Posted: April 21, 2022 Author: Ryan Kukuruzovic, Corporate Chef
Ryan has 20-plus years of R&D and foodservice experience. His focus is on the design and implementation of diverse and innovative culinary visions with the highest standards of excellence.
Earthy, rich with hints of garlic and an underlying nuttiness – I could go on and on about my affinity for truffles – white truffles in particular. Because truffle is a flavor experience like no other. I fell under their spell many years ago while working as a line cook in a northern Italian restaurant in Chicago and have never looked back. Yet I’ve noticed over the years that either like me you find their aroma intoxicating and the flavor sublime or you simply don’t. There’s not much in between.
Truffles are a fungus the same as mushrooms, so they share a deep earthy taste, but that’s where they diverge. This similarity can’t begin to cover what makes truffles so delectable. There have been lots of attempts to describe truffle flavor – mold, garlic, soil, onions without heat, meat, sweet body odor — but I find these descriptors inadequate. Truffles are irresistible because of their aroma. It’s composed of chemicals that mimic mammalian reproductive pheromones. So, eating or even sniffing a truffle is a bit like being drugged.
One of the greatest characteristics of a truffle is the aroma. You’ll notice when added to an entrée, the scent of freshly shaved truffle lifts off a plate, creating a rounded sensory experience. Encompassed in the smell is rich earth and oak. Truffles smell like the best elements of damp fall day.
On the tongue, truffle has a gamey, meaty richness. There is a sweetness that’s offset by the savory edge, which combines with a deep umami flavoring for a rounded taste. When eaten raw, their flavor has an intense impact, but when cooked it’s more subtle.
As mentioned, truffles are a fungus. They’re among the species in the Tuber genus. Depending on who’s classifying, there are anywhere from 40 to a couple hundred types of truffles, but only a handful are used in the culinary world. Unlike your basic mushroom, truffles grow under the ground more like a potato. And unlike most mushrooms, truffles are not easy to grow, harvest or store.
Even though there have been some attempts to farm truffles, they’ve not been successful. Truffles therefore are foraged in the woodsy areas to which they’re partial. They prefer areas with mild weather and well-drained soil. On average, it takes about seven years for a truffle to mature for harvest. Since they grow below ground next to trees, they’re essentially hidden from view. That means the only way to harvest them is to sniff them out.
Here’s where their intoxicating aroma comes into play again. Apparently, pigs are captivated by truffle aroma. Yep, traditionally pigs were used as truffle hunters. The only problem is – pigs really like to eat truffles too. To avoid this conflict of interests, dogs are now trained to locate them via scent. Once located truffles have to be carefully dug up to avoid damage.
Because of their scarcity, difficulty in harvesting and short shelf life, truffles are one of the most expensive foods in the world. Those who love the flavor find the expense worthwhile. On the other hand, those who don’t enjoy the taste, marvel at the fuss made over something so smelly.
For many reasons, it’s impractical to use fresh truffles in most retail products. But there is tremendous opportunity to use truffle flavor within the retail space in a variety of savory categories. I see the greatest opportunity within the snack segment, as I feel this is a swift space to capture the attention of customers that are interested in trying this exquisitely elusive and delectable flavor. Truffle popcorn anyone?
If you are interested in developing snacks, condiments, spice rubs, or any other application with truffle flavor, reach out to your account manager or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to help!