What are Truffles? What Do Truffles Taste Like?

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Truffles are a gem of an ingredient to have in any kitchen. It’s no surprise that they can be found in many of the menu items of prestigious restaurants all over the world. Though they are commonly used on Italian pizza and pasta, you can practically add them to make any dish. Their unique taste makes for great garnishes too.

Truffle Taste & Substitutes

Before we move further into the subject, let’s be clear on the type of food item we’re talking about. Not to be confused with the chocolaty treats of the same name, truffles are a type of fragrant fungus from the Tuber genus. Of all the 87 species and subspecies in this genus, only 11 are edible.

There are different types of truffles to be found in various parts of the world that grow in different seasons. They can be rather expensive, due to their high demand. However, more affordable options can often be found in the market where the fungus is local to the region.

If you are new to the truffle craze, worry not! Here, we cover your fundamental truffle questions.

How Does Truffles Taste?

When it comes to any food item, the taste is a subjective matter. And truffles are no exception. Some individuals will tell you they’re deliciously sour, while others might describe as a tangy taste akin to sweet vinegar. More often than not, the aroma of truffles is stronger than its taste. This attribute is responsible for truffles overpowering other ingredients when used in cooking.

Most popular truffles come from Spain, China, Italy, France, Poland, New Zealand, Australia, America, and Mexico. Although these countries produce almost the same kind of truffle in appearance, they’ve been noticed to differ slightly in the way they taste.

There are numerous factors that can influence the taste of truffles. It can be the type of tree root that a truffle attaches itself to, the type of soil, the particular kind of season it grows in, and the climatic of the region. These factors all affect the basic composition and, ultimately, the taste of truffle. The point is that not all truffles taste the same. Even the ones of the same species, if grown in different regions, would end up having different tastes.

Although it has been commonly purported to talk that the darker the truffle gets, the tastier it is, this can be further from the truth. According to taste experts, the taste and smell of different truffles can be more complex than a layman would know. Much like the way a person tastes wine or cheese, the more frequent one taste them, the better one can differentiate the subtleties in the taste.

What Are Truffles?

Truffles are often called one-of-a-kind mushrooms, because of the fruiting bodies and spores. In other words, truffles are way different from the typical mushrooms, falling in the class of Ascomycota.

A fun fact to know is that truffles are a kind of fungi that grow underground. They are often symbiotic and tend to take all their nutrients from a host. This is what accounts for their high price; it difficult to harvest truffles because they are only found on tree roots deep in the ground.

To find them would require trained domestic dogs that can sniff their way into the soil and find the exact spot where truffles grow. In the past, female pigs were used to sniff and find the truffles underground. This was because it tasted more like testosterone to them, but there was a drawback to this method; the pigs sniffed and ate rather than sniff and find. This caused damage to the truffle beds, thereby limiting growth and supply further. This was around the 1980s. Consequently, the use of pigs was banned in the year 1985 and replaced by truffle hunter dogs that were trained to scout for the fungi by sniffing the ground, after they were given a sausage for a treat.

It is not a secret that cultivating truffles is time-consuming and expensive. But why would a farmer go through all the trouble, just to get fungi? Well, that’s because truffles are incomparable in taste, just the same way people in the middle-eastern countries hang around salt lakes or beaches just to harvest salt. So, the process of cultivation is worth the time and perhaps the risk.

Common Types of Truffles

Truffle Types

Now, let’s look at some of the most popular types of Truffles. Before diving deeper into the flavor profile, it helps to have a little knowledge of the types of truffle nature has to offer, because different truffles are used in the making of different kinds of food. It’s essentially the same rules that apply to seasoning in cooking; you season rice with ½ tablespoon of curry, but you won’t use the same seasoning on rice made only of thyme. This is the same goes for the use of truffles.

There are around 80 species of truffle in the world, according to scientific reports.

However, just like their sister mushrooms in the same class, only a handful of them are edible. Here are the common types of truffles you should know:

Black Truffles

  • Origin: France.
  • Method of harvest and growth: They grow deep down in the ground and are usually harvested late autumn.
  • Price: They’re cheap, usually sold in minced form, and soaked with olive oil in a jar.

