Imagine walking through a forest and suddenly finding a gelatinous, almost transparent blob attached to a tree. Besides being one of the most visually striking fungi in the world, silver ear mushrooms are also among the most beneficial.
These fantastic fungi have been widely used in traditional medicine for thousands of years, and modern cultivation techniques have allowed them to become a staple in beauty products and recipes. Here’s what you need to know about these intriguing shrooms.
The silver ear mushroom, scientifically known as Tremella fuciformis, is an edible fungus with a long history of use as a medicinal mushroom. Present in tropical and subtropical climates, it’s particularly prevalent in China, Japan, Brazil, and Taiwan, where it appears near dead wood after heavy rains.
Silver ear mushrooms are famous for their unique look. Featuring several translucid blobs, T. fuciformis tends to resemble a transparent sponge. This makes it the perfect example of a “jelly fungus.” As such, it’s sure to catch the eye of both novice and experienced mushroom lovers.
The silver ear mushroom goes by many other names, including:
T. fuciformis is often associated with mushrooms from the Hypoxylon genus. These wood-rot fungi usually grow very close to silver ear mushrooms, forming a symbiotic relationship that’s yet to be fully understood.
Experts theorize that T. fuciformis actually parasitizes Hypoxylon fungi, reaping nutrients from their mycelium. Yet, it’s also possible that these species form a mutually beneficial relationship where one decomposes the wood that the other can’t.
Besides their use in traditional medicine, silver ear mushrooms are also highly valued for their culinary uses. They have a chewy texture and a spicy odor, and their mild taste makes them pair well with almost any ingredient in your kitchen (1) (2).
Silver ear mushrooms are rather unique with fruiting bodies composed of several gelatinous blobs measuring up to 7 cm (2.7 in) across and 4 cm (1.5 in) high. Initially, the blobs will be almost entirely translucent, becoming obstructed with a whitish hue as the mushroom matures. Older mushrooms may even shift from white to light tan.
The blob-like surface is smooth and shiny, and usually very thin yet firm to the touch. As such, you may find that some parts of the mushroom may break or fall off if you don’t handle it with care. Experts also point out that the blobs become even softer in older specimens (1) (2).
There aren’t any known strains, varieties, or subspecies of snow ear mushrooms.
Still, some confusion may arise from the fact that this species was described three different ways. While these records have now been unified as a single species, you may still see them pop up if you’re looking for silver ear mushrooms online. These were the three previous denominations, along with the year they were first described:
But don’t worry. The only thing you must remember is that these three names are now considered synonymy—so they describe exactly the same mushroom (3).
The silver ear mushroom has been around for thousands of years. Experts suggest it was a staple element of traditional Chinese medicine, both as a beauty product and treatment for dry coughs. However, the first known record of the species only dates back to 1832 in the Chinese county of Tongjiang.
At the time, it appears as though silver ear fungi were expensive and only consumed by the highest classes. This was probably due to the lack of cultivation techniques, which forced harvesters to look for T. fuciformis in the wild.
In 1856, renowned botanist Miles Joseph Berkeley wrote the first European record of T. fuciformis. There, he gave the species its current name and detailed some of its key characteristics.
A few years later, in 1894, Asian mushroom cultivators discovered that they could grow silver ear mushrooms artificially on logs. This lowered their price significantly, allowing them to become more prevalent in kitchens worldwide and opening the door to more sophisticated cultivation techniques.
The last great breakthrough regarding T. fuciformis happened during the 1970s, when scientists created a new cultivation technique. Unlike the previous one, this one didn’t require logs—instead, they discovered they could use sawdust as a substrate (4) (5).
This resulted in the mass production of the species, significantly lowering its price and distributing it to almost every continent in the world.
Silver ear mushrooms are a part of what’s known as “functional fungi”—mushroom species with significant health and nutritional benefits. This makes it a great addition to almost any diet, whether you’re looking for its therapeutic properties or just want a delicious ingredient to complement your recipes.
A usual serving of snow mushrooms is composed of about 70% carbohydrates, 7% protein, and 1% fat (the leftover 22% is mostly fiber, salt, and water). It also provides several important micronutrients, such as (1) (4):
Yet, the significant benefits of T. fuciformis actually come from its polysaccharides—a type of carbohydrate.
