What Is a Truffle, and Why Are They So Expensive?: Everything You Need to Know About the Prized Delicacy


Truffles are some of the most sought-after delicacies across the world, owing to their rarity, taste, and aroma. People unfamiliar with these tasty little eatables are bound to wonder about what is a truffle, and why their prices are so steep. Both white truffles and black truffles find their way into a variety of dishes, where they tend to enhance the taste and leave behind an indelible mark on the palate. 

We address common questions regarding truffles, such as ‘why is a truffle so expensive?’, and ‘what does a truffle taste like?’ to give you a better understanding of these relished foods. We also explore concerns regarding truffle storage so that you can ensure they remain fresh and give you the value for the money spent on them.

What is a Truffle?

A truffle is a mushroom that grows underground along with the roots of certain trees found in Mediterranean and temperate environments. Unlike other mushrooms, truffles tend to grow beneath the surface and offer a symbiotic relationship to the trees from which they gain nutrition. Truffles commonly grow beneath pine, oak, hazel, and beech trees. These edible fungi are not available throughout the year due to their selective & seasonal growth patterns. Truffles are commonly found in Italy, France, and a few other countries in Europe. Recently, cultivators and farmers have been trying to grow truffles in North America, however, these attempts have not shown the expected results due to the sensitivity of the fungi. These truffles have no relationship to the chocolate truffle dessert, and the latter is named as such only due to the similarities in appearance. 

Truffles are of two major types - white  and black truffle. Listed below are some important distinguishing factors between the two:

  • What is a white truffle?: White truffles happen to be the more expensive type of truffle due to their characteristic aroma and short harvest season. They’re commonly found in Eastern Italy and the forests of Croatia. White truffle has a more pronounced taste when compared to black truffle.
  • What is a black truffle?: Black truffles are cheaper when compared to white truffles and have a longer harvest season, lasting about 4-5 months. They’re commonly found in Southwestern France and have a subtler taste. They also need to be heated mildly before consumption, while white truffles can be eaten raw. 

There also exist other varieties of truffles apart from the two main distinctions, however, the white and black truffles trump the rest in both popularity and consumption. 

What Does a Truffle Taste Like?

Truffles, due to their environment, acquire a naturally earthy taste and aroma. They're found in specific conditions and can begin growing immediately after rainfall in certain regions. Truffles have an umami taste, coupled with earthy notes and a slight hint of similarity to garlic. Certain truffles also have subtle undertones of nuttiness, a trait common to mushrooms of most varieties. An important contributing factor to a truffle's taste is also the aroma. The scent is rich and can be sensed immediately when placed on a dish, or when a truffle is grated over food as a garnish. A deep oak scent comes close to defining the aroma of truffles. They have a meaty mouthfeel and even leave behind a barely detectable sweetness. White truffles tend to be more pungent and have a stronger aroma, while black truffles have a milder taste and scent. 

what does truffle taste like

Why Is a Truffle So Expensive?

Truffles are some of the most pricey foods globally and are treasured delicacies, thanks to the fickle nature of their availability. Truffles require very specific conditions to grow in, and even a subtle change in the weather conditions can put off the harvest season by many months. Truffles seem to thrive in milder climates and in soil conditions that are neither too damp nor too dry. An important factor that drives the truffle price is the difficulty to find and grow truffles. Due to their sensitivity, growing truffles has been extremely difficult, and in some cases even unviable. 

Finding truffles requires farmers to enlist the help of pigs that have a penchant for sniffing them out of the ground. However, the pigs tend to eat the truffles when they find them, which leads to some losses - a factor that deters farmers from using their help. This has led to the training of certain dog breeds to sniff out truffles, however, this has further increased the prices due to the intensive and costly endeavor of dog training. Another important factor that determines the prices of truffles is how quickly they perish. Truffles have a very short shelf-life, and often go bad within two weeks of harvest, even when kept under ideal conditions. 

Buying Truffles, and Choosing the Best

Buying truffles can get tricky owing to the limited availability and high price. Given the technicalities, it is important to make the best purchase possible. Ensure you keep a track of truffle harvests in your locale so you can get to the markets the moment they’re harvested, and are at their freshest. Truffle harvest season is usually during the fall and winter months. While white truffles have a shorter harvest period between November and December, black truffles are available for longer and are harvested between September and January. 

Truffles are commonly sold by the ounce. While buying whole truffles, it’s important to note that the bigger the truffle, the higher the price. Inspecting them for any holes, nibble marks, and bruises is important so you don’t end up with a defective truffle. They are easily recognizable due to their aroma, and their fresh feel. Don’t forget to dust off any remaining dirt before you weigh them. On average, white truffles tend to be pricier than black truffles, and you must factor this into your truffle purchases. 

Truffle Storage

While you must have understood the intricacies surrounding the questions of ‘what is a truffle?’ and ‘why is a truffle so expensive?’, it’s also important to know how to ensure your truffles are stored properly to avoid losses. Given that truffles are some of the most expensive items in a kitchen, creating a fool-proof truffle storage plan is essential to keeping them fresh and consumable. Here are some points to keep in mind when storing truffles: 

  • Truffles are best stored refrigerated, whether white truffles or black truffles. If you’re running a commercial establishment, truffles are ideally stored in walk-in units and walk-in coolers.
  • Wrapping each truffle in a paper towel and placing them in an airtight container can prevent moisture from settling into it. 
  • You can also store truffles in dry rice. This removes moisture and keeps the truffle safe. However, it’s important to remember that the truffle can impart its flavor to the rice. 
  • Truffles have a very short shelf life, so it’s important to ensure that they’re stored immediately following purchase. 
  • It is also essential that you consume all the truffles within a week so that you avoid any wastage due to the truffles going bad. 
  • You can use white truffles in dishes such as pasta, risotto, and ravioli as a raw garnish, whereas black truffles might have to be heated slightly before you can eat them. 

Whether you’re looking to add truffles to your menu, or are planning to use them as an ingredient in your cuisine, it’s always helpful to understand essential information surrounding these little delights. White truffles and black truffles are some of the most delicious foods available on the market and ensuring their proper storage & use will help you attract a large number of customers to your establishment. 

Posted by Damon Shrauner on