Truffles are an interesting kind of edible fungi with a unique taste. They are one of the very few tuber-type foods to be considered a delicacy. Here we will take a closer look at these funny and exquisite little treats.
What Do Truffles Taste Like?
The answer to that question depends on who you ask, the type of truffle, and where it was grown. The taste of truffles is such a unique taste that describing it can be hard to pin down. The description often seems to differ from one person to the next.
Most people describe the unique flavor of truffles as having an earthy, meaty, or gummy flavor. The truffle flavor has been likened to garlic, mushrooms, or nuts, and some people also consider them to be musky, woody, or even gamey.
Truffles are both sweet and savory. The taste of black truffles can be described as somewhat similar in taste to black olives, while white truffles have a softer and milder flavor. The difference in flavor is more noticeable when eating a raw truffle. However, once cooked, the flavor of black and white truffles becomes much more similar.
What Do Truffles Smell Like?
Truffles have an earthy aroma. But, similar to the taste of truffles, everyone seems to have a different experience with the smell of truffles as well. Some people describe it as having a strong aroma that is an unpleasant, foul, pungent aroma, or even disgusting odor. Yet many people classify truffles as fragrant, with notes of fried walnut or sunflower seeds.
What are Truffles?
A truffle is a valuable and highly sought-after, edible fruiting body of a group of fungi of the Tuber genus. Truffles are a fragrant fungus that grows underground and are one of only ten types of tubers to be considered a delicacy.
Because they are both fungi, many people assume that truffles are a type of mushroom. Although they both have fruiting bodies and spores, truffles are a distinct species and are not a type of mushroom.
Where Do Truffles Come From?
There are several species of truffles that are grown throughout the world. However, there are specific areas the most sought-after truffles come from. The most expensive of the white truffles are found exclusively in northern Italy. While black truffles are found in the Périogold region in France and are less expensive than white truffles. Burgundy truffles and the black summer truffle can be found throughout Europe.
Other truffles may be found in places such as New Zealand, the United States, Asia, Australia, and Spain. They thrive in calcareous soils and derive much of their nutrients from tree roots, commonly large oaks and beeches, which they grow around. One truffle takes about ten years to grow before they are ready for harvest.
Why Are Truffles So Expensive?
Truffles are commonly found on the menu of fine dining restaurants and are best served with Mediterranean or Italian cuisines. But unlike some foods, which are simply marked up in price, these unique delicacies are expensive because of the unique and tedious process of harvesting and preparing them, which is why they are often referred to as the diamond of the kitchen.
Long Grow Time
It takes around ten years of growing before a truffle is ready for harvest. This long period of development is one of the main reasons for the high price of truffles.
Hunting and Harvesting Methods
Truffles grow intermingled with the roots of large trees, making them difficult to find and harvest. Many truffle hunters collect wild truffles, usually with the help of an animal with a much stronger nose than our own.
Up until recently, the most common way of finding truffles was with the help of a pig. Female pigs will naturally sniff out truffles, finding them for truffle hunters who cannot see or smell the truffles growing underground. Unfortunately, because pigs also love truffles, many hunters would lose some of the find to the pig, who would also try to dig the truffles up.
More recently, truffle hunters have begun using dogs trained to find the scent of truffles. These scent dogs do not like the taste of truffles and will gladly work for other rewards, leaving the truffles for the hunter to harvest.
Once the truffles have been located, the hunter must carefully dig within the roots of a large tree to find the truffles and collect them. The season for collecting truffles depends on the location and the type of truffle but is usually during the autumn and winter months. Therefore, truffles must be dug out from the deep roots of large trees when the ground is most hard.
Summer truffles are an exception to the factor of hard ground, as they are collected during the warmer spring and summer months. Unfortunately, all types of truffles have a short harvest period, making them seasonal and impossible to find during the off-season.
Because truffles cannot be grown using conventional gardening methods and the collection methods are so laborious, this factors into the cost of truffles.
Although truffles cannot be grown like other fruits and vegetables in a garden, there are truffle farmers who cultivate truffles. The process includes inoculating young trees with the fungi spores of the type of truffle they want to grow. As the trees grow, the truffles should grow attached to the root system. The truffles and trees form a symbiotic relationship, aiding one another in finding nutrients. The truffles help pull key minerals from the soil for the tree, and the tree roots give truffles glucose sugar.
Although this process does produce truffles, the labor can be tedious and frustrating. It takes years for the young trees to grow to become large enough for the truffles. Each truffle can take three to four years to begin development. And the truffles take ten years to be ready for harvest. These long wait times can leave farmers with a lot of uncertainty about the success of their methods and efforts. Additionally, truffles require specific conditions to grow. The soil must be at just right, including the right altitude and alkalinity.
The massive amount of work that goes into cultivating, raising, and collecting each truffle again drives up the cost of these tasty treats.
Short Shelf Life
Once they are harvested, truffles have an incredibly short shelf life as they begin to evaporate water as soon as they leave the ground. However, this can be extended by storing and caring for truffles properly. Depending on how they are stored, truffles can last for up to a couple of weeks, although they will begin to lose some of their flavor and fragrance. To enjoy truffles while they are still fresh, they need to be eaten within five or six days of being harvested.
As with the process of growing, finding, and harvesting truffles, this short shelf life and need for proper storing methods also add to the cost of truffles.
Health Benefits of Truffles
Truffles are rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Truffles are a great source of protein, fat, and dietary fiber. White truffles are higher in these nutrients than other varieties.
Vitamins and Minerals
All types of truffles are rich in vitamins and minerals. Truffles are a good source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium. In addition, they contain vitamins C, K, D, and B, including riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and pantothenic acid (B5).
