In recent years, there has been a type of mushroom that looks like an ear and has the incredible ability to help with weight control, reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and even regulate the gastrointestinal system. What kind of mushroom is so amazing? It’s known as “Judas’s ear” or black fungus.
What Is Black Fungus?
Black fungus is a type of edible fungus in the Auricularia genus that grows in temperate and subtropical regions. Like most fungi, it has a structure consisting of mycelium, fruiting bodies, and spores. The mycelium is the nutritional organ responsible for breaking down and absorbing nutrients. When there’s ample nutrition, the mycelium gradually grows and transforms into fruiting bodies. Fruiting bodies are responsible for producing spores, which are then dispersed with the help of the wind. Spores first germinate into non-reproductive single-nucleus mycelium. Only when two single-nucleus mycelia combine into double-nucleus mycelium do they have the potential to develop into fruiting bodies with spore-producing capabilities.
The part of the fungus that we typically consume is the fruiting body. Fresh fruiting bodies have a brown color and a slightly ear-like appearance. They have a soft, elastic texture and a gelatinous or cartilaginous mouthfeel. As they mature, their color gradually darkens to a deep brown. Dried fruiting bodies become extremely hard and brittle. Wild black fungus mushrooms often grow on the trunks or branches of broad-leaved trees. Due to the current understanding of black fungus growth and development, it can be cultivated artificially by controlling factors such as nutrient sources, oxygen levels, temperature, humidity, and pH.
Nutritional Content of Black Fungus
When analyzing the nutritional content, it is ranked from highest to lowest as follows: total carbohydrates > crude protein > ash (total minerals) > crude fat. If you look at the nutritional content of black fungus, you may notice that it has a relatively high level of total carbohydrates. This might raise concerns about whether consuming it can lead to blood sugar spikes. However, it’s important to note that the total carbohydrates in black fungus are primarily in the form of polysaccharides, which do not have the same impact on blood sugar levels as monosaccharides or disaccharides.
The two most abundant components in the total carbohydrates are glucose and mannose. In the crude protein category, essential amino acids make up approximately 35% of the total amino acids. The two most abundant minerals are calcium and potassium. Additionally, black fungus contains health-promoting compounds, such as polysaccharides and polyphenolic compounds.
How Many Calories Does Black Fungus Have?
In terms of providing calories, the primary sources in food are carbohydrates, fats, proteins, alcohol, and organic acids. Among these, fats provide the most calories per gram. However, when looking at the nutritional analysis of black fungus, you’ll find that it has a relatively low fat content. Therefore, every 100 grams of fresh black fungus only contains approximately 38 kilocalories.
Five Health Benefits of Black Fungus
In cell experiments, it has been discovered that extracts from black fungus components can enhance antioxidant activity and induce apoptosis in tumor cells, leading to cytotoxic effects on tumor cells. This effect is particularly potent against gastric and bronchial carcinoma cells. The polysaccharides and polyphenolic compounds in black fungus can reduce liver inflammation markers, such as alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST), and lower blood lipids while providing protection to the liver and stomach. Therefore, it has the potential to reduce damage caused by acute alcohol poisoning.
The beta-glucan in black fungus polysaccharides can promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, including bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Moreover, gut bacteria can utilize beta-glucan to produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) for the intestinal tract.
In animal experiments, in models of autoimmune diseases induced by cyclophosphamide, supplementation of black fungus polysaccharides has multiple effects, such as stimulating the secretion of cytokines, regulating the gut microbiota, enhancing the integrity of the gastrointestinal barrier, and increasing the synthesis of short-chain fatty acids. These actions collectively strengthen the gastrointestinal system.
💡Note: Cyclophosphamide is a clinical drug commonly used in chemotherapy and the treatment of autoimmune diseases. It is known to cause changes in gut microbiota and mucosal damage in the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in severe digestive-related side effects.
Cardiovascular Protection (Anti-Platelet Aggregation)
The structure of black fungus polysaccharides is primarily composed of glucose, mannose, and glucuronic acid. Purified specific polysaccharide components from black fungus were fed to experimental animals. It was found that these polysaccharides exhibit the same anti-platelet aggregation effect as aspirin. Therefore, the polysaccharides in black fungus possess anti-platelet aggregation and anticoagulant properties.
Research indicates that black fungus polysaccharide components simultaneously prolong:
- Activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT)
- Prothrombin time (PT)
- Thrombin time (TT)
So, black fungus polysaccharides can regulate multiple pathways to achieve an anticoagulant effect.
Feeding animals on a high-cholesterol diet with black fungus extract (containing polyphenols and polysaccharides) significantly reduces total cholesterol and atherosclerosis index. It also enhances antioxidant capacity and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels while accelerating the excretion of bile acids from feces. Animal experiments have found that continuous supplementation of black fungus polysaccharides for up to 8 weeks can lower total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and lipid peroxidation values while increasing total antioxidant capacity in the body.
Black fungus has low fat content and high dietary fiber content. Consuming it can increase the feeling of fullness and reduce overall food intake. Experimental animals supplemented with black fungus extract effectively reduced their overall body weight and fat tissue weight. Furthermore, research has found that black fungus extract can inhibit the differentiation of fat cells. In different experiments, similar gene regulation has been observed, with black fungus extract affecting the expression of genes and proteins related to lipid metabolism, such as PPARγ, FABP4 (ap2), CD36, and C/EBPα.
Blood Sugar Control
Black fungus contains a significant amount of water-soluble dietary fiber, which has the ability to slow the post-meal rise in blood sugar. Additionally, black fungus polysaccharides have been shown to inhibit α-amylase. Recent research has found that black fungus polysaccharides can alter the gut microbiota, leading to the regulation of glucose absorption and metabolism in the gastrointestinal tract. Furthermore, black fungus polysaccharides can enhance the utilization of glucose by peripheral tissues, such as muscle tissue, resulting in lowered blood sugar levels.
Are There Any Contraindications and Side Effects of Black Fungus?
The components in black fungus can affect the coagulation pathway, and therefore, it has an anticoagulant effect. People with coagulation-related diseases, such as hemophilia patients, should use caution when consuming it. Also, individuals who have had recent surgeries, dental extractions, or are about to give birth should reduce or discontinue intake. Dried black fungus is less susceptible to microbial growth, but during the soaking process, microbes can proliferate, so special attention should be paid to soaking time and temperature.