What is a Truffle?

by James Chen

It pays to know your truffles. While shaving chocolate truffles onto an expensive luxury dish might have an unexpectedly positive effect, when you meant to add a richly flavorful mushroom instead, you and your dinner partner might nonetheless be somewhat dismayed. Conversely, while the truffle might be highly valued amongst culinary circles, giving a truffle to somebody that expected chocolates instead of a fungus might cause some easily avoided misunderstanding.

What is a Truffle (chocolate)?

While the original truffe was a humble chocolate ganache rolled in bitter chocolate powder, and resembled heavily its fungal namesake, later embellishments has led to the usage of the word to describe a vast array of otherwise completely different kinds of confectionary. What does tend to tie them together is the usage of ganache as a filling, and often flavored with nuts, fruits or other things.

History of the Chocolate Truffle

Legend has the chocolate truffle's origins in the kitchen of culinary giant, Auguste Escoffier. Supposedly, an apprentice had accidentally poured hot cream over chocolate chunks, and discovered that he could roll the subsequent chocolate paste into lumps, and that the addition of cocoa powder made it heavily resemble the truffles of France's Perigord region.

What is a Truffle (fungus)?

The natural truffle is a fungus found buried near the root of trees. The two commercially important variants are the French black truffle (Tuber melanosporum) and the Italian white truffle (Tuber magnatum), which is known for its pungent scent. They are one of the most expensive natural food items on the market, regularly commanding prices up to $450 per pound or more.

Usages of the Truffle

The truffle has been used for many functions throughout history, from medicinal uses to aphrodisiacs to its most common use: as a delicacy. Its pungent scent and taste is highly prized amongst culinarians.

Harvesting the Truffle

As the truffle's scent and flavor are intrinsically tied together, a truffle that is harvested too early will have little of either. As such, animals with a strong sense of smell, such as pigs and trained dogs, are preferred means of which to "hunt" truffles. Dogs in particular are favored, as, unlike pigs, they are less likely to try and consume the truffle.

About the Author

James Chen has been De Anza College's La Voz Weekly's first and current technology editor since 2008. He was a "Wave Magazine" editorial intern for six months. Chen is currently seeking his journalism degree from De Anza College.