Truffles are one of those foods that many people don’t try because of how expensive they can be, particularly in the United States where they aren’t as common as in Europe. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s when I had truffles for the first time when I went on vacation to Croatia. There, they were much cheaper than in the United States so it was much more accessible. But, oh boy, did I wish I’d tried them sooner.
The famous gourmet Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called truffles “the diamond of the kitchen” and this is because they’re so rare and have unique, exquisite characteristics that have the power to transform a dish. They’re so sought after because of their rich taste and musky smell, which can transform a dish. So, it’s not only a surprise that they are highly regarded in Croatian, Italian, and French cuisine, but also extremely expensive – particularly the white variety as they have a stronger taste and smell than their black counterparts.
But, what does truffle taste like exactly? Well, in short, truffles have a pungent, musky, and earthy taste that is unlike pretty much any other flavor out there.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about the taste of truffle products, as well as a brief guide to using them.
I feel like trying to describe the flavor of something can be quite difficult. But, that’s not so much the case when it comes to truffles. While it’s hard to make a straight comparison with another food, the flavor of a truffle mushroom has a variety of tastes and characteristics all bundled into one amazingly tasty little nugget.
Umami would be the most appropriate word if I had to choose just one word to describe truffle flavor. But, of course, there is so much more than that.
Before you even taste the truffle you can first smell them, and the stronger the better, which is why white truffle is more expensive.
The smell they give off is because of a chemical that it contains called dimethyl sulfide, which is mostly responsible for its pungent and earthy scent and it’s said to be similar to the pheromone given off by a male boar.
This is why pigs were first used for truffle hunting as they can only grow in the wild.
However, pigs aren’t used as frequently as dogs nowadays because pigs had the tendency to eat the truffles themselves.
After you’ve smelled them, it’s time to enjoy the flavor. And, they are usually described differently depending on who you ask.
Truffle taste will also likely slightly vary from truffle to truffle. But, for me, they have a deep, nutty, chocolaty, meaty, and earthy flavor all wrapped up into one. This may seem like a pretty odd combination if you haven’t tried them before, but if you have had them, then you probably can relate.
Unfortunately, though, trying to describe the flavor of truffle is still an injustice. The best way to understand the flavor is, of course, for you to try them yourself.
Just as the flavor of black truffles varies somewhat from truffle to truffle, so does their texture.
The majority of black truffles have a dense texture that is akin to a mix of ground almonds and wet cheese, such as Parmesan. Consider this combination densely packed together, and you’ll get a sense of the texture.
Truffles, on the other hand, aren’t gritty, and they don’t crumble and break apart when cut. They are firmer to the touch than imagined, although having some give to them. So, depending on how they’re prepared, the texture can also change slightly.
Truffles may be finely shaved and used on top of pasta or other meals to give flavor without being overpowering, and this is due in part to their firmness, which prevents them from falling apart when shaved.
Black Truffle vs White Truffle
I briefly mentioned a couple of the differences between black truffles and white truffles, but now let’s take a bit deeper look at what makes them so different. While it’s not a whole lot, it’s enough for one of them to cost double the price!
First, the primary difference between them is the location that they’re found.
The black truffle, which is slightly easier to find than the white truffle is found usually near oak trees in France. But they’re also found in Croatia, Slovenia, Spain, and Italy. They can only be found from September through December. The white, less commonly found truffle generally only grows in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. They’re also known as “Winter truffles” because they can only be found in December and January.
Another big difference between black truffles and white truffles is the taste and aroma. The white truffle is much more aromatic and flavorful than its black counterpart. Also, the flavor lingers a bit longer with the white truffle, which adds to the “flavor experience” of the white truffle versus the black truffle. But, they’re delicious no matter which one you eat.
Lastly, perhaps the biggest difference you’ll notice when buying truffles themselves or ordering a dish that has truffles is the price differences between them. Due to the aforementioned reasons – rarity and taste/smell mainly – the price reflects this. If you look online, you will see a massive difference in the price. For 2oz (56g) of white truffle, you’ll have to pay $455 and for 2oz (56g) of black truffle, you’ll have to pay only $88. That is a pretty significant difference, right?
Can You Eat Truffles Raw?
Yes, truffles can be eaten raw. This is, in fact, the greatest way to eat white truffles. Shave them on near the end of the meal, and the natural heat from the other ingredients will suffice. Even black truffles require only a gentle heat. Cooking too long will damage the flavor, so it’s best to be careful.
A truffle should not be overcooked in order to retain all of its aromas. Add them right before serving, at the conclusion of the cooking process. In fact, eating fresh, just-harvested truffles uncooked is a terrific way to appreciate their flavor.
If you correctly preserve your truffle in the freezer, the unfrozen truffle is virtually as wonderful as fresh.
What Does Truffle Oil Taste Like?
Since true truffles spoil in only about five days after they’ve been harvested, truffle oil is what’s usually used in its stead.
This is because truffle oil (if it’s real) is truffle-infused olive oil. Since the oil is not made solely of truffle, it only has the essence of truffle, but it does have a similar taste to fresh truffles, though not quite as strong. But, it’s a great way to add some truffle flavor without having to spend so much on fresh truffles!
However, when buying truffle oil you should be wary of fakes. Most “truffle oil” actually isn’t infused with truffle oil at all. Instead, it’s made a synthetic “truffle essence” or “truffle aroma” that is just a chemical compound that simulates the taste and smell of actual truffle.
What Tastes Similar to Truffle?
Unfortunately, there aren’t many substitutes or things that taste similar to truffles. And perhaps this is what drives their price so high, there’s no substitute.
However, the closest thing that tastes similar to truffles is porcini mushrooms. When they’re dried they can provide a similar funky and savory taste as truffles.
Alternatively, truffle oil (real or fake) is the best thing that tastes similar to truffles. Otherwise, you pretty much have to eat the real thing.
Why is Truffle so Expensive?
Truffles are so expensive because they can’t be farmed. They must be hunted and picked in wild. A truffle hunter has to use dogs (or pigs less commonly) to find them. And they must be eaten within five days of harvesting before they go bad. Additionally, they can only be found in a handful of regions around the world.
Uses for Truffle
Since truffles are most common in southern Europe, it’s no surprise that they pair well with the cuisine of the same region.
They pair well with warming, savory dishes like risotto, pasta, meats, and potatoes.
Since you shouldn’t cook them, they are best to be used as a finishing ingredient that allows the warmth of the fresh food to gently cook them.