What Is a Truffle? Your Guide to the Culinary Trend

Updated 01/17/18
what is a truffle
Creativ Studio Heinemann/Getty Images

One of the most delicious elements of contemporary cooking is also one of the least understood. This mystery of truffles has helped bring them to a high level of popularity. Truffles and truffle oil have come to grace some of the most luxurious menus at top restaurants in the U.S. and worldwide, and some of the world’s most respected chefs can’t stop creating their dishes around them. But what is a truffle? Read on to find out all about them.

What Is It?

A truffle is essentially a type of a fungus that can weigh as much as an ounce to over a pound. Visually, the truffle has a mushroom-like texture and appearance and can be found in both black and white variations.

Among specialty foods, truffles enjoy an almost unheard-of following among culinary experts. The flavor is rich, distinctive, and a beloved addition to pasta, meat dishes, and various iterations of international cuisine. To the delight of adventurous mixologists and curious cocktail lovers, truffles can also be found (infused and distilled) in truffle vodka. While chocolate truffles infused with truffle oil do exist, the truffle candy was originally called a truffle because of its resemblance to the small, dark, ball-like fungal version.

Where Is It Found?

Truffles grow underground and must be sniffed out by specially trained dogs or truffle pigs, who can remarkably detect truffles that are as deep as a meter beneath the surface. They are often cultivated in “truffle groves,” which account for over 80% of truffle output in places like France. Although, they can also be found in the wild in Italy, Australia, Chile, and certain regions of the U.S.

How Much Does It Cost?

One of the primary reasons truffles get so much culinary press (and such a degree of public fascination) is because of their exorbitant cost. Believe it or not, an individual truffle might go for as much as $160,000. While this kind of price tag is rare, truffles do tend to go for about $3000 per pound, and there’s little indication that prices will drop anytime soon. According to Veronica Giraudo, export director at Tartuflanghe in Italy, this is in part because “compared to 20 years ago, fewer truffles are coming to market.”

While supply decreases and demand increases, there’s never been a better time to enjoy this beloved food trend. So get foraging—if not underground then at least at your favorite restaurant.

Now, discover the weirdly delicious fungus that’s been called “the truffle of Japan.”

Related Stories