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What Are Truffles?

White truffles.
A sliced black truffle.
Truffles are sometimes used to flavor olive oil.
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  • Originally Written By: R. Kayne
  • Revised By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 10 March 2014
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Often called the diamond of the culinary world, a truffle is a rare, edible mushroom that is considered to be a delicacy due to its intense aroma and characteristic flavor. They have a firm texture and are most often shaven on top of food before serving, although they can also be used to infuse flavor into dishes. Though there are hundreds of different species, only some — mostly those found in the genus Tuber — are considered delicacies. Truffles grow underground in symbiotic relationships with trees and are difficult to find; as a result, they are usually harvested in the wild by trained hogs and dogs.

Types

Truffles are usually classified mainly based on their appearance, smell, and taste. Found in a variety of regions around the world, many are commonly known by their location rather than their technical name. Their value varies depending on their rarity and specific aromatic qualities; the rarest are the most expensive food in the world.

The French black or Périgord truffle, Tuber melanosporum, is prized for its aromatic and fruity qualities. When fresh, it has a brown-black exterior with white veins on the inside. It ranges in size from a pea to an orange, and weighs up to 2.2 pounds (1 kg). These truffles are found in the Périgord region of southwestern France.

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The very rare Italian white or Piedmont truffle, Tuber magnatum, has the strongest smell of all truffles. At its freshest, it has a smooth, dirty beige surface that ages to a brown. It ranges from walnut- to apple-size, weighing up to 1 pound (0.45 kg). Found in primarily in the Piedmont region in north-west Italy, its aroma and flavor decrease approximately one to two weeks after harvest.

Other notable varieties include the Oregon white truffle, the Chinese truffle, and the summer truffle. The two varieties of the Oregon white — Tuber oregonese and Tuber gibbosum — are white when immature and develop into an orange-brown and a pale olive-brown, respectively, at maturity. The brown Chinese varieties — Tuber sinense and Tuber indicum — are found in South China and are often harvested before they have fully matured, making them less expensive and more readily available. Found in France, Italy, and Spain, the summer truffle — Tuber aestivum — is the most common truffle, and exhibits a more delicate aroma.

Culinary Use

Truffles must be carefully handled to preserve their aroma and flavor. They should be cleaned of any dirt or debris, washed with water, and dried with a paper towel. To develop their aroma after being harvested, they should be placed in an air-tight container lined with paper towels and stored in the refrigerator for approximately three days. They can be stored in a glass jar for several months, but should never be dried as this will cause them to lose their pungency.

As cooking dissipates their flavor, truffles are most often served raw. They can be sliced, scraped, or grated on top of ready-to-serve dishes, sauces, or soups. They also pair well with fattier foods, such as cheeses, butters, oils, and eggs.

Infusing flavor into foods creates another use for the truffle. Thin slices of the fungus inserted just under the skin allows meats to readily absorb the flavor. Only small amounts are needed to make truffle butter, as the aroma will flavor the entire batch. It should be noted that, while they can be added to olive oil to infuse their flavor, most "truffle oil" doesn't actually contain any truffles.

Harvesting and Hunting

Found approximately 1 foot (30 cm) under the ground, the vegetative part of the fungi — the mycelia — forms a symbiotic relationship with the roots of a variety of species of trees. Since they grow underground, truffles rely on animals to eat them and scatter their spores in order to reproduce. The strong odor of the mature truffle is what allows animals to locate them.

Truffle hunting is a lucrative business when they are in season, from fall through spring. In North America, raking back the soil and searching by sight is the usual method for harvesting. In Europe, hunters use truffle hogs and specially-trained dogs to sniff them out. The female truffle hogs become alert to the scent of the mature truffle because it is similar to the pheromones of the male hog's saliva. The sow is difficult to hold back, however, and will readily eat the expensive delicacy if allowed to do so.

For this reason, many hunters have begun to use truffle dogs, with the Lagotto Romagnolo being the only breed specifically recognized for this trait as of 2009. Though they lack the innate ability of the hog to detect the scent, dogs can be specially trained to do so. The advantage comes when the truffle is located, as the dog is much less likely to eat it.

