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 also be cultivated.
Known for its jelly-like consistency and distinct chewiness, black fungus is a popular culinary ingredient across various 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 and 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. Remember this when 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 interchangeable.
Black fungus is popular in Malaysian, Chinese, and Maori cuisine.
It’s a bit coarser than the wood ear mushroom and frequently used in soups. It has a fairly neutral taste and is 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.
Summary: Black fungus is fairly neutral in taste and can take on many flavors. It’s quite popular in Asia, where it’s regularly added to soups and has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Nutritional profile of black fungus
One-quarter cup (7 grams) of dried black fungus provides:
- Calories: 20
- Carbs: 5 grams
- Protein: less than 1 gram
- Fat: 0 grams
- Fiber: 5 grams
- Sodium: 2 mg
- Cholesterol: 0 grams
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.
Summary: Black fungus is notably low in fat, high in fiber, and loaded with many essential vitamins and minerals.
Potential benefits of black fungus
Despite the multiple uses of black fungus in traditional Chinese medicine, scientific research is still in the beginning stages.
All the same, this mushroom has been noted for its potential immune-enhancing and antimicrobial properties.
Just remember that human research is limited, and further studies are needed.
Black fungus packs powerful antioxidants
Mushrooms, including the 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 various 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.
Black fungus 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.
Suggested read: Top 13 healthiest root vegetables you should add to your diet
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.
Black fungus 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 total and LDL (bad) cholesterol decreased significantly.
Still, researchers weren’t sure how the fungi exerted this effect, and a single animal study in wood ears doesn’t necessarily apply to people eating black fungus.
Black fungus may promote brain health
Mushrooms are thought to preserve healthy brain function.
One test-tube study revealed that wood ear mushrooms and other fungi inhibited beta-secretase activity, an enzyme that releases beta-amyloid proteins.
These proteins are toxic to the brain and linked to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
While these findings are promising, human research is needed.
Black fungus 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, often marketed as Tylenol in the United States.
Researchers linked this effect to the mushroom’s potent antioxidant properties.
All the same, studies are lacking.
Summary: Black fungus offers powerful antioxidants and gut-healthy prebiotics. It may help lower cholesterol and protect your liver and brain, but more research is needed.
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, look for this unique mushroom at your local specialty store or online.
Summary: While black fungus isn’t associated with side effects, you should always soak it before eating and cook it thoroughly to eliminate potentially harmful bacteria. It’s best to purchase the dried product rather than forage for it.
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.