Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kikurage: the mushroom of many names (キクラゲ, 黑木耳)

Known in the past as Jew's ear, these days it is safer to call it kikurage (キクラゲ) by its Japanese name. Its alternative name, jelly ear, is not very widely recognised, while the Latin name, Auricularia auricula-judae, is too cumbersome. The Chinese name hei mu er (黑木耳) will hardly ever catch on, will it?

Once I had to ask Floyd to buy it for me in a Chinese shop. None of the names seemed to work although hei mu er proved outside Floyd's linguistic abilities. Finally, he gave up on seeking help from the shop's people and, after quite an effort, managed to locate it himself. The bag said "Black Fungus".

Kikurage is sold dry in most Asian stores. It expands a lot when soaked in water (takes about 30 minutes). The pictures below is the same mushroom as above before soaking! It has a faint earthy flavour and gently crunchy, agaric texture for which it is mostly prized. I don't know what kind of coincidence it is, but kikurage is only popular in the traditionally Confucian countries - Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and Vietnam. It is not particularly click with the rest of Asia.

In traditional Chinese medicine hei mu er is believed to possess anti-thrombosis properties, that is, it de-clogs your arteries and veins. By extension, it is believed to promote longevity. Polysaccharides that it contains have a tumour-preventive effect.

I use it in a variety of dishes: from sashimi (it is one of the few mushrooms you can eat raw) to noodles and sweet-and-sour chicken. It does not need much cooking and can be added just a couple of minutes before the dish is ready.

1 comment:

  1. found some today in hampstead heath.
    described as choice in flavour by the iphone mushroom app.
    looking forward to them with steak and mashed sweet potatoes.