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Chinese Mushrooms: Tree Oysters

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Spring Volume: 2001 Issue: 8(1) page(s): 15 and 16

Known for centuries, tree oyster use, also known as oyster mushrooms, is increasing world-wide. China is the major producer, supplying almost sixty percent of the world's supply. This ‘mushroom of flower heaven’ as an ancient Chinese scholar once called them, is now being cultivated in- and out-of-doors. Actually, those once only available when found in the woods, represent about eight percent of cultivated mushrooms. Often classified among the very best edible species, they are now produced year-round, though more common May through December.

The Chinese call them hau go, botanist refer to them as Pleurotus ostreatus, and commonly people call them 'abalone mushrooms,' 'oyster shelf mushrooms,' 'tree oysters,' 'shellfish mushrooms,' even 'angel’s wings.' Sought after and written about during the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 CE), these easy-to-find fungi are most commonly grown on various hardwoods. Prolific, they also do well on straw, sawdust, paper, cornmeal, sludge, and a plethora of other waste products. Not only is this mushroom considered easy to grow among those who cultivate them, but this species grows in a most biologically efficient manor. They produce more energy than they consume.

You can find hao go in many colors. They might be white, tan, gray, or golden, even pink, blue, and other colors, too. There are reports of dark brown or black oyster mushrooms, these colors tend to appear in winter and are not considered high quality specimens. However beautiful, they are not without problems. They spoil easily, become slimy in but a few days, and they get bitter when overcooked. As they age they get tough, so young ones are sought after. Also, they attract beetles and flies in large numbers.

A delicate multi-variety species with a semi-circular cap that resembles an oyster shell, they can be substituted for any mushroom, button to black forest, the shape of the cap giving rise to their name. Also called shellfish of the woods, oyster mushrooms are marketed fresh whole or in large pieces, dried whole or as a powder, and canned. Freezing them is not considered successful.

Some western authors report that they taste like oysters, This sympathetic taste tale arises from the visual. When we did a blind tasting in partner groups, ’oyster’ was one of twelve choices but not one of the more than a hundred folk selected that word. Nor was it given when asked "Does this taste like anything not on the list I just gave you?" Perhaps this western notion, first given by some English folk, was spawned not only by the visual, but also by the western technique of dipping them in egg then breadcrumbs, as is done for oysters, then frying them.

Turning these mushroom over, one finds gills of a light color that are narrow and radiate in increasing numbers as they get closer to the stem. This stem is short and the mushrooms grow in layered groups. Should you raise them in batches of straw, you will see them in these groupings all around the growing medium.

In China, it is believed that this family of mushrooms contain some unique properties useful in treating many conditions and diseases, pulmonary emphysema among them. Consuming them is recommended to those with joint pain and muscle tightness. Dried spores with and without dried mushrooms made into a powder are considered tendon-easing and used to treat lumbago, numb limbs, and tendon discomfort. Powder and as whole fungi, these mushrooms are used as blood builders and relievers of blood vessel discomfort, perhaps because of their high iron content.

They have lots of protein and available amino acids, the protein content can be as high as one-third, based upon dry weight, and depending upon growth rate and substrate used. When fed to mice with different sarcomas, fresh oyster mushrooms alleviated their cancers.

They are also reported to prevent some cancers and have other anti-tumor activity. As a dried powder, there are reports of lowered serum low-density lipoprotein in hamsters. In addition, this mushroom variety may have an impact on viral diseases including polio and emphysema and be of value in platelet aggregation and hypertension control. The active substances may be beta-glucans, nucleic acid derivatives, and/or lipids and peptides. On the other side, it needs notation that other animal studies speak of toxicity after thirty days of oral or intra-peritoneal administration.

As a culinary ingredient, oyster mushrooms are often paired with chicken or shrimp, and they are used by vegetarians as a substitute for meat and seafood. Several recipes below show a variety of uses, fresh and dried lotus and Oyster Mushroom pancakes. Try these and other recipes using these mushrooms.
Lotus and Oyster Mushroom Pancakes
2 ounces dried oyster mushrooms, soaked until soft
8 ounces peeled raw lotus roots, finely grated
1 ounce Chinese bacon, minced fine
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash white pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 Tablespoons water chestnut flour or corn starch
1 cup corn oil
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1/4 cup cold tea
1. Mix mushrooms, lotus root puree, and bacon. Add egg, salt, pepper, sesame oil, and then two-thirds of the flour.
2. Divide the dough in six parts and shape into balls, then flatten them dusting them on both sides with the remaining flour.
3. Heat oil in a wok or fry pan and fry on one side until light brown turn over and fry on the second side, then remove and drain.
4. Mix hoisin sauce and tea and put into a bowl. Serve pancakes with dipping sauce.
Abalone and Mushrooms
5 to 6 ounces canned abalone
3 ounces oyster mushrooms
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon chicken fat
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
1 Tablespoon corn oil
2 green onions, cut into two inch pieces, then slivered lengthwise
1 cup chicken stock
1 Tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon sugar
dash white pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons cornstarch
1. Thinly slice abalone and mushrooms and marinate them for one hour in oyster sauce, cornstarch, and chicken fat.
2. Blanch lettuce for half minute in boiling water, then drain well.
3. Heat corn oil, scallions and fry half a minute then add stock, abalone and oyster mushrooms. Bring to the boil for one minute then drain reserving the stock.
4. Mix soy sauce, ginger, sugar, and pepper. Add to the wok along with the stock and cook until reduced by half. Return mushroom mixture to the wok, add cornstarch and water and thicken, then serve on top of the blanched and drained lettuce.

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