It's very normal to panic a bit when you see truffle on the menu. The expensive ingredient can be a bit of mystery to many. A common myth is that it is used by 5-star hotel chefs just to hike up the price. Well, guess what? The money is totally worth it! Truffles can be a very tasty delicacy if cooked in the right manner.
Truffles are a diverse and interesting ingredient actually. You can term it as natural medicine, an aphrodisiac or simply a fungus. The reason for them being so expensive is that it takes around ten years to grow. Usually, this delicacy is harvested from Italy and France. Since the origin is so exquisite, you can surely guess the taste will be exquisite as well.
Introduction to Truffle
Truffles are often termed as mushrooms because of their spores and fruiting bodies. However, they are very different from regular mushrooms. Truffles fall under the division of Ascomycota. Now we will not be discussing the complete classification from its genus to species. Because of course, this is not a botany class for you. Basically, truffles are a breed of fungi that grow underground. They tend to take in nutrients from large trees including Beeches and Oaks where they attach themselves.
The Truffle's Journey
As mentioned before, the truffles are grown underground. They tend to get attached to the roots of large trees for their nutrition needs. The roots dig deep and so does the truffles with them. Therefore, it becomes very difficult to get them. To find where the truffles are growing underneath, professional and well-trained dogs are needed. They smell and trace the presence of truffles underground. Before pigs were used to cultivate truffles but they used to eat the truffles themselves mostly. Then professional dogs came into the scenario. They are fed a bit of sausage and the task is done. Moreover, truffles are mostly found in the regions of France and Italy. Hence, you can easily guess that the cultivation process is expensive, time-consuming and hectic.
The question is, why would someone go to these lengths for a mere piece of fungi? You are intrigued, aren't you? That's because of its enticing taste. All the trouble makes it completely worthwhile for the cultivators.
The varieties of Truffle
Before talking about the specific taste and flavor of truffle, you need to understand the various breeds and varieties of truffle. With all the different names, it's pretty normal to get baffled. The good part is each variety comes with a different taste and quality. But be aware, there are around 70 species of truffle in the world. However, among them only nine are edible. Hence, it's better to go for common varieties only.
White truffles are also called Alba truffles in some cases. This is one of the most common type truffles. As the name suggests, you can clearly understand that these truffles are grown in the city of Alba of Italy.
Interestingly, the city actually holds a small festival during the autumn season dedicated to this variety of truffles. Yes, truffles are that popular! The locals call this festival ‘Fiera del Tartufo' and the entire region celebrates with selling and eating white truffles.
When you find restaurants offering truffle supplements, those are mostly white truffles. The white truffles are usually the most expensive ones among all the varieties.
Black truffles are a specialty of the country France. These truffles grow deep down the ground and get attached themselves to oak and hazelnut trees. Usually, they are harvested in the late autumn or few months after that. Black truffles affordable version can be found in jars in minced form with oils. By affordable we mean, less expensive compared to other varieties.
If you are looking for exquisite flavor, summer truffle is the chefs' favorite for its unique content named ‘gleba'. Although it is termed as summer truffle, their harvest period is actually in May and December. From the exterior, it looks pretty similar to black truffles but the distinguishing factor is the dark chocolate colored gleba inside them. The strong flavor and aroma are due to the presence of this gleba.
The Reason for its Expensiveness
This might sound bizarre to you now but during the ancient times, truffles were associated with divine beings. In fact, it had relevance with Zeus even; the thunder god for Greeks. Since truffles were grown with the help of water, heat and lighting and the formation were from the roots, truffles were considered delicacies.
Understand that most of the type of truffles is grown in the outskirts of the European region. Something that is precisely available in the European region is bound to be expensive.
Truffles are not widely available and are indeed a rare breed of fungi that are only available in France and Italy and during a specific season only.
First of all, it takes years for a truffle to become matured. To be precise takes around ten years. Next, the problem is that they need to be grown beside large trees where they can attach with a sufficient number of roots for nutrition. And finally, in order to find the truffles, professional dogs are required for smelling and identifying them.
Therefore, the entire process is time-consuming and expensive. So, needless to say, the outcome is going to be expensive as well. For being a rare breed from the European region available only during a specific season, truffles are so expensive.
The unique taste of Truffle
Before you taste a portion of food, the first thing you encounter is the outlook and aroma. The appearance of raw truffle might not be so appetizing although the chefs tend to cut them into fancy pieces for better appearance. In terms of aroma, it is musky and earthy in nature.
We have seen some chefs talking about the aroma being therapeutic. Some even prefer to call it a ‘drug' aroma when you sniff carefully. The scientists identified the aroma to be affiliated with mammalian reproductive pheromones. Yes, there is a difference in opinion when it comes to aroma from different perspective. However, the common people term the aroma within very simple words; musky or garlic-like.
The smell might be pungent but the taste is wonderful. It has got a funky type of taste and is also chewy. When you serve them with the right ingredients, either raw or cooked, the taste gets even better. We will get to that later about what to serve with truffles. In terms of various specific nature, white truffles and black truffles taste almost similar when they are cooked.
