Why Truffle Oil Is So Popular
Truffle oil is a popular ingredient in many different culinary dishes. It is commonly used as a finishing oil rather than a cooking oil, due to its low smoke point, which causes it to quickly lose or compromise its flavor when exposed to high levels of heat.
Truffle oil has an earthy, savory flavor similar to mushrooms, and the very name is synonymous with luxury and gourmet dining. Not only are truffle oils prized for their delicious flavor, they are also a much less expensive and easily attainable substitute to utilizing actual truffles in a dish.
Where Does Truffle Oil Come From?
Truffles are a kind of fungus that grows in the ground. They are very highly valued as for their taste, and because they are so rare, costly and highly prized, their very name conjures images of fancy dishes and dining experiences.
Most chefs that work with actual truffles use them sparingly, by shaving a small portion into a dish, but thankfully, there is another way to obtain this wonderfully luxurious flavor that is far more readily available and affordable. This involves the use of truffle oil.
The History of Truffle Oil
The use of truffle oil dates back to as early as 1756, when cooks in Italy and France would soak white or black truffles in another high- quality oil. In most cases, olive oil is used, but it is not uncommon to find truffle oils made from sunflower or grapeseed oil as well.
The key is using a high quality, neutral oil that has a mild taste, so the taste of the truffles will shine when properly infused.
While truffle oil was mostly used to flavor dishes, it was also applied to rags and use to help train pigs and dogs in detecting and foraging truffles. However, truffle oil became more popular amongst mainstream chefs and cooks beginning in the late 1980s.
Since then, its use has gained in momentum, being a common additive to many popular culinary dishes.
White Truffles vs Black Truffles
There are two main kinds of truffles, black and white. While both can be used for the purposes of making truffle oil, there are a few key differences.
White Truffles have a smooth texture, and they are pale, with a yellow or orangish hue. Found in certain regions of Italy as well as Croatia and southern France, they are typically in season from early fall to January.
Although many people have attempted to cultivate white truffles in other areas, they are stubborn, and don’t easily lend themselves to growing in new environments.
They are almost twice as expensive as black truffles because of their limited availability. These truffles have a more pronounced flavor that some describe as being similar to garlic, and they can be easily identified by their earthy smell.
Due to the fact that they are strong in both taste and smell, many chefs tend to use white truffles and white truffle oil sparingly, as a tasty accompaniment to heavier dishes like pasta or pizza.
Black Truffles have a ragged, rough feel to them, similar to a rock face or the bark of a tree.
Most people describe the taste of black truffle as far milder than a white truffle, with a somewhat nutty hint. The milder flavor lends itself better to dishes where it does not have to be used as lightly, such as when blended into sauces or vinaigrettes.
Black truffles were originally found in France, but today, they can be grown in almost any environment which boasts elm, hazelnut, oak and chestnut trees, such as regions of the United States, Australia and Europe. These truffles come into season in December, and last until the early spring.
Does Truffle Oil Contain Real Truffles?
Today, truffle oil is used in a variety of dishes, but the sad reality is that many commercial truffle oils on the market do not actually contain any truffles at all.
Rather, they are flavored with synthetic chemicals, such as 2,4-dithiapentane, which imparts the aroma and flavor of truffles into the oil without actually having to contain them.
For this reason, it is a highly controversial ingredient amongst many chefs. There are some truffle oils on the market, however, that are made from actual truffles, and these are of course considered to be more desirable for use, as they have a far more complex flavor that is true to their source.
If you are going to use truffle oil, most culinary experts recommend taking the time and paying a little extra to seek out an oil that contains actual truffles rather than chemicals. Not only is it better for you, eating synthetic truffle oil can actually desensitize your palate to the real thing.
So what can you do with truffle oil?
As we have seen, its primary use is in the kitchen, where it enhances all sorts of savory dishes from pizzas and pastas to salads, deviled eggs and even some vegetable dishes.
It has also been used to add a gourmet flair to some foods that may be considered less fancy, such as French fries, mashed potatoes, popcorn, and even as a dipping oil for bread.
For maximum deliciousness, it is best to add the truffle oil quickly after your food is done cooking, right before you intend to eat it. The longer it sits around on an unconsumed plate, the less appealing and intense the flavor when consumed.
Truffle oil can also be added to butter to make a delicious addition to breads and pasta, as well as any other dish where normal butter is commonly utilized.