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truffles and pasta

Truffle oil seems to be ubiquitous these days. Drizzled over pastas and risottos, used to make truffled french fries, whipped into mashed potatoes, commonly used with elegant egg preparations, and as an ingredient in decadent vinaigrettes. It’s used to add an earthy and rich flavour profile and is becoming more and more common in modern cooking – from the professional kitchen to the home kitchen. But did you know….gasp….that truffle oil in fact contains no truffles?!?!?

In fact, truffle oil is a synthetic concoction. A real truffle infused oil would have no shelf life as the truffles would rot within the oil. The flavour in truffle oil comes from one or more chemical compounds like 2,4-dithiapentane – a man-made aromatic molecule that mimics the taste and smell of truffles. The only natural thing about truffle oil is the olive oil or grapeseed oil in which these chemicals are infused.

So why is it so popular, even among professional chefs? Well, real truffles cost about $1,400 USD per pound, whereas truffle oil is a fraction of the cost at $30-70 USD for an 8-10 ounce bottle. So it is an inexpensive way to add that feral gorgeousness of truffles to just about any dish. The dish below featuring a small amount of real truffles, most likely costs the restaurant $10-15 USD per serving.

eggs with truffles

Although, some chefs eschew truffle oil. On Season 2 of America’s top cooking show, Masterchef, Gordon Ramsay says to one of the contestants that used the offending ingredient in a dish that truffle oil is, “One of the most pungent, ridiculous ingredients ever known to chef. I can’t believe you’ve just done that. I think you just put your apron up in flames.” Another judge on the show Joe Bastianich, went on to add, “A sure sign of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, Generally if you go to a restaurant and you see white truffle oil on the menu, it’s a good reason to run away.” Then the offending truffle oil was unceremoniously dumped in the trash.

Are they right?

I will say, if a restaurant uses truffle oil in a way that suggests a dish might contain real truffles, e.g. “truffled” as a descriptor, then in fact it is dubious and misleading. That said, while nothing takes the place of real truffles, I have never said “no” to a plate of truffle fries…and don’t expect I will anytime soon.

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