radicals that can cause conditions like heart disease and cancer. They also protect you against damage from aging and boost your immune system. Mushrooms are rich in the antioxidant called selenium. In fact, they are the best source of the mineral in the produce aisle.
Beta glucan is a form of soluble dietary fiber that’s been strongly linked to improving cholesterol and boosting heart health. It can also help your body regulate blood sugar, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Oyster and shiitake mushrooms are believed to have the most effective beta glucans.
Mushrooms are rich in the B vitamins: riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid. The combination helps protect heart health. Riboflavin is good for red blood cells. Niacin is good for the digestive system and for maintaining healthy skin. Pantothenic acid is good for the nervous system and helps the body make the hormones it needs.
Copper helps your body make red blood cells, which are used to deliver oxygen all over the body. The mineral is also important to other processes in the body, like maintaining healthy bones and nerves. Even after being cooked, a 1-cup serving of mushrooms can provide about one-third of the daily recommended amount of copper.
Potassium is extremely important when it comes to heart, muscle, and nerve function. There’s about as much potassium in 2/3 cup of cooked Portobello mushroom as there is in a medium-sized banana.