Summer Truffles

  • Origin: Found in France, Italy, New-Zealand, and other countries.
  • Method of harvest and growth: Found underground as a parasite to tree roots and are mostly harvested in the summer, from late May to early December.
  • Price: Cheap and dubbed the best because of its aroma and flavor.

White Truffles

  • Origin: Grown in the city of Alba, Italy, and are the most common type.
  • Method of harvest and growth: They grow deep underground and are usually harvested in the autumn season.
  • Price: Usually expensive. There are festivals held for this truffle where they can be bought a lower price.

What Makes Truffles Expensive?

Rarity

  • About 80% of the world’s best edible truffles are grown only in Italy, parts of Franc and Croatia, and can only be purchased at specific seasons. Hence, most truffles grown in the European continent tend to be sold at a higher price.
  • Truffle is a wild farm product and can’t just be cultivated anywhere and at any time. There is no way to control its growth.
  • A single truffle hunter, accompanied by a trained dog, can only find approximately four ounces of truffle.
  • In some parts of the United States and New Zealand, there have been attempts at cultivating truffles by planting oak trees and hazelnuts to accommodate the fungi, with moderate success, though not enough to meet market demands.

Method and Cost of Harvest

  • Do you know it takes years for a truffle to ripen? It takes a whopping 10-12 years! The next hassle is that these plant needs to be grown and attached to big trees so that they can sap nutrients based on their symbiotic relationship to their host. Not to mention, you need trained dogs to sniff them out.
  • When a dog sniffed out a truffle spot, the ground is dug in the exact spot, a portion of it harvested, while another portion is left so as to sustain regrowth.
  • The moment a truffle is dug out, it begins to lose moisture to evaporation. To prevent that, there’s a lot of expense going into transporting the truffles to where it is needed. Imagine this: fresh truffles have to be delivered to a five-star restaurant in another part of the world, in less than 48 hours for freshness, or as soon as they were dug out from the ground in Italy!

Well, you don’t need to worry about all this just to get a fresh truffle for that recipe in your favorite cookbook or make dinner with your Air Fryer! There are cheaper substitutes in the form of oils that can be easily purchased online or at a grocer nearby. These truffle oils can be found in a few different flavors. Whether you want to drizzle it on your popcorn or pizza, truffle oils will surely add that extra magical touch of rich flavor to any kind of meal for a fraction of the cost (more on this in a while).

Nutritional Value of Truffles

Truffles Nutritional Value

As fungi, truffles are packed with health benefits. For those on a vegetarian or vegan diet, truffles are just the right food item that completes the nutritional gap. Here are some of the benefits found in this delicacy:

  • Nonfat and non-cholesterol: If you’re on a weight-loss diet and looking for a food item to meet the energy demand of your body, then truffles are a very good option. It is known to possess no cholesterol, which ultimately means it is good for maintaining cardiovascular health.
  • Good source of Protein: Truffles contain over 30 percent of proteins for every meal served. For non-meat eaters, they could have your protein demands covered. Admittedly, it can be costly to purchase in its raw state, especially for regular consumption. But not to worry! There are some tips and tricks on how to find the best-priced truffle products in the market.
  • Good source of Carbohydrate: Glycogen and chitin come from the walls of these fungi. These components are the main constituents of carbohydrates since that’s how plants store energy. Truffles contain just the right amount of carb for what the body needs to function optimally. For diabetic individuals, this is especially beneficial. If served with potatoes or rice, the calories would make for an overall balanced diet.

How to Buy and Eat Truffles?

Buy Truffles

Truffles as best obtained fresh and properly stored. White truffles are generally easy to prepare and incorporate into any dish. You do not have to cook them at all. You just have to shave the top and heat it a bit to bring out its flavor. Black truffles, on the other hand, need to be cooked before using them as ingredients in any meal, because of their intense smell.

When properly prepared, few food items can compare to the chewy texture and delicious taste of truffles; they simply complement any kind of dish they are added to! You may have seen it on the menu of some high-end restaurants, something called truffle supplements. This just means you are given the option to have chopped and minced truffles topped your dish for a little bit more to the price. Restaurants are excellent places to taste truffles since the chefs have a good understanding of the flavor and how to incorporate them perfectly into any dish.

