What are Truffles and why are they highly priced?

Black and white truffles on a plate

A rare delicacy and highly expensive food that gourmet chef shaves or slices carefully on pasta, salads, risotto, fried eggs or even inside meat is the truffle. This pricey delicacy has a strong pungent smell because of which the taste is sometimes acquired.

Truffles are kind of mushrooms that belong to the genus Tuber. Truffles can only grow under the earth which is a feature of an ectomycorrhizal fungus. They grow next to the root of trees such as oak, chestnut and hazelnut where the truffles extract carbohydrates from these trees and in return provide valuable nutrients to the trees. Thus being an ectomycorrhizal fungus, truffles need the plant host to survive.

Truffles come in various sizes weighing from 30 to 55 grams on an average. The cost of it depends on their size and aroma, sometimes reaching up to several hundred dollars per ounce.

Though there are more than a hundred varieties of truffles, yet just a few are edible. These fungi grow very slowly and to cultivate them is a challenge as the process is long and expensive too. Attempts have been made to raise these tubers, but the result was not satisfactory. Truffles take years to grow and on particular climatic conditions only. They need specific trees and the correct soil condition suitable for its growth. These tubers also need a vast area to spread out properly. It then takes 7 to 10 years until it is time for harvest. Thus due to the difficulty in cultivation and their unavailability makes truffles prices exorbitant.

Among the various types of truffles, the white truffle (Tuber magnatum) and the black truffle (Tuber melanosporun) are the valuable ones. Though they both look same in appearance, their taste however differs. White truffles are the most expensive ones as they are rare while black truffles are comparatively more common with stronger odour and less priced. White truffles are found majorly in Italy around the regions of Piedmont, Alba, Asti and Tuscany. Black truffle meanwhile is found majorly in France mostly in Périgord region. Besides France and Italy truffles can also be found in Australia and the United States and different parts of the world. The harvesting time for both these fungi starts from October and extends till March.

However, in the present day, it is observed that truffles have a very bleak future. The growth of truffles is decreasing due to change in climatic conditions. The dry and warm climate is most likely possible to wipe out this million dollar industry. According to recent studies, researchers at the University of Stirling predict the production of this pricey fungus to decline by 78 and 100% between 2071 and 2100. This decline in production would further shoot up the price of this already expensive delicacy.

Since truffles are tubers and grow under the earth, it is difficult to locate them during harvest time. To unearth the truffles specially trained dogs and pigs are used to sniff out these valuable tubers. Pigs are not used anymore as they would eat the findings themselves and also their big nose sometimes damages the tubers while hunting. The farmers after harvesting put back a portion of the tuber into the soil as a means of cultivation so that the tuber repopulate. It is advised to consume truffles fast as they taste better when fresh and they have a shorter shelf life too. They lose their flavour when kept for a much longer time.

External links:

Science ABC – What Are Truffles and Why Are They So Expensive?

Last Updated: March 24, 2019

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