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Discuss this Article

anon924598
Post 69

Truffle chocolates? Are they made from these fungi I am reading about here?

anon310238
Post 66

I just ate a truffle on risotto with sauteed chard greens and parmesan cheese. Then we did pistachio ice cream, pumpkin oil, and a truffle for desert.

Amazing. I agree, you have to have at least half a fresh one, or a whole not so fresh one, to really enjoy it. I like to pick it off and chew it first a little and then eat the other food that goes with it.

I paid 22 bucks in Chicago, Illinois for enough for two people. Just do it.

anon302274
Post 65

I ate a black truffle raw at work. It tasted like mushrooms but more fruity and crunchy with an earthy aftertaste.

anon289599
Post 64

Female pigs sniff truffles out. That's why they are related to truffles.

anon286062
Post 63

You could not get me to eat fungi/mushrooms, no matter how cheap or expensive or even if you offered to pay me a lot of money to do it. A fungus is a fungus is a fungus and why would one ever put one inside one's body? Who knows how it will affect your own good bacteria in one's stomach?

anon263035
Post 62

@anon13635: The word must be truffle oil.

And some truffles can be cultivated for home growing or for large scale production. Here in the Netherlands there are some producers that cultivate the 'Magic' Truffle containing psilocybe and are known for the psychedelic reaction they give.

anon258035
Post 61

Here in Iran (very small section of land in Fars province), during a short time in the spring we find truffles.

People do not realize they are this type of mushroom and do not know how it grows and do not know how expensive it is.

anon241157
Post 60

Why can they only be harvested at night? The article didn't explain that.

anon221368
Post 59

I'm from Spain and I've found this article by chance. You also should know something that is missing in this article. The best black truffles also grow in Spain where there is a great tradition of hunting and they are cooked in the best restaurants of Spain.

anon202396
Post 57

I just tried truffle salt that I found at a local farmers market. I put some on pasta as a finishing salt and also tried it on popcorn. Delicioso!

anon172501
Post 56

I wonder if anyone can help me!? I am trying to locate a town in France that celebrates the truffle by serving 10/12 courses at a restaurant (believed to be within fairly easy driving distance of the UK shores) - each course using the truffle as an ingredient. I read about this in a UK magazine about 10 years ago and would love to visit. Anybody out there know about this?

anon170225
Post 55

Thanks for the explanation of truffles. I often wondered what relation to vegetables they had.

anon168327
Post 54

never knew about mushrooms in reference to truffles but now i do.

anon129364
Post 53

Truffles are now being grown in North Carolina amongst the roots of filbert trees. The truffle farmers have trained dogs to find them. They are shipped directly to consumers. 25 percent are restaurants and 75 percent are simply people who love the taste!

anon127615
Post 51

I grew up in Iraq. I remember during the 70s we used to buy truffles from the vegetable market. They look like potatoes. The skin is sandy so we had to rub them trying to remove the sand but the keep as much as of the truffle. My mother would slice it and make an omelet with onions. It had a meaty bite into it and had a great unique flavor.

It was expensive but not impossible, like the pricing now from what I see in the net. I think it was like four or five times the price of apples or tomatoes.

From what I remember we were told they would grow when there were thunderstorms out in the desert.

anon124688
Post 50

I found a bunch of fungi close to the pine tree on my property on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. They look like they might be white truffles from the pictures on the web site. How can I be sure?

anon119052
Post 47

I have a red oak in my yard in Schaumburg, IL. About six years ago, when the tree was about 17-18 years old, i was digging out a small patch of soil that used to grow tomatoes in, but now was too shaded. As I amended the soil with sand and peat moss, white truffles began tumbling to the surface! restaurant and resort chefs confirmed that they were indeed white truffles! Magic frank kay

anon117623
Post 46

Just came back from Croatia and it is Truffle season there so I brought back some cheese made with black truffles. Had it almost every day while I was there, be it on pasta, cheese, even on steak. Delicious!

anon115736
Post 45

Pigs are associated with truffles because it was their snouts (noses) that used to be used to sniff them out. Unfortunately more often than not, the pigs ate the truffles that they found unless the handler was very quick.