A 2021 review studied some of the most famous benefits of silver ear fungi—specifically those affecting skin health. T. fuciformis is known to be excellent for hydration. It helps with moisture retention and relieves dry skin (and the ensuing fine lines and lack of elasticity). Similarly, it reduces the damage caused by UV light, helps maintain collagen ratios, and promotes wound healing. It’s no wonder that snow fungi are among the most popular anti-aging and skincare products on the market.
But the snow mushroom benefits don’t stop there.
The same review states that these polysaccharides have significant anticarcinogenic effects. Researchers found that they could inhibit various cancer cells, including those of lung, prostate, and liver cancer—simultaneously, they can modulate and stimulate the immune system to slow down tumor growth.
Evidence also supports snow mushrooms having neuroprotective properties, helping manage conditions such as strokes, Parkinson’s disease, and coronary heart disease. Experts argue that these effects come from the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of the species’ ability to fight free radicals (6).
Silver ear mushrooms are common in Asia, South, Central, and North America, and Europe—but they seem particularly prevalent in Japan, China, and Brazil. They’re considered to be tropical and subtropical fungi and are available year-round.
Usually, they grow on dead hardwood and broadleaf trees (such as oaks, willows, and maples), where their typical companions from Hypoxylon also grow. Fallen branches are their preferred growing grounds, and they tend to appear after heavy rains.
Unlike some other mushrooms we’ve covered, snow mushrooms aren’t very easy to cultivate at home. While artificial cultivation is possible through sawdust substrates, the challenge comes from also having to cultivate their symbiotic partner (1) (2) (7).
Ethical wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting natural resources following a set of guidelines to avoid damaging the environment. Wildcrafting is often confused with foraging. However, the key difference is that wildcrafting refers to harvesting for medicinal purposes, and the latter for culinary purposes.
Picking wild mushrooms without care can significantly damage the ecosystem by harming the fungi populations or the species that feed on them. To avoid causing an imbalance, keep these rules in mind:
If you feel like you won’t be able to keep up with these guidelines, we recommend looking for harvesting groups in your area. Veteran mushroom lovers will gladly show you the ropes and help you stay away from poisonous lookalikes!
No matter the species, it’s never 100% safe to wildcraft wild fungi, including snow ear mushrooms. The possibility of picking the wrong mushroom is always there, even for experienced wildcrafters. And while there aren’t any known toxic lookalikes for T. fuciformis, it’s better to only eat store-bought mushrooms just to be safe.
Another thing to remember is that wild mushrooms can sometimes carry toxins from the environment, leading to gastric problems. If you’re about to eat wild fungi, make sure you cook them thoroughly to remove these pathogens.
Snow mushrooms are known to be versatile when it comes to cooking. You can serve them as a main dish, as a side, or as an ingredient in more complicated recipes. Oddly enough, T. fuciformis is one of the few species that pairs well with sweet flavors.
Below are a few ideas to try if you get your hands on these delicious mushrooms.
Ice cream topping: Well, this one doesn’t actually require any preparation. Just sprinkle some diced silver ear mushrooms over a bowl of ice cream and enjoy a deliciously unexpected dessert packed with micronutrients and health benefits.
Chicken soup with snow fungi: Place the chicken in a large pot of boiling water, simmer for about an hour, and add dates and green onions. Once everything is tender, take out the chicken, onions, and dates and add the previously-cooked fungi to the broth. Finally, add the chicken without the skin and the fat, simmer for three more minutes. Get more details with this snow fungus chicken soup recipe.
Dessert soup: There are plenty of recipes for snow mushroom dessert soup, but this one featuring tremella mushrooms and pears is a traditional dish served on special occasions like Chinese New Year. Best of all, you don’t need more than six ingredients (and one of them is water!).
Silver ear mushrooms aren’t only famous for their unique appearance—experts suggest that these delicious fungi have been used for skin health for centuries. But research shows they also have other health benefits, including managing conditions like cancer and strokes. Plus, unlike most mushrooms, silver ears pair well with ice cream.
To learn about other types of mushrooms, keep up on shroomer. Here, you’ll find all the details you need about psychedelic and functional fungi from all over the world, along with the latest news on medicinal research on edible mushrooms.