Truffles are edible fungi that are an expensive culinary delicacy. But what exactly is a truffle and what do they taste like? Why are they so expensive and which recipes include them? Find out everything you need to know in this Ultimate 101 Guide to Truffle.
Truffle is a type of expensive, sought-after edible fungi that are intensely aromatic and considered a culinary delicacy.
Although similar to mushrooms, they differ in that they grow underground, while mushrooms grow above ground. They also have a very different taste, texture, and aroma.
Truffles are used sparingly to add an intense aroma and taste to dishes.
The underground fungus grows on the roots of certain woodland trees and are found mainly in France and Italy, where they are harvested with the aid of trained dogs or pigs.
Find out all about truffles, the expensive, luxury fungus that chefs love.
What is truffle?
Not to be confused with the round chocolate treats, a truffle is a type of edible fungi that, unlike mushrooms, grows entirely underground on the roots of certain trees.
They are rare and difficult to cultivate and harvest, so they are expensive and considered a luxury food.
The most prized truffles grow in regions of Italy and France, as well as Croatia, though other countries, such as China, Australia, and the northwest US have cultivars.
They are harvested by being sniffed out by specially-bred dogs.
Truffles have an intense aroma, and a strong, musky, earthy taste.
A small amount adds a bold flavor to dishes.
Although there are hundreds of truffle species, only a few are generally eaten. Of these, fewer than 10 are eaten, particularly white and black.
There are many types of truffle, including:
- White Piedmont - expensive, with a bold taste. The most intensley aromatic variety.
- Périgord- a powerful, intense aroma and strong taste.
- Burgundy - a milder, more delicate taste and aroma.
- Summer - less powerful, woody taste.
- Chinese - very mild flavor.
- Winter - musky and less pleasant aroma.
White truffle is very popular and comes from the Piedmont region of northern Italy.
Black truffle is also known as the Perigord Truffle, named after the region in southwestern France where they are found.
Why is truffle so expensive?
There are many reasons why truffle is expensive, including:
- Truffles are difficult to grow.
- They have a short season.
- Truffles have a short shelf life and are at their best when consumed within 4-5 days.
- They are in demand.
- They can only thrive in very specific environments.
- Truffles must be harvested with animals (previously pigs, now trained dogs).
- They are hard to find in the wild as they grow underground on the roots of trees.
- Truffle hunting is labor-intensive.
- Climate change has affected where they grow.
- Habitat loss due to farming, urban sprawl etc..
What does truffle taste like?
Truffle has an intense intense, pungent, musky, earthy, woody aroma. It is a truly unique flavor and scent.
The fresher they are, the more intense the flavor.
They are best eaten within 4 days of harvest and should be used sparingly.
Truffles are usually thinly shaved sparingly over dishes to finish them.
Since truffles are so expensive and rare, one of the easiest ways to enjoy the flavor is in an infused truffle oil. However, since the oils don't usually contain actual truffle (synthetic aromas are used instead), and it is diluted, it pales in comparison to the intense aroma of a fresh truffle.
Truffle oil is made by placing slices of black or white truffle into olive oil and letting it infuse so the flavors permeate the oil.
Be aware, however, that many commercial versions use synthetic aromas. Avoid those for the best flavor. Look for proper oil at farmer's markets and specialty shops.
Black truffle oil has a stronger and earthier, more sulfurous flavor than white truffle oil, which is a bit milder with garlicky cabbage-like undertones.
Although the oil doesn't have the same potency of flavor as fresh truffles, it is a more affordable alternative.
These oils are used to finish a dish and add flavor, and shouldn't be used for cooking. Don't add too much at once, since they can add strong flavors to a dish.
Try adding a light drizzle to pasta, risotto, pizza, salads, or in Truffle Mashed Potatoes. It's also a great addition to a Truffle Aioli - perfect for dolloping onto a steak or dipping French fries for a sophisticated taste.
White truffle vs black truffle
White truffles (Tuber magnatum) are rarer and more expensive. These truffles are mainly found in Italy, in the Piedmont and Tuscany regions.
White truffles are expensive, with a bold taste. They are the most intensely pungent variety, with a strong musky, garlicky, umami taste. They're also the most sought-after.
Black truffles (Tuber melanosporum) originally come from France, particularly in the Perigord region. They have a milder, less intense aroma and taste than white truffles. They have a woody, nutty, umami flavor and an earthy aroma.
How do they grow?
Truffles are a type of fungus that naturally grows underground on the roots of certain trees.
In the past, truffle hunters used pigs to sniff out and dig them up, however, the animals often ate the truffles.
Nowadays, specially trained dogs are used for harvest as they are less likely to eat them.
White truffle season runs from September to January, though the main harvesting is from late October to November.
Black truffle season runs from December to March, and the main harvesting is in January and February.
Are truffles vegan?
Although truffles themselves are vegan (being a fungus), their harvest is not necessarily vegan.
Since they grow underground, farmers must use animals (in the past pigs, but now dogs), to sniff them out.
Exploiting animals, even when they are not harmed, is often not considered vegan. Therefore truffles are not safe for vegans unless you happen to uncover one yourself.
Whether you have truffle oil or fresh truffles, here are some indulgent recipes to make the most of this rare and exciting ingredient.