Truffles contain antioxidants that are linked to overall health and lowered the risk of many chronic medical conditions. In addition, antioxidants in truffles are linked with the prevention of signs of premature aging and have been found to improve immunity.
Aids in the Treatment and Prevention of Some Diseases
In addition to high levels of antioxidants which are linked with the reduced risk of chronic ailments, truffles are also considered useful in the treatment and prevention of some other medical conditions. For example, truffles contain a polyhydroxy sterol glycoside known as tuberside, which is a precursor of steroid hormones. This glycoside has been found to aid in the treatment of depression. In addition, truffles have also been found to be effective in preventing dementia, atherosclerosis, and cancer.
Varieties of Truffles
Like many other fungi, there are multiple different types of truffles. Not all types of truffles are edible, so it is usually best to stick with a few common varieties. The taste and texture of truffles depend on the type and where it was grown, so black truffles from Oregon state may have subtle variations from Italian black truffles as well.
In total, there are more than 100 kinds of truffles that can be found across 12 countries of the world. However, not all these types of truffles are edible. The three most common edible truffles are black, white, and summer.
The most common type of truffles on the market are black truffles. They are very often found growing on oak and hazelnut trees in France, where they are collected in autumn and winter.
Black truffles tend to be a bit more affordable than other varieties when purchased whole and minced black truffles are less expensive than whole. Minced black truffles are usually mixed with oils and stored in glass jars.
The taste of black truffles can be described as somewhat similar in taste to the savory notes in black olives but also has an earthy and nutty taste. Black truffles cannot be eaten raw and must be cooked prior to consumption.
White truffles, the second most common type of edible truffles, are most commonly found in Italy. In fact, so many white truffles come from Alba, Italy, that white truffles are also referred to as Alba truffles.
White truffles are the most expensive variety and are the type that is usually found in fine dining restaurants. They can be eaten cooked or raw and have a softer and milder flavor profile than black truffles.
As the name suggests, and unlike black and white truffles, summer truffles are harvested during the summer months. They can be found throughout Europe in the spring and summer months but are most flavorful when they are collected during late July.
Summer truffles look like black truffles from the outside, but they differ on the inside. Summer truffles have what is known as “gleba” on the inside. This light tan to deep brown-colored interior has a strong, sweet, pleasant aroma.
Truffle oils are commonly made by infusing a cooking oil such as olive oil, safflower, or sunflower and infused with truffles to create an aromatic truffle oil. Be sure to find an oil that is infused with real truffles, as some truffle oils are made with artificial or synthetic flavors. As with whole truffles, truffle oil can easily become overcooked, so consider adding it at the end of cooking or drizzling it on foods once they are prepared.
White truffle oil is more popular than black truffle oil. White truffle oil tastes more like a shallot or garlic and is very light in taste compared to black truffle oil, which has a strong aroma and an earthy rich taste.
If you can find truffle oil made with real truffles, it is advisable to use it in the end stages of food preparation and not early in cooking. A little bit can go a long way, so you don’t want to use too much, or you may ruin the dish.
Just as truffles can easily become overcooked, real truffle oil can also become overcooked, altering the flavor. Most people finish cooking their eggs, vegetables, or fries and drizzle them with truffle oil once cooking is completed.
How to Eat Truffles
How to Select a Good Truffle
Choose truffles that are in season. Summer truffles can be found during the summer months. Black and white truffles should be harvested during the autumn and winter months.
Look for any holes in the truffles. Holes can be a sign that an insect got into the truffle. Find a clean truffle. Because they are harvested from deep within the ground, all truffles have been exposed to soil, so there is nothing wrong with them having touched the ground. Truffles are expensive and sold by weight, so any soil clinging to the truffles can affect the price.
Smell the truffles. Although everyone seems to differ in how they describe the taste and smell of truffles, fresh truffles should smell pleasant or slightly funky. Truffles that smell like they have gone bad are most likely no longer fresh.
If you are purchasing truffles from a store, look for a specialty store instead of an ordinary grocer. Most superstores do not store the truffles properly, reducing their shelf life and allowing them to lose their flavor and aroma. A specialty store will properly care for the truffles until you purchase them.
How to Store Truffles
After purchasing truffles, you should gently rinse them with water and, if necessary, gently scrub them with a soft-bristled vegetable brush. Gently but completely dry the truffles with paper towels or a kitchen towel. The best place to store them is in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Do not cut into the truffle until you are ready to eat it.
Black truffles can also be frozen for up to six months. Follow the instructions above for rinsing, then gently wrap the truffle in a paper towel and place the wrapped truffle in an airtight container or bag.
All types of truffles can be cooked. White truffles should be barely more than warmed, while black truffles can be cooked longer. All truffles can easily become overcooked, so many people add them to a recipe close to the end of the cooking process.
Truffles can be flaked or shaved onto other foods to add flavor. Try truffles on savory dishes such as pizza, pasta, macaroni, scrambled eggs, or cheesy potatoes.
Many other pre-made foods such as truffle jams, truffle butter, and tapenades are infused with truffles. These items are usually made and sold in small batches as they will go bad quickly. Some of these products contain minced truffles; others have been infused with them. Make sure that if you are selecting an infused product that it was made with real truffles and not a synthetic flavor.
Truffles are a tasty and rare treat that can be difficult to obtain and require some work to keep fresh and well-prepared. For this reason, many people only eat truffles at fine dining restaurants. However, if you can find these unique fungi, they are fun to eat and taste great alongside many other foods.
Karla Kueber is a Certified Evidence Based EFT Practioner and Health Coach, with a double Masters Degree in Education. She works with people to overcome emotional eating, curb cravings, and overcome resistance to eating new healthy foods. You can learn more about coaching with her here.