What is Kikurage?

What is Kikurage?

Nov 29, 2023 Tags 

Have you ever heard of a mushroom that's as cool as it is tasty? Well, we're about to introduce you to a mushroom superstar, the Kikurage mushroom! With a look that's more sci-fi than salad, it gained charming names like wood ear mushroom, jew’s ear,  Judas ear, or jelly ear. Let’s be honest, it actually does look like a giant ear. 

These mushrooms are not only visually distinctive but also taste good, which is why it is popularly used in Japanese cuisine. In this culinary journey, we'll delve deep into the world of Kikurage, exploring its origins, taste, health benefits, and how to use it in your cooking. 


What is Kikurage?


Plate with Kikurage


Kikurage mushroom is a type of fungi that is scientifically called Auricularia auricula-judae. We know it’s quite a mouthful, but this plant actually has a rich history. Chinese call Kikurage “Hei mu-er” and it was used in the Tang dynasty (618 - 907 BCE) as a medicinal herb and food. To explain the scientific name that has the word “judae” in it, we’ll turn to a myth. Judas Iscariot was said to have hung himself from a tree with this exact type of mushroom growing on it. That’s why it’s also called Judas's ear. 

Kikurage grows on dead wood, is dark brown to black in color, and smooth on both sides. Even though it is used in Japanese meals, 90% of Kikurage in Japan is imported from other countries. Sometimes, Kikurage is harvested in the Shikoku island mountains, where it grows wild in the woods. The temperature in the mountain varies during night and day, so it’s hard to determine the right conditions for growing Kikurage. However, the Aomori Prefectural Industrial Technology Research Center has created a new variety of the mushrooms that grow in Aomori summer. It is more of a reddish brown than the regular Kikurage, but it tastes the same.

When it comes to texture, Kikurage looks like jelly in its raw form, but it is also sold in its dry form, so if you see it looking strange, don’t panic. All you have to do is soak it in water for a couple of hours, and it’ll look like normal in no time. 


What Does Kikurage Taste Like?


Kikurage has an earthy fragrance but doesn’t have much of a taste. That is why it is perfect for soaking up ingredients when cooked. This makes it a versatile ingredient that can go with any meal without overpowering the main ingredients. One of the most intriguing characteristics of Kikurage is its unique texture. When properly prepared, it becomes soft, almost gelatinous, with a slight crunch. Because of this texture, it is chewy, so vegans can use it as a fun replacement for meat.


What Are The Benefits Of Kikurage?


The Chinese were on to something when they used Kikurage as medical herbs centuries ago. Kikurage mushrooms are more than just a flavorful addition to your meals; research has confirmed that they also bring a lot of health benefits to the table. Here's why you should consider incorporating them into your diet:

  • Nutrient-Rich: Kikurage mushrooms are a good source of essential nutrients such as dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They also provide a dose of iron and calcium, promoting overall well-being.
  • Low in Calories: For those conscious of their calorie intake, Kikurage is a great choice. These mushrooms are 80% - 90% moisture, so they basically just soak up enough water to feed your appetite. They are a smart addition to weight-conscious diets because of the low-calorie count. 
  • Antioxidant Properties: Kikurage mushrooms was confirmed to have strong antioxidant property by research.  These antioxidants can help combat free radicals in the body and are known for their role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases and promoting overall health. They can also combat cancer, liver diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, renal failure, brain dysfunction, and inflammation.


How To Prepare Kikurage


Kikurage mushrooms can be your ticket to culinary creativity. Their subtle flavor and unique texture go well with a wide range of dishes and cooking methods. Here are a few ways to incorporate Kikurage into your cooking:


Kikurage Soups and Broths (AJITSUKE KIKURAGE)


Kikurage Soups


Kikurage mushrooms are a wonderful addition to soups and broths. You can make a simple seasoned Kikurage broth in around 45 minutes with ingredients like salt, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and water.

Slice the mushrooms into thin strips and boil them with the soup ingredients until it is soft. You can add garlic, ginger, pork, beef, and chicken to elevate your soup. Kikurage’s ability to absorb the flavors of the surrounding ingredients and become soft and gelatinous makes it a fantastic choice for enriching the soup's texture.


Kikurage Salads and Stir-fries


Kikurage Salad


Who doesn’t love a hearty salad? Thinly sliced Kikurage mushrooms can add an interesting texture to your salads. They're an excellent choice for those who enjoy a bit of crunch in their greens.

If you don’t want to eat it raw, stir fry the greens and add some flavorful ingredients to it. Kikurage's ability to soak up savory sauces makes it a great ingredient for stir-fries. Pair it with your favorite vegetables, proteins, and sauces for a quick.


Kikurage Ramen


Kikurage Ramen


Ramen, the beloved Japanese noodle soup, welcomes a variety of ingredients, each adding its unique touch to this comforting dish. Among these, Kikurage mushrooms offer a soft, almost gelatinous texture with a slight crunch that complements the broth. Of course, the taste of the mushroom depends on how you season your ramen, but the unique texture adds an exciting contrast to the ramen bowl.


Where To Buy Kikurage


Your local Asian markets, particularly Japanese or Chinese grocery stores, are excellent places to start your Kikurage hunt. These markets often carry a variety of fresh and dried mushrooms, including Kikurage. When shopping in person, you can inspect the quality and choose the perfect Kikurage for your dishes. If you prefer the convenience of online shopping, numerous online retailers specialize in Japanese and Asian food products. You can explore websites that offer dried Kikurage. Just be sure to read product reviews and check the source's credibility when shopping online. 

In conclusion, Kikurage mushrooms are a delightful and versatile ingredient to add to your culinary creations. Their mild flavor, unique texture, and health benefits make them an ideal choice for many dishes. 

Satisfy your cravings and experience the joy of authentic Japanese food. Don't miss out on this delectable adventure by buying a snack box from Japan!

This article was originally written by our freelance writer Umm-Kulthum Abdulkareem and edited by us.