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My hubby and I went to dinner Friday night and I was introduced to a brand new vegetable (sort of – it’s not really a veggie). It’s called wood ear and it was a major ingredient in my Buddha’s Delight dish. Wood ear is a type of edible fungus (like shitake, crimini, portabello, and other mushrooms). It grows on tree trunks, and it really does look like a rubbery ear (it also has a springy, chewy texture). It didn’t look very appetizing but once I got over the whole ear thing, I gave it a try, and it was pretty delicious (mild, and like tofu takes on the flavor of the sauce and seasonings it's cooked with).
Over the past dozen years, one question I’ve been consistently asked is, “How can eating fungus possibly be good for you?” It does seem odd, but fungi are definitely nutritious. Some varieties are especially rich in selenium (an antioxidant that also helps repair DNA), and copper (which prevents anemia and keeps bones and nerves healthy). And, the natural phytochemicals in mushrooms have been linked to cancer prevention; particularly breast cancer. That’s because they contain substances that seem to prevent estrogen levels from rising too high (high estrogen ups risk).
Mushrooms are a symbol of longevity in Asia, and have been used in Chinese medicine for more than 6,000 years. Wood Ear mushrooms in particular are believed to prevent heart disease by thinning the blood (similar to aspirin). Here’s a recipe for Korean Cellophane Noodles with Vegetables using dried wood ear mushrooms, and another for Grilled portobello mushrooms with thyme and garlic - yum!
Ok, time for some fun(gi) facts (hee-hee):
-Button mushrooms are the most commonly consumed mushroom in the U.S.
-Smurfs live inside mushrooms
-In the Super Mario Brothers video games, Mario & Luigi eat super mushrooms to power up
-Mushrooms are very low in calories – one cup of buttons provides just 20 calories
-For safety, don’t consume wild mushrooms – many are poisonous
-The 5,000 year old mummified “ice man” found in Europe was carrying mushrooms in this possession (he also had 57 tattoos!)
P.S. People with gout may want to avoid mushrooms because they can boost uric acid levels.
photo courtesy of Cynthia Sass (my ear is sporting one of my very favorite earings)