Food! We all need it, we all love it. Food can bring us together or tear us apart, but no matter our position or culture, food is something we all have a common interest in and is something we focus our lives around. Whether through necessity, curiosity, or boredom mankind has discovered some pretty interesting things to eat. Among these is one of the most expensive natural foods in the world, which can cost $450 or more per pound, and is used as a delicacy in expensive dishes. This exorbitant food is known as a truffle.
So what are truffles, and why are they so expensive?
Your first thought when you hear about truffles, may be the fancy chocolates found in nice boxes which are sold during holidays, but this truffle is much different.
Truffles are round, warty, irregular shaped fungal bodes that vary in size from a walnut to a man’s fist. They are in the genus Tuber, and grow in a symbiotic mycorrhizal relationship with various species of trees. This means that the truffles grow on tree roots and use them as a host, and in exchange they help draw nutrients to the tree. Truffles can be found in many parts of the world, but the most popular ones are the black truffles (Tuber melanosporum) in France, and the white truffles (Tuber magnatum) from Italy.
Italian white truffles are considered superior in scent and flavor to black truffles, and the scent of a truffle is said to be a mixture of musk, nuts, and ozone. The flavor and freshness of truffles decreases rapidly, so it is important to eat them fresh and uncooked as soon as possible after they have been harvested.
To prepare a truffle it must be meticulously cleaned, making sure to clean off all the dirt, because they are eaten raw and unskinned. Experts recommend grating or scraping them onto a variety of dishes including veil, chicken, fish, soufflés, omelettes, pasta, and rice dishes as a garnish.
The truffle is considered to have one of the most unique flavors in the world, and are said to be the diamonds of the kitchen.
The reason truffles are so expensive is because of their difficulty to obtain. They require very specific environmental conditions, which makes their availability limited. Other factors are that they can only be harvested at certain times of the year, and attempts to cultivate them have resulted in little success. Truffle hunters harvest these priceless fungi between September and May with the aid of female pigs or trained dogs. Using pigs is risky because they will eat the truffles, for this reason dogs have been trained to dig where they smell the scent of the truffle in exchange for a treat and an approving pat. Truffles can only be harvested when they are ripe, and if they are harvested too early they lose some of their flavor. Because of this fact, dogs are considered the best way to find truffles because they can smell the truffles in the ground when they are at the perfect ripeness.
Whether because of over harvesting, climate change, or some other reason, the number of truffles being harvested has decreased over the years. A harvest of 2,200 tons was reported in 1890, but recently only 25 to 150 tons have been harvested. To help promote the growth of this fungal delicacy and ensure future harvesting, efforts have been made to inoculate appropriate tree species with truffle spores and then transplant the trees in the proper environment. It takes quite a while for the spores to begin growing, usually about seven years, but once a tree starts producing it will produce for fifteen to thirty years.
There are places in the U.S. where truffles are being found, and the ones gaining the most popularity are white truffles found in Oregon which grow on the roots of Douglas fir trees. Though these truffles are not as prized as the ones from Europe, they can still be sold for as much as $150 per pound.
An increasingly popular hobby of many Americans is to search for unique and delicious dishes as a way to make eating experiences more interesting and enjoyable. People who enjoy doing this are sometimes known as foodies. Whether you are a self-proclaimed foodie, want to try a fancy dish, or just crave the taste of earthy, nutty, fungus, you might try some truffles for your next eating adventure.