Truffle fries, truffle oil, and truffle parmesan brussel sporuts are probably something you have encountered on a menu at least once in your life. These tasy fungi friends have always stood on a pedestal in the culinary world, but what are they really?
Truffles are actually a fungi, not a mushroom. Remember, while all mushrooms are fungi, not all fungi are mushrooms. The two are more like distance, delicious cousins.
Mushroom vs. Truffle: What's the difference?
Mushrooms are the fruit of fungi. There are about 38,000 variables and about 20 of those are edible. The main difference between truffles and mushrooms is the fact that mushrooms grow above ground and in a variety of enviornments. Truffles can only be found underground in wild forests a few months each year.
The fun part is that truffles have to be cultivated very specifically. They are elusive and considered culinary gold. A truffle's cooking process is also detailed enough to render it a delicacy in many dishes. This isn't to say mushrooms aren't a delicacy, but they can be obtained a lot easier than truffles.
How can you find truffles?
Edible truffles are found around the roots of different types of trees, like beech, poplar, oak, birch, hornbeam, hazel, and pine. Truffles can be "planted," in a process using acorns found at the foot of trees known to host truffles in their root system. Because of their technique, truffles are reguarly cultivated by "experts" and are on their way to mass production (which means more truffle dishes, yum!).
Before cultivation though, truffles were tradtionally found by domesticated pigs known as truffle hogs. The pigs had developed sucha superb sense of smell that they could sniff out the prized fungi from as deep as three feet underground. Truffles release a very specific aroma that enriches their flavor and attracts pigs. This process of truffle extraction has been dated all the way back to the classical age of Rome (900 BCE- 700 CE), but is more well documented during the 1600s.
Cooking With Truffles
There are a few different types of edible truffles: summer/burgundy truffles, garlic truffles, white truffles, and black truffles. The most common of these being the white and black truffles.
These edible truffles are a hot commodity, but used sparingly because of their high price and strong taste. Truffles can be used raw, shaved, or diced to top everything from salads to meats and cheeses. Black truffles are less pungent than white truffles and is the kind used is most truffle dishes; it is used to make truffle salt, truffle honey, and truffle oil.
Now you may think we're making a Harry Potter reference here, but actually the "Philosopher Stones" are what magic truffles are affectionately called. Similar to magic mushrooms, this rock shaped fungi contains psilocybin and psilocin. Magic truffles are known to produce visual hallucinations, intense body highs, and a mystic state of mind.
Magic truffles are not entirely legal to buy in the United States, but can be bought completely legal in Europe. Because the truffle is not under the control of the ban of psychedlics by the Dutch government in 2008, companies like Wholecelium are able to sell the fungi and fungi grow kits (at 100% legality). This is because truffles are not a mushroom. And because "European Union (EU) trade law says that if a product is legal in one country, it is therefore in effect legal in all EU countries," these are available for consumption in pretty much all of Europe.
Sorry to disappoint my fellow Americans, but we're just going to have to wait a little bit longer to get a truly magical, Harry Potter-esq experience. Until then we have plenty of access to fuctional and medicinal mushrooms to fill our fungi needs.