Because of this, today we use dogs to sniff out the truffles as they can be better trained/handled.

anon113151
Post 44

i found this very informative. I had heard of truffles but did not know anything about them until now. thank you.

anon110557
Post 41

why do we associate pigs with truffles?

anon103781
Post 39

LOL! Too funny, anon38187 post no. 7 below, says: "They are so expensive because if you eat a whole truffle, you gain an extra life. They are the same mushrooms that Super Mario eats to get 1UP." That cracked me up!

anon100999
Post 38

good to know.

anon89870
Post 36

So what you are saying is, Hershey now has chocolate covered garlic mushrooms that they are calling earthy truffles. Wow! What those Hershey people won't think of next!

anon87938
Post 33

i have a quick question: how do they decompose?

Omar1971
Post 32

About truffles. You can find them in the west desert of Iraq. They are harvested especially after strong thunderstorms in winter only.

Most farmers know well where it will grow. The price on the first days are expensive but not more than $10 per Kilo, and then when they spread everywhere the price comes down and it sells even for $1.5 per Kilo.

The price depends on the size. Sometimes you can find them as large as a potato in size, and sometimes they are about the size of a walnut.

Iraqi people cook it exactly like other mushrooms, with rice, sauce, with salad, fried with onion, in pizza, in omelets and grilled.

Thanks, Omar

anon78756
Post 31

the truffles are not found in india subcontinent?

anon76460
Post 30

Is a truffle considered a veg or starch or what?

anon74380
Post 29

Just to clear up some things. 1)truffles can be farm grown but they rarely approach the potency of wild truffles (especially white ones). 2)chocolate truffles are named such because the shape somewhat. Resembles a truffle (irregular sphere) - that the only relationship the two share.

anon67219
Post 27

But is the truffle a mushroom or is it a fungi like the mushroom?

anon65279
Post 23

thanks. good to know.

anon64560
Post 22

Good to know. Thanks, Frank.

frankjoseph
Post 21

anon64403 - nope. chocolate truffles have nothing to do with the "real" truffle. the former is just a round piece of chocolate with some kind of filling (usually a ganache) -- usually nothing mushroomy about it. the latter is a mushroom -- usually nothing chocolate-y about it.

anon64403
Post 20

So, are "chocolate covered truffles" just mushrooms dipped in chocolate?

anon54940
Post 19

this things are really amazing, and they give you great energy.

anon53293
Post 18

How can I grow truffles?

anon53056
Post 16

There are two things named truffles. One is the man-made candy confection. The other is a type of mushroom as described above.

anon53007
Post 15

I would have to say,the most expensive food I have ever eaten, were goose livers and truffles on some kind of cracker like thing. $$$$

anon52979
Post 14

I am Azwianewi and I live in the rural areas of South Africa in a village called Vuvha.

AS I grew up, I got to know wild mushrooms that are edible, from the wild big or small but much more mushrooms that are poisonous exist.

What makes truffles different from mushrooms and how one can identify them? Is there any possibility to come across one around here in South Africa and if not, why?

anon48362
Post 12

i never knew there was such a thing. it does sound delicious, doesn't it? i wish i had some.

anon46341
Post 11

Yes, there is "truffle oil" which is typically used in soups and sauces to garnish a plate, and it is delicious.

anon45070
Post 10

I am from Panamá, Central America and just *love* to cook and even more, love to eat. How can I grow truffles myself?

anon44738
Post 9

what are some different names of truffles?

anon38187
Post 7

They are so expensive because if you eat a whole truffle, you gain an extra life. They are the same mushrooms that Super Mario eats to get 1UP.

anon32505
Post 6

invented by hershey's? lol

anon22480
Post 5

this is so interesting. i have always thought truffles were just fluffy stuff invented by hershey's or something. and i always wondered what the big deal was.

anon22330
Post 4

when was the first truffle found? what makes it so attractive? and does it have a special power once consumed; like vanilla? vanilla is said to an aphrodisiac.

anon13635
Post 3

Is there such a word as 'truffleoile'?

anon7204
Post 2

Okay do people really eat truffles and were do they come from i have a report on this.

olittlewood
Post 1

thanks for answering the question i've always wondered about, if chocolate or candy truffles are the same as the truffles you find in the ground. i always thought that if truffles were so expensive, wouldn't these confections cost more? one less thing i have to wonder about!

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