If you want to save some cash and do your own cooking, though, the neighborhood Italian grocer is the best place to purchase fresh truffles. It is advisable that you don’t buy from large chain grocery stores, because their truffle products may lack the appropriate flavor profile you are looking for. Buy truffles during the harvest season; it’s best because the flavor usually begins to wear off after weeks or months of the fungi being harvested.

When you wish to add truffles to any dish, the best way to still keep its flavor is by adding it last. You don’t have to do much with the truffle besides keeping them warm while you prepare the other ingredients for the dish. Be warned not to overcook them. Otherwise, you will end up with bland tasting truffles!

Another precaution would be not to peel the truffles when you’re cooking them. It is true that the inside is where the main game is, and hence why being the outer layer covering is important. To get the exact kind of taste that you want, it is advisable not to peel the cover off.

Now, let’s see what is best served with truffle. Some people believe it is scrambled eggs, while others swear by pinto beans or brown rice. The shortest answer to this is that all kinds of dishes – especially Mexican cuisines – served well with truffles by its side or included on the meal as finishing. They also taste superb with cooked sweet potatoes and yam fries. Of course, pasta, pizza, and noodles all go very well with this food item. Chopped truffles also make a great addition to salads.

For breakfast meals, truffles are best to serve as a side dish with an omelet, scrambled eggs, pancakes, and even Breakfast Bombs. Remember not to cook truffles with any dish but set them aside for the finishing touch. Only cook with them if you want to use the shaved flakes in your dish, but only in small amounts. If you are using truffle flavored oil to cook, drizzle the oil on your food moderately. You can also use certain ingredients to complement the taste of truffles, such as onions, garlic, ginger, or Parmesan cheese.

Best Storage Methods for Truffles

Make sure to eat your truffles only in the harvesting season and do not store it beyond this period of time. The taste and aroma can only last for a short time. After that, you will be left with bland tasting fungi.

Immediately upon purchasing truffles, store them in the fridge to extend the shelf life. Keeping them in air-tight plastic containers would be ideal so that they don’t get exposed and become spoilt.

Before storing them in plastic containers, it is advisable to use a wet paper towel and dry the truffles, so that the vapor from the truffles would serve as a form of coolant and preservative for a longer period of time.

Best Truffle Oils in the Market

Truffle Oils

While these oils can imitate the flavor, they do not provide the nutrients one would get from consuming fresh truffles. Nevertheless, they are the most accessible means to add a dash of that truffle taste to any dish. Here is a brief review of some of the most common truffle-flavored oils out there:

1. White Truffle-Flavored Oil

  • This is a great composition of olive oil with garlic and white truffle aroma for use as a finishing or dressing.

2. TruffleHunter Truffle Oil Selection Set

  • This set contains three bottles of 3.40-ounce black, English, and white truffle oils. They are reportedly rich in flavor, giving your dishes that superb taste while being vegan and gluten-free, thus making them compatible with all kinds of diet. However, there are testimonies that you can only use this oil on low heat, or the flavors would be diluted.

3. TruffleHunter Black Truffle Oil

  • Manufactured in Italy and available in bottles of 3.5 ounces, this oil infuses black truffles with extra virgin olive oil for that tangy and earthy taste. There are a few drawbacks to this particular oil though; it loses its taste and aroma soon after the bottle is opened, it does not have the depth of flavor as other truffle oils, and it is not specified on the product label if its flavors are synthetic or natural.

4. Santini Black Truffle Oil

  • Made only in Umbria, Italy, and packaged in 8-ounce glass bottles, this oil is also infused with extra virgin olive oil and makes for a very good finishing for any dish. It is, however, a bit on the pricey side where Italian-made oils are concerned since it’s an imported product in most places. Plus, it can only be applied as a finishing to meals, and there has been some customer testimony that it lacks in taste. It’s still worth a try.

5. Mantova Grand Smell Truffle Delight

  • Here’s another Italian export that comes in an 8-ounce bottle. It can be used for sautéing, as finishing oil or cooking. It has a good flavor profile from the extra virgin olive oil with black truffle flavor infusion, although it is not specified as to whether the flavoring is synthetic or natural. It has also been reported to have a chemical aftertaste.

