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Cloud Ear Mushrooms
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Cloud ear mushrooms are small, averaging 2-10 centimeters in diameter, and have an irregularly curved shape with round and wavy edges, growing in lateral clusters. The surface of the fungus is smooth, silky, and slippery, ranging in color from ivory to white, light brown, to dark brown, and each mushroom is thin and delicate. Cloud ear mushrooms are mild and slightly musty, bearing very little flavor. They are favored for their crisp consistency, even when cooked, and have a snap-like quality with a velvety texture.
Cloud ear mushrooms are available year-round.
Cloud ear mushrooms, botanically classified as Auricularia polytricha, are small and delicate, ear-shaped fungi that belong to the Auriculariaceae family. Commonly found growing on the side of dead or decaying trees, branches, or logs, Cloud ear mushrooms are often mistaken for wood ear mushrooms but are a smaller and more tender variety than the larger relative. Fresh Cloud ear mushrooms are rare to find and are primarily localized to the regions they are harvested in as they deteriorate quickly. Despite their perishable nature, the mushrooms preserve well by drying and are commercially exported around the world in dried form for year-round use. Cloud ear mushrooms are highly favored for their crisp and chewy texture and are predominately utilized in Asian soups and stir-fries.
Cloud ear mushrooms are a good source of antioxidants to help protect the body against environmental aggressors and also contain some B vitamins, zinc, fiber, magnesium, selenium, iron, and copper.
Cloud ear mushrooms are best suited for cooked applications such as stir-frying, sautéing, or simmering, but the mushrooms should be added at the end of preparations as their delicate nature will not withstand prolonged periods of high heat. Before consuming, Cloud ear mushrooms must be submerged in warm water if dried, rinsed, and then trimmed into small slices for even cooking. The prepared pieces can be added to soups, hotpots, and stews, mixed into noodle or rice dishes, or tossed into salads. Cloud ear mushrooms can also be chopped and stuffed into buns or dumplings, stir-fried with other vegetables as a main dish, or lightly cooked with a savory sauce and served as a small dish for dim sum. The mushrooms have minimal flavor and will readily absorb accompanying flavors while maintaining a crisp texture. In Szechwan cuisine, Cloud ear mushrooms are commonly used to soak in the spicy sauces that the region is known for and are also added to hot and sour soup. Cloud ear mushrooms pair well with meats such as pork, poultry, duck, beef, and fish, shrimp, crab, tofu, aromatics such as garlic, ginger, and scallions, other mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and herbs such as cilantro or parsley. Fresh Cloud ear mushrooms will only keep 1-2 days when stored in the refrigerator. Dried mushrooms will keep up to one year when stored in a sealed container in a cool, dry, and dark place.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Cloud ear mushrooms are believed to help strengthen the lungs and improve circulation. The mushrooms are often consumed in soups in the fall and winter as an immunity booster and as a method to balance qi, which is the life force within the human body. In Cantonese cuisine, Cloud ear mushrooms are also used in sweet dessert soups with pears, goji berries, or lotus seeds and are traditionally served at the end of a banquet-style meal.
Cloud ear mushrooms are native to Asia and have been cultivated since ancient times. Believed to have been used in Chinese cooking since the 6th century BCE, the fungi have been introduced around the world via immigration and trade. Today Cloud ear mushrooms are still found growing wild in wet, evergreen forests and are also cultivated on sawdust, logs, and straw for dried, commercial use. Cloud ear mushrooms are available fresh at local markets and in dried form at specialty grocers in Asia, especially in India, China, Japan, and Thailand. They are also found in select regions of the United States, Mexico, South America, and the United Kingdom.