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What are truffles?

Truffles are edible fungi that grow in association with the roots of several tree species. They are fruiting bodies (aka spore-producing organs) of the fungi family ‘Ascomycota,’ predominantly one of the many species of the genus Tuber. Functionally, truffles are comparable to mushrooms, except they grow under the soil. The primary biological function of the delicacy is to spread spores, which in turn gives rise to new offspring.

What are the health benefits of truffles?

Truffles are considered relatively healthy since the delicacy contains significant amounts of protein, fiber, healthy fats, and immune-boosting antioxidants. The fungi also boast high contents of calcium, magnesium, iron, and Vitamin C. The exact nutritional value of truffles will depend on which kind you eat. Still, every variety is an excellent source of vital minerals, including:
• Copper
• Phosphorus
• Manganese
• Selenium
• Vitamins A, B, C, D, and K
• Zinc
Truffles also contain certain natural compounds that protect you from “free radicals,” harmful toxins that may damage your cells. Thus, the delicacy is just as nutritious as it is delicious.

How do truffles grow?

Since truffles grow beneath soil, the way in which they spread spores is different compared to common mushrooms. The fungi utilize their unique aroma to attract ‘fungivores’ that enjoy snacking on them. In the Northern Hemisphere, most of these animals include small mammals like mice, squirrels, and rabbits. Although in the Southern Hemisphere, the leading truffle enthusiasts are armadillos, meerkats, and rat-kangaroos.

Most of the flesh is digested when eaten by these animals, yet the spores pass through their bodies. These spores return into the soil via the animal’s droppings, an imperative process since the spores must find their way to the roots of their host trees. After the spores are dispersed, they will remain dormant until germination is initiated from the host tree’s roots.

Where are truffles found?

There are over 100 different species of truffles found around the globe. Other varieties may be harvested in parts of all continents, except for Antarctica, as it is too cold to produce the fungi. However, among the many species of truffles, only a select few possess the monetary and culinary value we crave.

The natural habitats of these prized wild truffles are typically found in temperate areas of Mediterranean Europe and western North America. In addition, some precious fungi are now cultivated in what is known as ‘truffières;’ orchards or farms created to produce truffles. Some of these ‘truffières’ are in countries where truffles do not grow naturally, such as Australia, Argentina, and Chile.

Why dogs are now used to "hunt" for trufffles instead of pigs?

Pigs are no longer typically used for truffle hunting because it is rather difficult to train sows to avoid consuming the fungi after they are found. Their search, which involves much digging, may also damage the delicate fungal structures in the soil. The process, if done incorrectly, stunts the growth of future truffle crops. On the other hand, dogs boast an exceptional sense of smell and will happily settle for a different treat. Therefore, most truffle hunters today prefer to use trained dogs for truffle hunting over pigs.

Can truffles be farmed?

Due to their high value, the possibility to cultivate truffles has always been a topic of much interest. Today, only a few truffle farms exist throughout the globe since their cultivation is quite challenging to achieve. These farmers grow truffles by inoculating the roots of saplings with truffle spores. As the trees grow, the fungi continue to grow underground by bonding to the tree roots. After approximately 6 to 7 years, the truffles are then harvested and prepared to sell.
Although, farming truffles requires a combination of proper climate conditions, appropriate soil, and some luck to grow. For inexperienced farmers, especially in areas with harsh weather conditions, it isn’t easy to accomplish since their success cannot be guaranteed.

Why are truffles so expensive?

Truffles are more costly than other fungi because they are rare to find, frustrating to cultivate, and difficult to store for an extended period. Truffle farms face numerous agricultural challenges as the fungi only thrive in specific weather conditions. With that in mind, the best quality truffles can sometimes cost as much as thousands of dollars per pound.

What do truffles smell like?

Suppose you ask any truffle fanatics to describe the fungi’s distinct aroma. In that case, you are sure to hear that they smell slightly earthy, garlicky, mushroomy, musky, pungent, and even gamey. That’s because the truffle’s intoxicating flavor does not derive from its taste but rather its unique aroma. Truffles attribute their tempting odor to the pheromone androstanol and other volatile compounds found within these sensational fungi.

How long do truffles last?

The fungi’s remarkable and pungent aroma begins to fade as soon as the truffle is harvested. Therefore, truffles do not last longer than about 7 to 10 days, even if stored properly. This factor, amongst others, is what makes the fungi so unique.

Can truffles be cooked?

As their aromas diminish much faster when heated, truffles are typically served raw. They are best suited when shaved over warm, classic meals where their flavor will be highlighted. Although, thin truffle slices may be infused into meats, under the skins of roasted fowl, in foie gras preparations, in pâtés, or stuffings. Just remember to avoid using high and permanent heat!

Are truffles an aphrodisiac?

In addition to the truffle’s unique scent, the fungi contain pheromones that affect animals and insect behavior. Many find that the presence of androstenol, a steroidal pheromone found in humans, and the sex hormone androstenone are responsible for their aphrodisiac properties.

Can fresh truffles be stored in rice?

Since truffles’ value is based on their pungent aroma, storing them in rice that absorbs this scent will not be successful. For this reason, we do not recommend keeping truffles in rice. The rice will diminish the truffle’s aroma and flavors, allowing them to spoil at a faster pace. Despite this, you may add truffles if you would like when infusing meals. On occasion, black truffles are stored in rice to form a base for recipes such as black truffle risotto. When using this method, it is essential to note that the truffles’ overall quality will be significantly reduced as the rice absorbs moisture and flavor from the fungi while producing tasty rice.