Foraged Mushroom 4: Jelly Ear

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Auricularia auricula-judae

This one was really easy to identify! Sometimes I’ll find a mushroom and then try to identify it, but in this case, I already knew what to look for and where to find it. 

A mushroom that resembles a wrinkly old ear and grows on Elder trees.

Jelly Ear

Of course, you should never get complacent when it comes to identifying edible mushrooms. 

Always check each identifying characteristic carefully; There are some edible mushrooms with such subtle differences to a toxic or deadly species, that they require expert identification skills. 

Which is why I prefer nice easy ones, like this one, that can be confirmed with a few simple checks. Although there are mushrooms that could be described as similar to Auricularia auricula-judae, they are easily eliminated by habitat and appearance.

Auricularia auricula-judae
Auricularia auricula-judae

Name Meaning and Origin.

Nowadays, you’re more likely to see common names like Wood Ear or Jelly Ear, but some sources refer to it by the common name, Jew’s Ear
The Latin name, Auricularia auricula-judae, means Judas’ ear, in reference to Judas Iscariot who was said to have hanged himself from an Elder tree. The legend being that these fungi are manifestations of his tortured spirit (which doesn’t make them sound any more appealing, I know!).
Eventually Judas’ Ear became shortened to Jew’s Ear.
Judas Iscariot was Jewish but whether it was intended as a derogatory term is unclear. 

Jelly Ear is the current listed English name on the British Mycological Society website.

AuAuricularia auricula-judae

Explosive Warning!

It’s a good idea to do some googling before trying a new mushroom. I’m certainly glad that I did, although this might have been more interesting if I hadn’t… 

I learned that when cooked from fresh, in a pan. they tend to explode. Even knowing this, one small piece did jump out of the pan when I lifted the lid to have a peek. 
They spit and pop and generally make quite a racket before settling down and even then, it’s best to stay alert. 

Jelly Ear/Wood Ear

Unappetising But Beneficial

You may well be thinking: why on earth would anyone even want to eat these?
I mean, they look disgusting, and in case you were wondering, yes, they do feel exactly as horrible as you imagine, possibly slightly more so. 

But, they don’t actually taste bad at all and they’re very good for you and they’re free food! 
High in Carbohydrates, a rich source of essential amino acids, calcium, iron and phosphorus. 
Known potential biological activities include antioxidant, hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic, anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant. 

Wood ear fungus

Having read that they don’t have much flavour of their own, I cooked them with strong flavours of ginger, garlic and chilli, adding broccoli, rice and a little soy sauce. 

Jelly fungi and broccoli
Wood ear mushroom, Rice, Broccoli

Robin Harford (of Eatweeds) advised drying them for a better flavour, which I will try next time.

They can be added to soups etc dried or powdered for flavour. 

I’ve also heard of people making sweets out of them.

According to my Roger Phillips book, they can be found throughout the year, so I’m sure I will have plenty of opportunity to try them again. 
Like many mushrooms, they have a high water content and shrink during cooking. 
I admit, my cooking method did dilute the experience of eating them but I found them pleasant where they have crisped up, tolerable where the jelly-texture was still present.
They are popular in Asian cuisine, and I can imagine them making a nice addition to a miso soup or similar.

What do you think? Have you come across these before? Have you tried them? Would you? Leave a comment below.

Thanks For Reading!

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