Bear bread, also known as Artist’s bracket, is a fungus that grows in and on trees. The scientific name for this species is Ganoderma applanatum.
The fungus grows within the wood of trees (both dead ones and living ones) and will eventually form a fruiting body known as a conk. The conk is white at first, but will soon turn to a reddish-brown color. The texture is somewhere between woody and leathery. Bear bread conks can grow really big over time, some of them attaining a diameter of more than 100 cm / 40 in. The fungi reproduces by releasing spores from the pores located on the underside of the conk.
When Ganoderma applanatum grows in a living tree, it is bad for the tree, since it destroys the heartwood, and sometimes also the sapwood if it is moist enough. Attacks on sapwood are especially common in older trees.
Scientific classification of this fungus
Bear bread in folk medicine
Bear bread is used in Chinese and Japanese folk medicine. In Japan, it is known as kofuki-saru-no-koshikake which means powder-covered monkey’s bench.
Modern medical research into bear bread
Modern scientific research has revealed that this fungi contains compounds that are antibacterial, antitumorous and antifibriotic. An antifibriotic compond is one that reduces fibrosis, i.e. the formation of excess fibrous connective tissue in an organ.
Examples of interesting compounds types found in bear bread are tetracyclic triterpenes, dimeric meroterpenoids (including Applantmin A), and active β-d-glucans.
Eating bear bread
An Asia, bear bread conks are used to flavor certain dishes, including many herbal soups and drinks.
For food that it to be fermented, adding sliced conks prior to fermentation will increase the amount of umami in the finnished fermented product. In parts of Asia, conks fermented together with onions and lemon acid is available at local food markets.
We humans aren’t the only ones who like bear bread; wild gorillas have been observed eating it too.