However, white ones can be served raw but the raw version of black truffle is not palatable to all. The white truffles have a strong flavor and smell but the smell of the black one is more intense. If you have a problem with strong or pungent smell, you can try Marzuolo Truffle. This breed's aroma is a bit mild compared to others.
In short, it's not that simple to describe the exquisite flavor and taste of truffles. What we mean is that the flavors are a bit complex to decide. It's not sweet but it's not bitter either. But the confusion is clear if cooked the right way you will like it. It's not just an overhyped and expensive gourmet mushroom. The taste overshadows the high price; you can trust us.
Nutritional value of Truffle
We have been saying, truffles are more than just fungi. It comes with plenty of medicinal benefits as well. Specifically for vegetarians, truffles can bring in plenty of health benefits. Needless to say, those who do not eat meat, the nutrient insufficiency are covered up by truffles.
Truffles carry 20 to 30 percent protein with each serving. As mentioned before, for people who do not eat meat that much or are vegetarians, truffles will take care of your protein needs. Yes, it is a bit expensive to consume them regularly, but we will discuss some tricks where you can get truffles at a decent price.
Chitin and glycogen come from the fungal cellulose and cell wall. These are the two main components of carbohydrate. The truffles possess a medium level of carbohydrate. Not too much or not too less; just the optimum amount you need for your diet requirement. For diabetic patients, this amount of carbohydrate is the right one as well. Usually, rice and potatoes possess carb along with high energy content.
Low fat and no cholesterol
For keto diet or weight loss diets, you can cut out the carb foods and switch to truffles actually. It possesses zero cholesterol meaning your heart is safe and contains fat content in minimal amount.
How to eat and buy truffles?
White truffles are pretty simple to prepare. Just shave the top and warm it up a bit for the right flavor. You don't have to cook them at all. Fresh truffles actually taste the best. It's better not to store them much. With black truffles, you need to cook them up a bit for getting rid of the intense aroma.
We personally love truffles over pizza, pasta and most of the savory Mexican dishes. It tastes funky, chewy and complements the savory items well. In good restaurants, you would see something termed as ‘truffle supplements'. This means you can get truffles chopped on the top of the dishes if you want. Of course, this would cost you a bit more.
The easy solution is to order truffles from a good restaurant. The experts understand the flavor and they can cook them well. However, to save a little extra, you can buy them from specialty stores. It's better not to buy them from ordinary superstores because they can't retain the flavors properly. We recommend buying them only during the harvesting season. The flavor tends to go away fast within a few weeks of harvesting.
When you are adding truffles to any dish, the best way is to put them at last. Simple warming the truffle should be enough. Do not cook them much otherwise you would be very disappointed with the flavor.
A word of advice, do not peel the truffle when you are cooking it. The inside of the truffle is more delicious and we understand that but the covering is what makes it unique. To get the complete taste and nutritional value, it's best not to peel the truffle.
Moving on to another common query regarding truffle; what serves best with truffle? The short answer to this is all types of Mexican savory dishes. We know you want the exact answers, don't you? Well, truffles taste delightful with some potato wedges and mashed potatoes.
Morning deviled eggs, scrambled eggs, pouched eggs, and normal omelet also tastes really good with truffles. But do not cook the truffle along with the omelet. It's better to put them at last. Noodles, pasta, and pizza also taste delightful with the twist of truffles. Our favorite is when you add truffles and sundried tomatoes as toppings on a pepperoni pizza. It is the best combination that mixes with truffle from our opinion.
You can also use ingredients that complement the flavor of truffles such as onions, garlic, and parmesan cheese. In fact, onion rings topped with tiny chopped truffles provide a very fresh and unique taste. Salads with celery and onions also appeal to the taste of truffles. You can always add some chopped ones in the salad. Of course, use it occasionally only. Regular using them on salads might not be so wallet-friendly for the monthly budget!
Storage ideas for truffle
Truffles should be eaten during the harvesting season and shouldn't be kept out for long. The aroma and flavor sustain for around a week or two. You can keep them in the fridge to increase the shelf-life. Plastic containers are better to keep the truffles. Of course, don't forget to keep the containers airtight. Before putting them in the plastic container, it's better to rub the truffles with a slightly wet kitchen towel.
Truffle oil in the store
Truffle oil is the affordable version to get the taste of truffle. But one thing we can assure you it doesn't taste as delightful as a raw truffle. It is mostly chemicals to get the flavor of truffles. But truffle oil taste really good with some fries or pizza. Usually, truffle oil imitates the flavor of black truffles.
We found one problem with truffles and that it doesn't possess many natural truffles. Most of the content is artificial. Therefore, you do not get the similar nutritional benefits of original truffle. However, it's tasty anyway and thus we wouldn't discourage you from buying truffle oil. Just a heads up that normal truffle tastes even better.