Truffles Questions


At one time, I would have said that truffles were an acquired taste, however in recent years more often my friends are recommending new truffles and suppliers to me, when a few years ago I was the only truffle aficionado I knew!

Today we’re reviewing some common topics of discussion, which I can easily answer given my years of experience enjoying truffles.

*Updated July 2022

What are truffles?

A truffle is a kind of fungus that is closely linked to mushrooms. Rather than reproducing above ground by dispersing spores into the air, like a mushroom does, the truffle spends its time underground, before attracting animals with its strong odour. It is then dug up by them, who then disperse the truffle’s spores by eating them.

Their intense smell and flavour make them not only a favourite of wild animals – they are one of the most sought after luxury ingredients in the world.

How do truffles grow?

Truffles are not plants – they are a fungus, which only grow and fruit in subterranean (underground) conditions. They require what is called a ectomycorrhizal relationship with a tree, in which they live in symbiosis. It is a very complicated bond, which involves the exchange of nutrients and water between the two organisms. The fungus gets carbohydrates from the tree, in return for providing it with some of the minerals it has extracted from the soil.

This relationship with the truffle is most common with pine, oak, brich and willow trees. In rare cases truffles can be found growing with cypress, juniper, maple and ash trees. Furthermore, only mature trees will have a strong enough root systems to support truffle growth. At the very earliest, a tree must be four years old to support growth, with an age of 6+ years being more typical for the first signs of truffles.

Truffles prefer soil which is well aerated, sheltered, with good water drainage and an alkaline PH (between 7.4 to 8.2). Most commonly lime is added to soils which are too acidic to raise their PH.

What do truffles taste like?

Earthy, musky, almost mushroom like. Androstenone is thought to impart truffles with their unique umami, sulphur-like smell and taste. A small portion of the population cannot taste androstenone, meaning some people may have very different experiences with truffles to others. Truffles are also often said to taste similar to garlic and shallots, making truffles the ideal choice for elevating savory dishes – lifting them with a burst of gourmet flavour.

Different varieties of truffles will also taste differently. Black winter truffles are commonly said to be more “earthy” and “wood-like”. Black Summer truffles however have a richer effect on the nose, but less earthy tones are noticeable on the tongue. White truffles are broadly similar, but regarded as having more garlic-like tones, and a more full bodied musk.

Where do truffles comes from?

While Italy is historically the most famous truffle producing country, truffles are found in a range of European countries.

Truffle cultivation is an ancient art that has been practised for centuries in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. In the United States, truffles are found in the Pacific Northwest; primarily Oregon and Washington.

China has become a large producer of truffles in recent years, however their industry is largely unregulated and considered unsustainable compared to their European counterparts. Chinese black truffles are known as “Tuber indicum”.

The Australian truffle industry is still in its infancy. Truffles are found in the wild in Australia, however they are not currently cultivated commercially.

Why are truffles so expensive?

Truffles are a hard-to-find, fragile and seasonal food. This makes hunting for truffles hard work, which requires specialist knowledge, training and equipment.

Even with the ideal growing conditions in place, truffles are not bound to fruit abundantly. The high degree of uncertainty in this regard keeps the price of truffles very high.

Truffle harvesting itself is very labor-intensive, as it takes about 4 hours to dig up one pound of fresh truffles.

Furthermore, truffles have a short shelf-life, meaning that truffle suppliers are unable to stockpile truffles in the same way as other foodstuffs, even if they are in season.

sliced truffle

How should I prepare truffles?

A truffle shaver (or slicer) is the best way to prepare truffles. Cutting a truffle with a knife of any kind will produce a slice which is too thick. Truffle shavers are the only devices which will guarantee a thin shaving of truffle which is easy to use in any dish.

Most truffle shavers are quite affordable, with a quality stainless steel truffle shaver costing no more than £50-60.

What pairs well with truffles?

Truffles’ umami flavour pairs well with full bodied, fatty and carby foods: think potatoes and pasta, which can easily have their flavour profiles lifted by the addition of some small truffles shavings. Dairy and eggs also play nicely. Use these flavours as your canvas to “paint” with truffles. Personally, I enjoy truffles on top of a thick wagyu steak or burger, where they add a full, earthy flavor. Always avoid pairing truffles with other strong aromas and flavours.

What is truffle butter?

