Auricularia auricula-judae, Auricularia cornea and Auricularia delicata. Wood ear, cloud ear and jelly ear. Names are in order.
I have been spotting Auricularia fungi for years now but have never found the desire to eat them. They are however eaten with gusto in parts of Asia, at least a. cornea/ polytricha and a. auricula-judae. In fact they were an early export from Australia to China back in the 19th century. I am writing this because I find at least four distinct species of Auricularia locally and I think they are worthy of a mention even if they are about as appetizing as a fresh shucked sea urchin (I can still vividly remember gagging). I will admit that myself along with most of the internet are a bit handicapped when it comes to putting the different species in the correct box, my IDs are best guesses and could probably be improved on. The fact that these fungi fruit freely and often make them one of the most commonly seen edibles in this area. Perhaps after a sample I will become a convert, readily pontificating their health benefits (and mouth feel) to anyone who’ll listen. stranger things have happened. To the pan Jonas!! **groan**
Wood ear, auricularia auricula-judae
First to hit the pan is the classic wood ear, auricularia auricula-judae. Fried on oil with a pinch of salt does little to improve the visual appeal, the smell is not to bad. The flavour is subtle but that mouth feel…ummmazing. The texture is half crispy half rubbery, if it was mixed in with other mushrooms and a decent sauce I might even eat it again. The Queensland Mycological society breaks this fungi into two separate species, looking at photos and books its difficult to come to any conclusions about exactly whats what, Wikipedia lists thirty species of auricularia globally so its easy to see how subtle differences are missed, they can be found with patience and a microscope, things I sadly lack. In China auricularia auricula-judae and the similar A. polytricha are a very popular fungi, over 1.5 million tonnes are grown annually, they have been cultivated for over 1000 years. They are eaten in soups for their texture and health benefits, its said they help with colds and fevers by reducing the heat in the body. Modern scientific studies show anticoagulant and antitumour properties in the fungi. They are eaten in many other parts of the world, the wikipedia article is worth a look for further information.
Cloud ear or hairy wood ear. Auricularia aff. cornea
Next to meet my taste buds is a. cornea, these are similar but with more crunch, kinda reminds me of celery. These may in be the Auricularia polytricha mentioned above, at least they look the same, and the texture description matches. Qldfungi.org.au calls them a. cornea which is good enough for me, again there may be two species of hairy wood ear. I often find this fungus growing on dead tobacco bush (solanum mauritianum) Note the fine white hairs along the margin of the caps.
Auricularia aff. delicata, jelly ear
I can not find much information on the edibility of a. delicata, so I’m not going to recommend it as an edible but for the record I have fried some up and given it a chew, a very small piece. Its is similar to the others tho its thicker and more gelatinous. Think of a gummy bear sandwiched between two layers of cardboard. Qldfungi tells me there are two species or at least variations of a. delicata in Queensland. I have found at least four variation of this species, the colour along with other features tends to be very changeable. Some are almost white while others are rich brown. The colour also changes as they age, they tend to bleach out becoming paler, they can also swell after wet weather. Again it will take patience and a microscope to figure it all out. DNA would be another option tho some tests seem to support variations rather then multiple species. Above and bellow, the photos show a big difference in appearance, the specimens bellow are some of the best I have seen, with a slight hairy top and fine white hairs along the margin similar to a. cornea. Also note how different these two photos are to the sample of a. delicata in the right of the photo at the top of this post. All three photos are of fresh young fungi before they have become bleached or otherwise effected by the environment.
Auricularia aff. delicata a hairy jelly ear
Pelictania camylospora, a possible look alike.
There are a range of cup fungi mostly in the genus peziza and jelly fungi in the genus tremella that could possibly be confused with Auricularia species, so as always please be cautious and diligent with ID. Never eat a fungi without a positive ID and only eat a small amount the first time. I have put a bunch more Auricularia photos on Flickr including another freakish member of the Auricularia delicata clan.