6. San Antonio White Truffle Oil

  • Made in Italy and comes in an 8.51-ounce bottle, this brand is infused with extra virgin olive oil, like most of them on the market. Unlike its competitors, though, it contains white truffle shavings! However, it cannot boast having a strong aroma and taste. It also does not specify whether flavors are natural or synthetic.

7. Chef Jean Pierre’s White Truffle Oil

  • Packaged in bottles of 7 ounces, infused with extra virgin olive oil, and free of any artificial flavoring. You do have to keep it refrigerated, and it does lose its taste and aroma very quickly after the bottle is opened.

8. Terre di Tartufo White Truffle Oil

  • Made in Italy and measuring 8.45 ounce in a single bottle, it boasts a tangy, peppery taste and has white truffle shavings. On the downside, it does not contain truffle flavoring.

9. Urbani Truffles Organic White Truffle Oil

  • Measuring 3.5 ounces in a single bottle, infused with extra virgin olive oil, made in Italy and contains white truffle shavings. This brand is certified organic by the USDA (a department in the United States that regulates foods) and can be applied to a range of meal preparations. The only complaint from users is the bottle cap is quite difficult to reseal after it’s opened. There are also some customers claiming they believe it contains artificial flavoring.

Things to Consider

  • The darker the oil, the better the flavor
  • White truffles are best when it has a garlicky smell or a garlicky, peppery taste

How to Use Truffle Oils

  • It tastes best on cream, olive oil, or cheese dishes.
  • Always remember to use the oil in small amounts; you want to drizzle it on your food instead of pouring them in a spoonful. Most truffle oils are best when applied as a finishing for dishes rather than used for cooking. So, as a rule of thumb, it’s always best to add it as the last ingredient to your dishes before serving. This also helps to maintain the authentic flavors of your dish but still giving it that extra aroma from the truffles.
  • Bear in mind that truffle oils are technically not all truffles in taste; they are made with extra virgin olive oil. So, take that into account before adding them to your food, because when your dish already contains olive oil, it can end up tangier or it could change the overall taste of your dish into something else.
  • Always store your truffle oil in a cool dark place, with its cover tightly encased. This is to avoid having its aroma and taste compromised. Some product instructions may tell you to refrigerate after opening to maintain freshness.

Best Dishes for Black and White Truffle Oils

White truffle oil is best suited for all kinds of meat and shellfish because of its garlicky flavor profile. It is also the best when applied to cheese, cream, pizza, polenta, and salads. You can also use it as a dipping oil for nonfat bagels and warmed or crusty bread.

Meanwhile, black truffle oil has a tangier taste than its white counterpart. It can be added to stronger and richer tasting dishes. You can also apply it to any dishes together with white truffle oil. It also goes perfectly well with cooked sauces, salad dressings, and various meat dishes.

But there can be times when truffles aren’t available. And there are also situations where other ingredients can simulate the aroma and flavor of truffles in much better ways for your recipes. So here’s our roundup of the best truffle substitutes:

4 Best Truffle Substitutes

Worcestershire Sauce and Mushrooms

Worcestershire Sauce and Mushrooms

If you have no truffle oil for cooking, then this is the best alternative. It has a taste profile akin to black truffle oil, which is quite strong.

How to Use This Truffles Alternative:

Mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce go well together with olive oil to create that tangy taste that’s quite close to black truffle oil. It makes for a good alternative to black truffle oil on any dish.

However, you should know that this sauce has a higher boiling rate than the normal oil. So, it would be advisable to keep an eye on it from time to time, especially when it’s used for either sautéing or frying. When cooking, the mushrooms would have to be added to the mix (oil and sauce), so that the mixture becomes thoroughly blended.

Why Is It a Good Alternative to Truffles?

Its taste is divine, and it’s got a similar flavor compared to other oils for cooking.

For best results, cook either your meat or vegetables in sauce with a small amount of olive oil. Do not forget also to include the mushrooms with the other ingredients. This would give the meals a more enriching and deep taste with a nice aroma that’s sure to make you feel like you’re using black truffle or its oil.

