The truffle is the fruiting body of a fungus, ascomycete that belongs to the genus Tuber. On the inside, the truffle is densely packed with reproductive tissue and studded with pores. They have a pungent smell due to volatile sulfur compounds or metabolites of non-sulfur amino acids. Truffles are hard to find, difficult to grow and lose their aroma within a week. They are seasonal and extremely rare and grow in very specific conditions, which makes them quite expensive that sometimes cost around thousands of dollars per pound.
Where do Truffles Grow?
Truffles grow underground and form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of trees, which indicates the exchange of nutrients. For their proper growth underground, it is necessary to aerate the soil and maintain pH at neutral to alkaline levels. The truffles thrive only in a narrow band of weather conditions and generally range from strawberry to apple-sized.
Different Types of Truffles:
Black Truffle (Tuber melanosporum)
The black truffle also called Perigord truffle is the second-most valuable species named after the Perigord region in France. It grows best in natural limestone soils or the ones that provide similar conditions. The black truffles are associated with oaks, hazelnut, cherry, and other deciduous trees and are harvested in late autumn and winter season.
Burgundy Truffle (Tuber aestivum)
Also called summer truffle, the Burgundy truffle is found across Europe. This species is quite popular for its high culinary value. The burgundy truffles are harvested in autumn until December and associated with various shrubs and trees.
White Truffle (Tuber magnatum)
The white truffle is found mainly in the Langhe and Montferrat areas of northern Italy around the Piedmont region. It has a unique aroma and harvested from October to December during the short winter season.
Whitish Truffle (Tuber borchii)
The whitish truffle is a species found in Tuscany, Romagna, Abruzzo, Umbria, the Marche, and Molise. It has an irregular tuber shape that lacks a protuberant base. The aroma is less intense than the white truffle but more garlicky. The whitish truffle is harvested from mid-January till the end of March.
What Are Truffles Used For?
Primarily, truffles are used for cooking purposes. Black, burgundy and white species of truffle have the high nutritional value that is generally used in cooking. Chefs make sure to use the raw form of truffles and by heating reduce their pungent aroma and flavour. The truffles are used as shavings or slices on top of dishes like salads and pasta. They are also added to meat before cooking. The skin of truffles is also used in making sauces. The flavour of truffles is infused with other items to create products like truffle salt, truffle honey, and truffle vodka.
Interesting Facts about Truffles:
- In old times, the Greeks used to believe that truffles were made when lightning hit damp soil.
- Truffles are mushrooms believed to have started growing underground to beat the severe cold, forest fire, and drought conditions.
- Searching for truffles is a difficult task. Therefore, truffle hunters use female pigs and dogs to search for them. Truffles produce a chemical identical to a sex pheromone found in pig’s saliva that makes it easy for dogs and female pigs to sniff them.
- A rare Italian white truffle was sold for £28,000 at a charity auction in 2004.
- France is the largest producer of truffles in the whole world that harvest up to 30 tons per year.
- Truffle aficionados believe that it is the combination of the red rich soil of Europe and wet summers that give truffles its thick, earthy flavour.