Few foods evoke the vibrations of gastronomic delicacy like the truffle – the fruiting body of an underground fungus, so prized that for centuries farmers trained armies of truffle-hunting pigs in Europe and North America to sniff the bulbs of wild mushrooms buried under the ground. land, which can take up to a decade to flower.
Dubbed the “diamonds” of the culinary world, truffles can be found (in tiny portions!) on the plates of the world’s finest gourmet restaurants, where diners pay extravagant prices to sample their exquisite flavors. (A Macau casino magnate once spent $330,000 on a 3.3-pound truffle from Tuscany at an auction in 2007.)
Naturally, the truffle market has exploded, giving rise to a dark underbelly that resembles the dark kingdom of illegal drugs, where gangs of rival truffle hunters commit fraud, sabotage, or even murder.
But fraud in particular is endemic: some truffle sellers will deliberately misidentify their products, passing them off as varieties with greater commercial value. There are currently nearly 20 types of truffles sold for human consumption; among these, the most prized are cultivated in Europe, such as the fancy “white” and “black” truffles from the orchards of Italy and France. For this reason, the bulk of truffle research, including olfactory characterizations and chemical compositions that help identify them, has focused on European species.
Now, a study by the American Chemical Society aims to shed light on a North American truffle. And in doing so, researchers may also have come to better understand why humans like truffles – which, as scientists have already deduced, is largely due to the mushroom’s rich aroma (in trade, truffles with strong aromas are worth more than those with weak aromas). those).
The study authors dissected a species dubbed the “Appalachian” truffle and found that its “volatilome,” or chemical fingerprint, contains 30 different compounds, including a molecule that gives truffle oil its distinctive smell. But beyond that, the most prevalent compounds have been described as having strong “garlic”, “mushroom” smells and even a “rotten cabbage” or “rotten seaweed” smell (yum!) .
The authors suggest that their study could not only contribute to research that fights truffle fraud, but also raise the profile of the humble Appalachian truffle, grown in Quebec, to perhaps even become a “black diamond”. North American.
It might be time to invest in a truffle pig or at least take a trip up north for a tasting tour. We hear that Europe is so last week.