The mushrooms are the secret of this black truffle substitute; they make the flavor more enticing to your palates, which can easily be mistaken for a truffle cooked dish.

Where to Get This Truffles Substitute?

You can find them in either a local store or a grocery store around the neighborhood. Some of them are quite cheap too.

You can also choose any kind of mushroom; there isn’t a preferred type of fungi on this list. For the olive oil, it is highly recommended that you use one that isn’t that expensive; just something good to cook with will do the trick. When all said and done, you’ll be cooking cheap but eating expensive.

Can I Take This Truffle Substitute Just as It Is?

Well, you won’t be making anything that tastes like truffle then, but you’ll be eating just Worcestershire Sauce. But if you combine them (the food) with the flavors as described above, then you’ll be having a fine meal.

If you want to get the best for your dishes, add just a teaspoon of oil with a tablespoon of sauce, and sauté both ingredients on low heat, with thinly cut mushrooms (of your chosen type). With this done, the taste from the mushroom would blend well with the sauce and oil and you’ll be ready to have the perfect Italian dinner.

Will This Truffle Alternative Change the Flavor of My Recipe?

Well, no. Remember, your dish will taste as you had just used truffles in it. The taste is tangier and delicious, more than what you’ll expect from any kind of truffle oil. With this, it is recommended that you add a bit of garlic or ginger to make the taste suitable.

You’ll also have to know that this sauce can be kind of salty. Here’s an advice, do not add too much salt in the food. You don’t want your food tasting like beach water!

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Here is a good alternative ingredient for white truffle oil that you just can’t go wrong with. You can literally add EVOO to your meals and feel like you just tasted white truffle oil in your meal.

How to Use This Truffles Alternative:

EVOO is mostly used for cooking vegetables, sautéing meat or its ingredients and using it to make the perfect sauce. If you wish to make the perfect Italian meal, then this oil can’t be left out.

Why Is It a Good Alternative to Truffles?

It’s simply an ingredient that’s splendid as a drizzling alternative for any recipe that calls for such, whether it’s for your Air-Fried meals or as a last-minute ingredient for sauces.

EVOO gets the task done at a relatively low price! The same way you pour in your quantity of truffle oil to your dishes is the same way you pour in your EVOO. So, there are no stark differences.

Where to Get This Truffle Substitute?

EVOO can be purchased in either a local food store, especially if it’s Italian, or any grocery store around the neighborhood.

A word of caution, though, do not buy oil of poor quality, as this will make the food taste quite bad. You will also end up with a completely different from the truffle oil that you’re trying to replicate for your meals.

So, in essence, the better the oil you purchase, the better the result for your meal. The truffle oil would surely be mimicked very well when this is done. And please note that high-quality EVOO can fetch up to almost the same price as truffle oils, making it quite expensive. So, you better have a scale of preference when shopping.

Can I Take This Truffles Substitute Just as It Is?

Yes, you can! But it would be good if you can play with it a little with other ingredients to create more flavors with it.

You can do this, as most renowned chefs of the world infuse their oil with either ginger, shallot or garlic, leaving it overnight before using it to prepare traditional meals or to make things easier. Or you can just purchase a high-quality EVOO that’s already been infused.

You will be amazed when you serve that EVOO meal on the table as everyone would be fooled! They’ll believe you’ve used something expensive to cook it. Lastly, don’t be scared of playing with other ingredients in bringing out the best flavor in your EVOO.

Will This Truffle Substitute Change the Flavor of My Recipe?

Aww too bad, because yes, it would! But here’s the good news, it’s not that much of a change. Both kinds of oils, EVOO and truffle oils, have the same taste profile and they go well, especially when you infuse your oil with shallots before you cook with it.

With this, you’ll be able to get that truffle taste quite easily. Of course, you’ll have to know that the taste is not going to be wholly the same.

Mushroom Pesto

Mushroom Pesto

It’s impossible not to hear an Italian chef say he makes the meal served to you without pesto. It’s a popular ingredient in many Italian dishes, and it’s rapidly being introduced in other recipes as well.

Perhaps you wish to cook an Italian delicacy; then it would be cool to use mushroom pesto instead of truffle oil. This will wonder in helping to bring out the flavor of your meals.

