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Truffle Watching: What makes this 'black diamond of the earth' the most expensive fungus in the world?

In 2012, a two pound truffle (nearly a kilogram) sold for almost $300,000, which is nearly Rs 2 crore! But what are truffles, and why are people willing to spend so much money on it?​

Truffles are fungi belonging to the tuber family that grow under the soil. But they are incredibly rare because farmers can’t grow truffles the way they can other produce. Truffle cultivation is very scientific and requires certain fixed conditions — the weather must be perfect, and complemented by just the right amount of light, shadow and humidity. Once these factors are in place, truffle spores are spread around trees  and after that, it’s a game of luck. The truffle spores may take and result in the aromatic fungi, or you may never find the 'fruit' of your labour.

But if a truffle does grow, digging it up requires the help of another special tool — a powerful nose.

In ancient times, truffles were used as pig feed but once people got a taste for them, they started using pigs to dig up the truffles. The pigs though often went out of control and ate them. Thus came the other professional truffle hunters — dogs. Dogs have spent the last, approximately 100 years, digging up truffles for their masters. In fact, Bella, a trained truffle dog, dug up the first Mediterranean black truffle to grow in the northern region of Wales in November 2017. Researchers believe the truffle growing so far up north was a result of climate change, and increasingly warmer weather.

Among truffles, there are two broad categories — the black truffle and the white truffle.

The white, significantly more expensive than the black, is much harder to find and in known to grow only around Italy’s Alba region. Black truffles, also referred to as the 'black diamond of the earth', grow in relatively larger numbers, and were originally found across Europe, with the most exclusive among them coming from the Perigord region in France. Now, black truffle growing areas exist around the world, in countries like the USA, UK, Spain, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and South Africa.

A few years ago, there came the problem of the Chinese truffle. The Chinese truffle created havoc in the truffle market, as it was much cheaper and of lower quality. According to truffle connoisseurs Chinese truffles, are harvested with much less finesse than the European truffle and lack the intoxicating taste and smell of the European counterpart.

The truffle, when tasted raw by itself, can confuse your taste buds, with a flavour that’s not really sweet, savoury or acidic. But when used to season a dish, the truffle’s buttery, garlic-y flavours, mixed with it’s heady aroma, lift the flavours and add a beautiful note to almost any dish.

These tiny, knobby little fungi may not look like much, but their taste and smell have entranced the world — from pigs to people, making us willing to dish out $50,000 for a nearly 4 pound truffle. Have you tried one yet?

Updated Date: Nov 11, 2017 16:52 PM

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