Truffle butter is commonly unsalted butter, with ingredients added to impart the flavour of truffles.

Often pieces of black or white truffle are added to the butter the achieve this, however equally as common, ingredients will only include “truffle extracts”.

In other cases, truffle butters may contain no truffles at all! It is not uncommom for “truffle” butters and oils to only contain artificial ingredients that “taste like” truffles. “2,4-dithiapentane” is the most common artificial truffle flavouring used for this purpose, and in many parts of the world, there are few legal requirements for it’s use to be clearly labelled.

If you’re unsure about the quality of a truffle butter, contact the supplier or manufacturer directly for more information.

What is truffle salt?

As with truffle butter, truffle salt is salt which includes added ingredients which taste like truffles.

The best quality truffle salts will use large gains of salt, combined with a whole truffle extract.

Inferior truffle salts may not contain any truffles at all, instead using synthetic truffle flavorings.

Be careful when using truffle salt, as it’s flavour can be harsher than regular salt. Start by using small amounts to gauge how it plays.

What is truffle oil?

Truffle oil is not oil extracted from a truffle.

It is most often another form of cooking oil, with ingredients and extracts added to provide the flavour of truffles.

Always read the ingredients of your truffle oil to ensure you understand what you’re consuming. Quality varies widely between manufacturers.

Are pigs required to find truffles?

Because pigs have a good sense of smell, they have traditionally been used to seek truffles.

The aforementioned androstenol, which is contained in truffles, is similar to a sex hormone found in male pig saliva.

While pigs are historically the most successful truffle hunters, in the last decade, some have campaigned for the talents of dogs.

Positive reinforcement training looks to be an effective option for teaching truffle-hunting dogs, however pigs are still very much the norm.

Why are truffles black?

Black truffles “tuber melanosporum” have black-to-brown skin, covered with tiny cusps (spikes). This colours can change slightly to a redish tone when the truffles possess maximum maturity.

Inside, truffles have thin white and brown veins running through their fruiting bodies.

Not all truffles have dark exteriors however.

What are white truffles?

Piedmont, Alba and white truffles are all names which refer to a white truffles which grow around the Piedmont area in Italty.

Only harvested from October until December, white truffles are even more exclusive and expensive than black truffles.

White truffles aromas are thought to be more delicate, so it’s essential that they are served quickly after shaving, ideally directly onto the plate.

What does white truffle taste like?

White truffles possess the same earthy, musky flavours as black truffles, but are thought to provide deeper umami tones, which make the overall taste more full-bodied.

On the downside, white truffle’s flavour is also thought to fade more quickly, whereas black truffle’s aromas remain on the palate for slightly longer.

Winter white truffles are often said to have a greater range of “nutty” tones, with dominance of earthy aromas.

cross section of truffle

What are honey truffles?

Honey truffles are a white truffle variation that can only be found in Hungary among black acacia trees.

They have a unique nut-like flavour, with subtle hints of hazelnuts. The most renown honey truffles are found in the Bakony forests of Hungary. The honey truffle season is very short, and lasts only from September to November.

Honey truffles are members of the “terfeziaceae” (desert truffle) family, which are more abundant in the Middle East, and Africa.

The honey truffle has been used in traditional Hungarian medicine for centuries, it was believed that if you ate them you would become healthier and live longer. Today they are used as an ingredient in many gourmet dishes.

Are truffles healthy?

A typical serving size for truffles is just 1 – 2 grams. For this reason it’s not necersary to overly worry about the nutritional profiles of truffles. Truffles do contain a full range of minerals, vitamins and amino acids, however the volumes of these you’ll be consuming is very low.

Truffles’ macro-nutrient profile will vary slightly between varieties, however broadly comprise: 10% protein, 40% fats, 50% carbohydrates.

Phytosterol and triterpenes are also contained within truffles, which in some studies have shown antioxidant effects: supporting a reduction of inflammation in the body.

Are truffles kosher?

As a fungal product, truffles are considered to be perfectly kosher. This is not always clear for truffle oils and other truffle products however, as they sometimes contain a range of additives which can be non-kosher. Always contact the supplier of your truffle products if you are unsure if their contents are kosher.

Are truffles halal?

Because both pigs and dogs are used to find truffles, it can be difficult to find halal truffles. Halal certifiers in theory could certify truffles, however it would be very expensive, if not impossible for a business to produce them, without the use of pigs and dogs. As such, truffles are generally not considered halal.

