You may have heard of these fancy little things called truffles (real truffles, not the chocolates). Dubbed the diamonds of the kitchen, truffle "mushrooms" are most commonly shaved over Mediterranean dishes and made into bases for Italian foods such as pasta and pizza. Their unique taste goes great with fine entrees and is perfect for aiolis or as a garnish over starters like french fries.
Chefs all over the world rave about using truffles, proudly making them stand out on their menus to attract both mushroom lovers and expensive food aficionados. While truffles can be one of the priciest foods in the worlds certain species are more affordable than others. The various types of truffles, grown in different regions of the globe and even harvested in different seasons of the year, can greatly differ in price but are almost always more costly than the mushrooms from your local grocery store.
If you're new to truffles then you might be wondering exactly why they are so highly regarded, and how incredible the taste of truffles must be to warrant such a high cost. Are they worth the price? The answer might change depending on who you ask, but no one can deny that truffles have a particular flavor quite unlike any other food delicacy.
What are truffles?
Truffles are a handful of fragrant fungus species from the Tuber genus. Of all the 86 accepted Tuber species, only about 9 or 10 are consumed as a delicacy.
Truffles grow underground in chiefly in broadleaved woodlands on calcareous soils such as those found throughout Europe and Asia. They usually look like lumpy rough-skinned potatoes with a firm, spongy texture and a sweet earthy aroma. The closest thing this group of subterranean spore species can be compared to is wild mushrooms. However, because they develop completely submerged in nutrient rich soil truffles have a rich and completely unique flavor no above ground mushroom can possess.
All summed up, truffles are basically fancy, edible, subterranean mushrooms. While you can't eat every mushroom you pluck out of the dirt, all species referred to as truffles are edible and have the same general nuances when eaten.
So what do truffles taste like?
To say truffles taste like mushrooms would be a huge injustice, and yet that is where we must start to explain the sensation you get from eating them. Generalizing what truffles taste like is not an easy task, but they do contain the earthiness and musky/meaty/gamy flavor of some popular above ground mushrooms. When describing truffles some would say they taste like they smell: oaky, nutty and earthy, sweet and juicy with stinging savory notes like black olives. Often times the aroma of fresh truffle spores is stronger than the flavor, as even the strongest black truffles will not overpower other ingredients on the palate.
While most of the popular Tubers are mainly grown in France, Italy, Spain and China, others come from a list of countries including the USA, Mexico, Poland, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand. While these nations share some similarities in their environment, they all produce truffles with subtly different flavors.
Many factors can influence the individual taste of a species of truffles. The tree roots which truffles attach themselves to during growth, the soil truffles grow in, the season in which truffles are harvested, and the region the truffles come from all affect their flavor. Not all truffles taste the same, even truffles of the same species can taste different when developed in different parts of the world. While it is usually "the darker the truffle the stronger the flavor", anyone who has tried truffles more than once can tell you that these fragrant and delicious subterranean spores are both complex and various, much like fine wine or cheese, and the more you try them the more you can attempt to understand their nearly indescribable flavor.