Truffles are one of the most prized ingredients among chefs worldwide. They’re used to enhance savory flavors of sauces, soups, stews, and even desserts. But how does this exotic ingredient actually taste?
The answer is simple: musky, earthy, meaty with a hint of mushrooms. This is what people think truffles taste like. However, there are some other things you should know about this delicacy.
To understand what truffles look like, we need to start with the term itself. A truffle is actually a fungus—specifically, a type of edible mushroom called Tuber melanosporum (see also ‘Does Chicken Of The Wood Taste Good?‘).
There are three main types of truffles: black truffles, white truffles, and red truffles. Each one is named for its color, although there are some exceptions.
Black truffles are typically found underground and grow up to about six inches long. They’re usually sold raw, sliced into thin strips and served either alone or mixed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic.
White truffles are much smaller, growing up to about half an inch long, and are often used to flavor risotto and pasta dishes. They’re also sometimes cooked whole, cut into slices, and eaten as part of antipasto platters.
Some people prefer white truffles over black truffles because they don’t have quite the same earthy taste.
Red truffles are the rarest type of truffle and are generally harvested from Italy and France. They look very similar to white truffles, except that their flesh is a bright reddish orange rather than pale yellow.
Red truffles are usually shaved over soups and salads, and they’re occasionally added to chocolate desserts, too.
Where To Find Them
While truffles can be found in many parts of the world, the ones cultivated in Italy are considered among the finest in the world. In fact, the word truffle itself originates from the French term for “truffle” – terre de tartufe.
The variety of truffles varies depending on the type of soil, climate and altitude. Some of the most sought-after varieties include black truffles, white truffles, Périgord truffles and porcini truffles.
These four types of truffles are often used interchangeably, although each possesses slightly different characteristics.
Black truffles are the largest and most common variety cultivated today. They grow underground and can weigh up to 200 grams (7 oz), while white truffles can reach sizes of up to 10 cm (4 inches) long.
Porcini truffles are smaller than the previous two varieties and usually grow in clusters. White truffles are generally easier to find than black truffles.
As mentioned above, the cost of truffles differs based on the type, size and location. Black truffles are typically priced at €40 per kilogram (2.2 lbs.) while white truffles range from €20 to €30 per kg.
Porcini truffle prices vary widely, starting at €10 per kg and reaching as high as €200. Let’s look at the specific truffles in a bit more detail.
The world of truffles is full of surprises. From the humble beginnings of this delicacy, it has become one of the most expensive foods you can buy.
But despite being a pricey food item, black truffles remain among the most accessible and affordable types of truffles. In fact, they are even cheaper than red ones.
In addition to their affordability, black truffles offer something else that makes them stand out: their unique flavor. Unlike white truffles, which tend to taste like nuts, black truffles have a strong bitter note.
This bitterness is due to the presence of tannins, which give them their dark color. These compounds are also responsible for giving the truffle its distinctive aroma.
The price tag on white truffles is similar to black truffles but there’s one thing about them that sets them apart from the rest:
Their outer shell appears white, while inside it looks light brown, with a few white lines running through it. This gives them a very distinctive appearance.
While the black truffle is known for its intense flavor, white truffles tend to have a milder taste. And because they don’t contain chemicals, they’re considered healthier than black truffles. However, they do have a shorter shelf life.
Black Summer Truffles
The black summer truffle (Tuber aestivum) is one of the most expensive varieties of truffles. Its season is usually limited to June, July, and August.
Because it is harvested during the cooler months, it requires a longer curing process compared to other types of white truffles.
This type of truffle grows underground, where it feeds off the roots of trees. In fact, it needs to feed on tree roots because it cannot survive without oxygen.
When harvesting, you must dig up the entire root system, including the soil around it. Then, you must carefully peel away the outer layer of the root to expose the truffle. If you don’t do this correctly, the truffle could die.
After harvesting, the truffle must spend about three weeks being cured underground. During this period, the truffle loses moisture and shrinks slightly.
Afterward, it is brought into a controlled environment where it dries out completely. Finally, it is packaged and shipped to retailers.
The autumn truffle, or Tuber uncinatum, is one of the most prized edible fungi. Its flavor is complex, reminiscent of sweet chestnuts and mushrooms. It has a firm texture and earthy aroma.
The Burgundy truffle grows in the forests of France, where it is harvested during winter months. This fungus is found underground in clusters of white mycelium.
Black truffles are the most common truffle but are still an ‘acquired taste’ so how do you go about enjoying one of the most expensive foods out there? Here are three tips for getting the most out of your truffles.
When cooking with truffles, remember that they’re much stronger than regular mushrooms (see also ‘Can You Freeze Mushrooms?‘). You want to cook them slowly and gently so as not to destroy their aroma. They’re also good paired with fish (see also ‘What Does Catfish Taste Like?‘) like salmon or tuna.
2. Make It Simple
A lot of people think that truffles are difficult to find and expensive to buy. While truffles aren’t easy to come across, some varieties are easy to find and can be quite affordable.
If you live near a reputable truffle producer, you’ll likely be able to buy them directly from him or her. Otherwise, you can easily source them online.
3. Don’t Overdo It
Truffle lovers often say that too many truffles make everything taste bitter. This isn’t true. In fact, if you use just enough truffles to complement what you’re serving, it will increase the flavors of the food you are eating.
Why Is It So Pricey?
Truffles aren’t just an indulgence; they’re a rare delicacy. They are cultivated underground, where temperatures are kept constant and soil conditions ideal.
When you dig up a truffle, it needs to be carefully stored because once it starts to spoil, it goes from being worth $15 per pound to less than $1 if not treated correctly.
The process of growing truffles takes anywhere from five to ten years, depending on location. Once harvested, they must be transported to restaurants or stores, which can take anywhere from one day to several weeks.
After that, they need to be refrigerated or frozen, which slows down the ripening process even further.
Truffles have a unique flavor and a wonderful addition to many meals.