How should I store truffles?

Truffles are highly perishable and should be eaten as soon as possible. They should be stored at room temperature for best preservation of their unique flavour. Keep them out of direct sunlight, ideally in the dark.

Chilling truffles in the fridge can extend their shelf life, but has a high chance to denature their flavour. In all cases, truffles should be stored in a tightly closed container, to prevent the aroma from escaping.

Can truffles make you ill?

As with mushrooms, incorrect storage or contamination with bacteria can spoil the produce. Do not eat truffles which “smell off”, or have signs of visually deteriorating.

Truffles are widely considered to be safe for consumption by pregnant women, but should be avoided by those who are immunocompromised or immunosuppressed.

Can truffles be farmed?

Truffles are difficult to cultivate, and must be grown alongside host trees. These trees require very particular soil conditions, making creating the right enviroment for truffles challenging.

The most sought-after truffles are grown and harvested in the wild.

Which mushrooms go well with truffles?

I personally enjoy Lions Mane mushrooms with black truffles. Their fleshy, meaty taste combines well with the armoatic addition of truffles.


Easy Truffle Recipes

Using truffles in your meals is easy. Let’s explore some simple recipes to get you started!

Oven Baked Eggs with Truffle

The counter-point of egg’s fatty taste work wonders with truffles. This dish is ready in just over ten minutes, making it perfect for a quick and easy tea-time meal.

Recipe By JD
Course: Main Cusine: Difficulty:Easy

Servings

1 minutes

Preparing Time

5 minutes

Cooking Time

15 minutes

Calories

400 – 500 kcal

INGREDIENTS

  1. 3 large eggs

  2. Asparagus

  3. Olive oil

  4. 1 whole fresh black truffle

DIRECTION

  1. Lightly oil a small baking dish, before cracking 3 eggs inside. Season with salt and pepper.

    Place baking dish into oven for 10 minutes at 220c.

  2. While the eggs are cooking, pan-fry the asparagus til supple.

  3. Once ready, plate the eggs and aspargus, before lightly shaving the fresh truffles on top of the dish.

  4. Enjoy!

NOTES

    Add extra depth with smoked salt.

Perfect White Truffle Pasta

It’s simply delightful how quickly this tasty white truffle dish comes together. Simply boil water, and in under 5 minutes you’ll be eating something really special.

Recipe By JD
Course: Main Cusine: Difficulty:Easy

Servings

1 minutes

Preparing Time

1 minutes

Cooking Time

5 minutes

Calories

650 kcal

INGREDIENTS

  1. Fresh pasta

  2. Basil

  3. Olive oil

  4. Parmesan cheese

  5. 1 whole fresh white truffle

DIRECTION

  1. Boil water in a pot, add a splash of oil, before cooking the pasta quickly, for only 2 minutes.

  2. Drain the pasta, before mixing it with a quarter cup of olive oil, basil, and salt and pepper to your tastes.

  3. Grate parmesan cheese on top of the pasta, before generously shaving white truffle on-top to finish the dish.

  4. Enjoy!

NOTES

    Experiment with a range of cheeses here.


Where can I buy truffles in the UK?

You will never find fresh truffles in UK supermarkets, and they are increasingly rare in specialty food stores. Instead searching online for a truffle supplier is more sensible:

Fine & Wild

F&W’s’ selection is small, but all truffles displayed are of good quality.

Their website is simple and easy to use.

Fine Food Specialist

Fine Food Specialist have a good range of both white and black truffles at fair prices.

Delivery terms are generally good, with same-day London delivery available

Truffle Hunter

Truffle Hunter’s selecction is excellent. I’ve spent a good 15 minutes exploring their site today, and will likely be back soon!

Mr Truffle

I’ve only ordered from Mr Truffle once before, but was happy with the product that arrived. Delivery was somewhat slow, but I’ve been assured that this has improved in recent months.

Sapori Truffles

Saproti have great quality truffles, and supply some very prestigious clients, however there website isn’t fantastic, which can make ordering challenging.

The Truffle

Quality recieved from The Truffle has only ever been “ok”. Their website is also only “ok” to use. Not my top choice.

Please get in touch if there’s anything you want to know about truffles which I haven’t covered here.