If you also wish to have that particular genuine truffle flavor, then search either your local store or grocery store for truffle pesto.

How to Use This Truffles Alternative:

This ingredient is simply a sauce. It’s good to use at the end of a meal or mixed into sour cream or food ingredients to give it that tangy flavor.

It’s also no different from truffles. They taste almost the same. Plus, you can’t use pesto to cook meat or vegetables at low heat. But it’s kind of good when blended with meat or salmon and it all depends on what you’re cooking.

Why Is It a Good Alternative to Truffles?

Well, first of all, mushroom pesto contains oil and lots of it. So, it will be quite similar to consuming truffle oil. But it also has a rough texture, which makes it different from truffle oil, meaning that it isn’t advisable to use it the same way you’ll use the truffle oil.

It’s better when used as either a topping or mixed in with your meatball spaghetti.

Where to Get This Truffle Substitute?

You can find them in your grocery store. All you have to do is to check the aisle; they are mostly found in the sauces and condiments section.

If you’re looking for truffle pesto, then you can’t find them at the grocery store, but they are available online. This is because truffles are scarce and expensive to cultivate. So, you can’t find them that easily. They can only be found with specialized farmers in foreign countries in which they’re produced and exported to you at high prices.

Here’s a piece of advice: Stick to the less expensive mushroom pesto, but if you’ve got the money to spend, go ahead and get the truffles alternative!

Can I Take This Truffles Substitute Just as It Is?

Yes, you can use it just as it is when cooking or after cooking. The best part of it is this: you don’t need to add anything to it to make it taste like truffle oil.

Most of the time, it already contains shallots and garlic. But if it seems that this flavor is absent in your pesto, then you can infuse it with these ingredients.

You can also mix it with other smaller ingredients to make the sauce thicker.

Will This Truffle Alternative Change the Flavor of My Recipe?

No, it won’t. But most time, consumers do say they can taste the difference, and it’s subtle. Coupled with this, when the pesto is added to your meals, it becomes smoother and still not good to use for sautéing foods.

Truffle Salt

Truffle Salt

The unique and at times dubbed better than truffle oil, this salt is made of sea salt mixed with bits or shavings of truffles. It comes with either black or white truffle colors. That makes it the perfect alternative to cooking your Italian or European delicacies!

How to Use This Truffles Alternative:

When you’re done cooking your Italian dish, this salt is sprinkled at the end to give it that burst of flavor.

But if you’re using it for cooking your meals, then you’ll need to measure the quantity you put in, so as not to have your food end up too salty. Since it is salt, it’s supposed to be used the same way you use regular salt – at its minimum.

You can also sprinkle and season vegetables and meat with it or throw in a spoonful in boiling water, especially when cooking yams.

Why Is It a Good Alternative to Truffles?

Truffle oil and salt are very good substitutes. But as said, when added too much in cooking, it spoils the overall result of a dish.

Here’s a secret, the best way to use truffle salt to achieve the same effect as truffle oil, infuse olive oil with it, or you can use other kinds of cooking oil of your choice.

You don’t necessarily need to buy an expensive oil to infuse truffle salt with. You can use absolutely any kind of cooking oil to bring out that exact truffle oil flavor.

Otherwise, simply add a pinch to your meals and don’t overdo it.

Where to Get This Truffle Substitute?

You can find this ingredient at any specialty grocery store. Don’t even think you’ll find them on the shelves that easily, though; most of the time, the store manager keeps them stored so that the salt still retains its flavor.

If you wish not to go into the trouble of searching the stores for the ingredient, why not order it online? It’s cheaper than truffle oil and expensive olive oil.

Can I Take This Truffles Substitute Just as It Is?

Oh yes, it’s used just the way it is. You don’t need to look for anything to add to it; its flavor is just great for any meal.

Will This Truffle Alternative Change the Flavor of My Recipe?

A little bit, yes, but it still makes very little difference. For example, your truffle salt can give you that tangy taste but with a taste of saltiness, whereas your truffle oil still retains that tangy, meaty flavor to your meals. So, you can imagine the difference.

And this wraps up our roundup of the best truffles alternatives. Enjoy!

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