In Chinese cooking, the black fungus, or “hei mu er” (wood ear mushroom), has a history dating back to the Han Dynasty.
Wood Ear mushrooms are used for thickening soups and are often consumed with tofu because of their neutral flavor.
They mostly exist in dried form but can be found fresh in certain Asian markets.
It is one of the most commonly used mushrooms in traditional Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong Cuisine.
They have a crunchy and slightly chewy texture and a very mild flavor, allowing them to absorb other flavors.
They are mainly used for their distinctively “black” color in some Chinese dishes such as “golden needle mushroom soup” (nou Huang xi gua cai tang) and braised dishes such as red-braised pork belly with preserved vegetables.
It is used in many Asian recipes and dishes, imparting a black color and crunchy texture to food while also adding a subtle woodsy or earthy flavor.
Wood ear mushrooms are mostly available in dried form, although some specialty grocery stores carry them fresh during autumn months.
Wood ear mushrooms are black veined mushrooms, cloud ear fungus, and tree ear fungus.
Several substitutes can be used to substitute for wood ear mushrooms in cooking.
Here are the top five substitutes you should use if you don’t have or cannot find wood ear mushrooms for your recipe.
What is Wood Ear Mushroom?
Wood ear mushroom, also known as black fungus, is a type of mushroom that has been used in Chinese cooking for over 3000 years.
It has a crunchy texture and subtle earthy flavor that pairs well with bolder ingredients like ginger, garlic, scallions, and sesame oil.
Wood ear mushrooms are harvested at their earliest stage when they are light in color and most tender.
They are often served as appetizers or add texture to dishes like soups, stir-fries, stews, salads, and noodle or rice dishes.
They can also be found in vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes.
Wood ear mushrooms can be purchased fresh in most Asian grocery stores and well-stocked supermarkets.
If you cannot find them fresh, they are available dried or canned (in brine or sauce).
When selecting wood ear mushrooms, look for clean specimens with a shiny, smooth exterior and no signs of dryness or discoloration.
Fresh wood ear mushrooms should be stored in the refrigerator, where they will keep for about a week.
They can also be cleaned and prepped ahead of time to make them easier to use when cooking.
Dried wood ear mushrooms need to be reconstituted before use.
They can be found in different sizes – the smaller ones are good for stir-fries and soups, while the larger mushrooms work well for braising or making vegetarian “meat”.
The 5 Best Substitutes for Wood Ear Mushrooms
If you cannot find wood ear mushrooms, making many of your favorite dishes is still possible.
Here are five good alternatives:
1 – Enoki Mushrooms
If you are looking for a good substitute for wood ear mushrooms or enoki mushrooms, this is something you should try.
First, note that the textures of these two types of mushrooms are different.
The wood ear mushroom has a firmer texture, while the enoki mushroom has a more tender texture.
If this is what you’re after, it’s worth your time to substitute enoki mushrooms for wood ear mushrooms.
Enoki mushrooms are usually white or brown, although it’s important to note that they can also be found in black.
They have a very subtle flavor and pair well with Asian-inspired foods.
Some people even use them as a garnish.
If you enjoy an earthy flavor, it’s best to use wood ear mushrooms.
Enoki can be used in several dishes, including soups, salads, stir-fries, and even served as sushi.
It also only takes a couple of minutes for them to cook.
You can grow your own at home to save money on purchasing enoki mushrooms.
2 – Oyster Mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms are a great alternative to wood ear mushrooms.
They have a mild flavor and add color, texture, and nutrition to your dishes.
Like the enoki mushroom, oyster mushrooms also pair well with Asian-inspired flavors and can also be used as a garnish.
They grow in clusters, and these particular fungi often grow in the wild.
They are often white or gray, sometimes with a hint of brown.
You should always look for specimens that have small and closed caps.
If you find one with an open cap, it means it’s starting to dry out and will not be as flavorful.
Oyster mushrooms can be found fresh in most supermarkets and grocery stores.
You can find oyster mushrooms in various sizes.
The larger ones are great if you’re making vegetarian stir-fries, while the smaller versions work well for soups and salads.
You should never eat raw oyster mushrooms or use them in recipes that require cooking because they may contain toxins when eaten raw.
3 – Cloud Ear Mushrooms
In Chinese, Cloud ear mushrooms are also known as “tree ear” mushrooms.
This is another great substitute for wood ear mushrooms in recipes that will be cooked but not eaten raw.
It has a slightly crunchy texture with an interesting taste that is not overpowering.
As the name suggests, they have a unique cloud-like appearance and are also typically found in Asian markets.
They are usually dried, but you can also find fresh ones in some places.
While it may be difficult to tell the difference between cloud ear mushrooms and wood ear mushrooms when they are not yet cooked, a simple test will work.
When shopping for cloud ears, make sure they are clean and mold-free.
The best way to tell if they are fresh is to put one in your mouth and chew it.
If it tastes doughy, you should avoid purchasing this particular type of mushroom because it’s starting to go bad.
4 – Dried Wood Ear Mushrooms
This is a convenient alternative, but it may be expensive to use dried wood ear mushrooms instead of fresh ones.
They have a similar taste and texture, so there’s no need to worry about the flavor of your recipe changing too much when you make this substitution.
You can find dried wood ear mushrooms in many Asian grocery stores.
If you can’t find them, you can also turn to the Internet.
They typically come in small dried pieces, but when placed in warm water, they will rehydrate.
Remember not to let them soak for too long because they become slimy and lose their flavor after a while.
It’s important never to try and substitute fresh wood ear mushrooms for dried ones.
The new variety is much more flavorful than its dried counterpart and would not be appropriate for your recipe.
5 – Chestnut Mushrooms
Chestnut mushrooms, also known as “brown beech” mushrooms, are another great substitute for the wood ear.
These mushrooms have a slightly sweet flavor and are a great addition to salads or veggies cooked together.
Some chefs even like to use these in place of meat because they have a hearty texture.
Chestnuts mushrooms can usually be found fresh in most supermarkets and grocery stores, but they can also be found dried or canned in some places.
The dried variety may be a little difficult to cook with because it takes quite a while to rehydrate, so you shouldn’t try and substitute them when cooking quickly.
Chestnut mushrooms typically have a light brown color and add a few different textures to your dish.
They are similar to most other mushrooms in the way they taste but have a unique earthy flavor that separates them from the rest.
Wood ear mushrooms can be difficult to find and even more difficult to identify.
Fortunately, using other types of edible mushrooms won’t affect the overall taste of your dish and will provide a unique flavor that you may not have tasted otherwise.
Each of these substitutes is very healthy and low in fat, so there’s no need to be concerned about your meal being unhealthy – you can even tell yourself it’s a special treat.
If none of these options work for you, it’s important not to over-think the substitution.
There are plenty of other types of edible mushrooms that will most likely work just fine.
You can also turn to your grocery store or farmer’s market for ideas on what other options are out there.