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What Are Truffles & Why Are They Expensive?

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Many people associate truffles with high-class dining. Thanks to their bold flavors and aromas, they're a delicacy that gives a dish the edge it needs. However, most people don't know what truffles are or why they're so expensive. Check out this guide to learn all about truffles and how you can get your hands on this premium ingredient.

What Are Truffles and How Are Truffles Made?

Truffles are edible members of the fungi kingdom that grow underground near the base of specific trees, including poplar, beech and oak. While they can grow worldwide, they are primarily found throughout France and Italy. They are commonly referred to as mushrooms, yet belong to the Tuberaceae fungus family and are known for their unique flavor and powerful aroma. There are some differences between truffles and mushrooms, such as:

  • Location: Truffles grow underground, but other mushrooms grow above ground.
  • Stem: Mushrooms have stems, while truffles don't.
  • Appearance: Truffles have bumps, but other mushrooms are smooth.
  • Flavor: Mushrooms have a neutral or mild flavor, but truffles have a strong aroma and savory, earthy flavor.
  • Growing season: Truffles have a short growing season. Some only grow for a few months out of the year during fall and winter. Mushrooms grow all year.
  • Reproduction: Mushrooms release spores that air currents distribute elsewhere. Truffles rely on mammals to deposit their spores after eating them.

Rootlike filaments called hyphae extend from truffles, interact with plants and absorb water and nutrients. However, hyphae can't convert sugar into food via photosynthesis. On the other end of the spectrum are trees, which can photosynthesize sugar, but aren't the best at absorbing water and nutrients. So, truffles' hyphae latch onto tree roots, forming a symbiotic relationship called mycorrhizae so they both get what they need.

The people who harvest truffles are known as truffle hunters. These truffle hunters usually rely on dogs or pigs to find and dig them up from beneath the soil in forested areas. Farmers may also grow truffles. 

What Is the History Of Truffles?

Truffles have a captivating history dating back to the Ancient Egyptians and continuing to the present day. Throughout history, truffles have been treasured because of their rarity. Members of the upper class enjoyed consuming them in dishes, which is part of why they're associated with the wealthy today. At one point, they started to become more abundant but were destroyed and became scarce again. Follow the history of truffles from Ancient Egypt to the present day. 

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptians prized truffles and enjoyed eating them as a treat when coated in goose fat. They believed truffles grew from the ground after lightning struck and were, therefore, a gift from the gods. 

As the legend goes, a farmer noticed a pig digging a mushroom out of a tree's roots. The farmer saw the pig eat the mushroom and tried it himself after he confirmed the pig was alright. The mushroom was delicious, and it cured him of his infertility — he and his wife had many children.

Greece and Rome

The Greeks and Romans believed truffles had medicinal and therapeutic properties because of their aroma and flavor. Nobles and other important people consumed truffles to keep their minds, bodies and souls healthy. Because notable people were eating truffles, chefs began to incorporate them in dishes to enhance the flavor, instead of letting the upper class eat them covered in goose fat.

The Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, the Medieval Catholic Church felt truffles were evil. Because of their origin story, some associated them with paganism. Others associated them with witches because of their intense aroma. Either way, people found truffles distasteful, so they practically vanished from sight.

The Renaissance

King Louis XIV loved truffles so much that he tried to grow his own but was unsuccessful. However, the public began to treasure them again. They were seen as luxurious, and their rarity increased their appeal. As a result, people began to incorporate them into dishes for the nobility.

19th Century to Today

During the 1800s, truffles grew in abundance and were easier to find. But, during World War I, many trees and lands were destroyed and burned.

By the 1960s, France began to bring back the truffle. They developed a method to make trees grow truffles more frequently. Although this helped, truffles are still rare, which is why they're a delicacy reserved for the most special occasions.

How Are Truffles Used?

The part of a truffle that most people see looks like a potato with the texture of a pinecone. Hundreds of truffle species exist, but those under the Tuber genus are most used in haute cuisine. Most chefs incorporate truffles into food by shaving them over the dish. Common truffles used in creating culinary dishes include:

  • Black truffles: Black truffles are more common than others, so they cost less. They grow in Spain, Italy and France and have a musky or earthy flavor that pairs well with caviar, roasted vegetable risottos, game meats and beef.
  • Burgundy truffles: These truffles are harvested during autumn. They have a subtle nutty flavor that complements game meat, poultry and polenta.
  • White truffles: White truffles have a pungent aroma and flavor. They are suitable for pasta, fish, flatbreads, salads, potatoes and eggs.

You can also purchase truffle products, like salts, oils and spreads. These premium products give you the opulent flavor of truffles for longer. They don't spoil like fresh truffles, so you can enjoy the taste of many high-class dishes.

Why Are Truffles Expensive?

Truffles are one of the most expensive foods you can get your hands on. They have a price that matches their exclusivity and scarcity. The ones that are found are treasured because they're hard to find and cultivate.

They require specific growing conditions and were almost wiped out after World War II, so there are few truffles left today. These fungi only grow a few months out of the year and are extremely difficult to find. They often require experienced hunters and trained animals, like pigs or dogs, to unearth, requiring a delicate touch to retrieve them from the source. 

Many try to grow certain truffles species, although cultivating a plentiful orchard can take many years. Additionally, truffles have a short growing period, so you likely won't be able to harvest them year-round. This process can become quite labor-intensive and time-consuming, driving the price sky-high. 

They can also spoil quickly and have a very short shelf-life, beginning to lose moisture and fragrance once unearthed. For all these reasons, truffles are rare and added to dishes for special occasions.


How to Store Truffles

The best way to store truffles is to keep them refrigerated. Truffles are perishable and will only be ripe for about a week. You should use a dry paper towel to pat them down and absorb moisture, then wrap them up with another clean paper towel and stow them in an airtight container. By storing your truffles this way, you can maximize their freshness.

Shop for Rare Truffle Products From Imperia Caviar

The range of flavor profiles truffles provide makes them a coveted delicacy for fine dining. By using truffle products, you can complement your dishes with the rich flavor of truffles without the high price tag. Truffle products allow you to enjoy luxurious, savory meals by enhancing the taste of everyday foods.

Delicious, high-quality truffles are no longer above your means. Browse Imperia Caviar's premium truffle products to add this delicacy to your kitchen. Our products are carefully packaged to remain fresh throughout delivery. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us and speak with an expert team member.

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