Jews Ear is a rubbery ear-like fungus that is also known as Judas's ear fungus, or as the jelly ear fungus. This fungus is conspicuously ear shaped, ranging from purple to dark brown or black in colour with a rubbery texture, and most often found on dead elder trees but also on elm and beech trees. It was said that Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, hanged himself on an elder tree, which is the origin of the name.
This intriguing name stuck, as the taxonomic name Auricularia means ear and the epithet "auricula-judae" means "the ear of Judas."
It is pale brown in colour, and really does resemble a human ear in size, shape and texture. Generally it is about 6 cm across. When young it is gelatinous and pliant, but as it gets older it goes black and hard. The spores are white and it grows singly or in groups on old wood. There are no poisonous species that it would be confused with.
It is one of the few fungi that has the ability to withstand freezing temperatures. This is a useful attribute, since it develops new growths in January, which is normally the coldest month of the year in Britain. It can actually freeze solid, and when thawed out shows no ill effects. It can be found all year long. It is found throughout Europe, Asia, the United States and Australia.
This species is used often in Asian cooking because although it lacks a strong taste, it absorbs the flavours of other foods and provides delicate texture in Chinese and Japanese dishes.
Besides its culinary value, Auricularia also has significant medicinal properties and has been used for used for thousands of years for the treatment of various things in traditional herbal remedies, especially in China. Chinese believe them good for infections of the lungs because they remove irritations an smooth it surface. They also recommend them
for haemorrhoids and as cleansing agents for both stomach and intestines. It was used to treat such widely varying conditions as hemoptysis (spitting up blood), angina (cardiac pain), diarrhea, and warding against gastrointestinal upset. According to the Doctrine of
Signatures, a theory popular in Europe in the 1800's, plants and fungi resembling certain parts of the body could be used to treat ailment of that part of the body. Since the fungus resembles the folds of the throat, Auricularia boiled in beer, milk, or vinegar was used to treat throat ailments. Because its gelatinous consistency could bind eye medicine, it was also often used as a salve to treat eye ailments.
"Modern" medicine has yielded other secrets from Auricularia. It has been shown to block blood clotting by obstructing the platelets. There have actually been cases of internal bleeding from particularly sensitive people who accidentally ate too much sweet and sour soup combined with stir-fry containing this fungus. There is some evidence
that ingesting Auricularia regularly in small doses can be therapeutic in preventing strokes and heart attacks.
Other therapeutic uses of Auricularia from modern medicine include lowering blood cholesterol and triglycerides. There is even some evidence it can play a role in treating diabetes They have also been found to have antitumour, cardiovascular, antiviral, antibacterial and antiparasitic effects.
Hot and Sour Soup recipe using Jews Ears (serves 4 to 6)
About 1 ounce Jews Ears
2 tablespoons canola oil
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon red chilli paste
1/2 cup sliced bamboo shoots
1/4 pound barbecued pork, shredded
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 quarts Chicken Stock
1 square firm tofu, drained and sliced in 1/4-inch strips
3 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Chopped green onions, for garnish
Put the Jews Ears in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 30 minutes to rehydrate. Drain and rinse the Jews Ears; discard any hard clusters in the centres.
Heat the oil in a wok or large pot over medium-high heat. Add the ginger, chilli paste, Jews Ears, bamboo shoots, and pork; cook and stir for 1 minute to infuse the flavour. Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, salt, pepper, and sugar in a small bowl, pour it into the wok and toss everything together - it should smell really fragrant. Pour in the Chicken Stock, bring the soup to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the tofu and cook for 3 minutes.
Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and stir until smooth. Mix this into the soup and continue to simmer until the soup thickens. Remove the soup from the heat and stir in 1 direction to get a current going, then stop stirring. Slowly pour in the beaten eggs in a steady stream and watch it spin around and feather in the broth (it should be cooked
almost immediately.) Garnish the hot and sour soup with chopped green onions before serving.