Snow fungus for supper? Everything you need to know about this miracle ingredient used in traditional Chinese medicine
Snow fungus has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. And it has been hailed as a remedy for everything from dry coughs to its anti-inflammatory benefits. Master Chef Lian Yuan Lei who heads the kitchen at the Golden Dragon, Taj Coromandel in Chennai tells us it is best prepared steamed, boiled or stir-fried. If you get your hands on this exotic ingredient, he tells us, “Handle it delicately as it is can easily disintegrate”. This dish is quick, simple and wholesome and also a great immunity booster to add to your list of home recipes for the New Year. Excerpts:
Tell us a bit about this ingredient. Where can snow fungus be found?
Snow fungus, also known as white fungus, silver ear fungus, white wood ear, white jelly mushroom, and tremella from its scientific name, is an edible fungus that grows on trees in Asia and is cultivated for its medicinal value. It has been used for more than 2000 years for small ailments. The species is mainly tropical and subtropical but extends into temperate areas in Asia. Fruit bodies are gelatinous, watery white, up to 7.5 cm (3.0 in) across (larger in cultivated specimens), and composed of thin but erect, seaweed-like, branching fronds, often crisped at the edges.
Commonly dried snow fungus is provided in the market. High-quality snow fungus should have a yellowish-white surface. Skin those pure white ones because they might be bleached. The dried snow fungus should be soaked in clean water until soft. And the density of the white fungus flower influences the time needed for the soaking process.
Cooking snow fungus soup sometimes is time-consuming. This is why high pressure is used at times to replace regular pot cooking. After soaking, the dark ends are cut off.
Do you remember the first time you tasted it, what the dish was and how old you were?
I had first tasted this dish almost 40 years ago when my father had procured the snow fungus for making a special dish for my birthday. I also have fond memories of me competing with my sibling of balancing the snow fungus with chopsticks, since it was always tricky for us to win & complete the bowl first. Adding the element of fun with food, made this truly a delicacy we used to cherish for any special event.
What are some of its health benefits?
The white fungus has been appraised for its medicinal benefits, namely anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor. In Chinese families, it is commonly used in soups cooked for soothing purposes like nourishing the bodies, healing dry coughs, and clearing heat in the lungs. Occasionally, we may also see it in stir-fry vegetable dishes.
However, many cosmetic chemists also believe that white fungus also has the ability to boost skin hydration due to the gelatinous structure and high amount of polysaccharide.
Snow fungus is rich in polysaccharides, compounds that have potent immunity-boosting qualities. The particular polysaccharides contained in this fungus enhance the secretion of vital immune system components which incite the manufacture of germ-consuming macrophages.
Snow fungus also improves and enhances the action of a type of white blood cell that protects the body from viruses and bacteria. It also improves the efficacy of antibodies which are also used by the immune system to fight bacteria and viruses.
In traditional Chinese medicine, snow fungus is considered to be especially effective for old people with a weakened respiratory system, and for dry coughs.
What are some of the ways to cook it - given how delicate it is as an ingredient?
The snow fungus can be either be steamed, boiled or stir-fried to cook. The ingredient needs to be handled delicately as it has the tendency of disintegrating. While cooking snow fungus, strong spices and robust cooking method is avoided. Snow fungus has a very subtle taste of its own, that is enhanced using fresh ingredients like coriander, pickled chillies, asparagus, light soya, etc.
Cantonese-style Steamed snow fungus with fresh chilli
White fungus 140 gm | Fresh red chili 10 gm | Peeled garlic chopped 15 gm | Refined oil 30 ml | Sugar 15 gm | Soya sauce light 20 ml | Soya sauce dark 10 ml | Corn starch 30 ml | Sesame oil 10 ml | Cooking wine: 5 ml | Vegetable stock 150 ml
• Soak the white fungus in luke warm water for 30 minutes.
• Heat the wok pan, add refined oil, chopped garlic and toss well, add shredded fresh chilly.
• Add the vegetable stock water to it and then add light soya sauce and dark light soya sauce.
• Add corn starch to make a semi-gravy consistency.
• Add the soaked white fungus cubes. Mix well and check seasoning.