Link to Polish VersionFun Facts About Fungi

Home>Catalog>Truffles

Truffles: Gold in the Soil


Truffles have fascinated people for thousands of years. Their attraction is a tantalizing taste and aroma which, once experienced, can never be forgotten. The taste and aroma of commercially collected truffles is so intense that they are used as a flavoring instead of a separate dish. Magical powers and virtues have even been attributed to truffles. They have been collected for at least 3600 years. Growing underground, they are difficult to find and very expensive as a result. Every Spring, truffle hunters in Europe take to the woods, hoping that the sensitive noses of their trained pigs and dogs will lead them to buried treasure. In November, 2000, a new record of over $400 an ounce was set an an auction of white truffles. At those prices, the average two-ounce candy bar would cost you $800!

The name “truffle” has been borrowed to describe small, fancy chocolate candies, another expensive and delicious food. Real truffles are roundish, brown, and dirty when they come out of the ground. They are the fruit of the truffle organism, like apples are the fruit of an apple tree. Truffles contain spores for reproduction the way an apple contains apple seeds.

Many animals can easily reach fallen apples, and so spread their seeds by way of uneaten cores, or in dung. Since truffles are buried in the soil, truffles rely on partnerships (symbiosis) with certain animals for spore dispersal. Squirrels and chipmunks dig up truffles in the same way they may steal flower bulbs in your garden. They are the major wild animals dispersing truffle spores in North America.








Truffle-producing fungi have also formed symbioses with trees (mycorrhizae) because fungi cannot make their own food. The hyphae, or thread-like non- fruiting part of these fungi, coat the roots of the tree and help their host absorb soil minerals. In return, the tree host provides the fungus with carbohydrates and other nutrients, the product of the tree’s photosynthesis.

Attempts are being made to farm truffles due to the difficulty in finding them in the wild. The harvest has steadily decreased for the last 90 years, due to forest destruction and the killing of trees by air pollution. France produced 1,000 metric tonnes of truffles in 1892; now, only 50-90 tonnes are harvested each year.

Further Reading:



BACK TO CATALOG
Last update: 12 Sep 2001. © 2001, Robert Fogel, Ivins, UT 84738. Edited by Patricia Rogers.