There are several unique fungi that are popularly used in Asian cooking. They range from common cooking mushrooms like shitake to some of the rarest fungi ingredients such as snow fungus. Learn about these mushrooms and what you can substitute for them if they cannot be found at your local grocery store or market.
Cloud Ear Fungus (a.k.a. wood ear, jelly mushroom) – An edible jelly fungus, known as “tree jellyfish” in Japanese, that has a crunchy texture and a very dark brown color. It has very little flavor, but absorbs the flavor of nearby ingredients like a sponge. A common ingredient in hot and sour soup (it comprises those crunchy dark things you see floating around), mu shu pork and stir fries. Jew’s Ear fungus or other jelly funguses can be substituted.
Enoki – (a.k.a. enokitake) Long, white, ultra-skinny mushrooms that are most often used in soups and salads. Crispy when fresh, with a hint of fruit in the flavor. Tough when cooked. Regular button mushrooms can be substituted.
Shitake Mushrooms – A common ingredient in a variety of Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Korean dishes, the shitake mushroom has a particularly dark, earthy, “umami” (“savory”) taste and is found in stir fries, miso soup and dashi, or fried and eaten by itself. Oyster or button mushrooms are good substitutes, but will never achieve the earthy flavor of a shitake.
Snow Fungus – (a.k.a. white tree ear fungus, silver ear, silver fungus) A white jelly fungus. It has a yellowish hue and is used in soups and desserts in China. It is essentially flavorless, but is eaten for its pleasant jelly-like texture.
Straw Mushroom – A small, stout mushroom shaped like a cap on a broad, stout stem. It is shinier than most mushrooms and is usually available in the US only in cans or jars. Canned button mushrooms are a fair substitute.