The taste of truffles has defied explanation for as long as they have been part of human culinary history. The closest comparison people make is to mushrooms, which like truffles are also fungi, but the full taste is a lot richer than this, with notes of game meat, olives and a plethora of other flavors.
In the rest of the article, we’re going to learn exactly what truffles are, as well as look at how people have described their taste, their smell, and their texture.
What Are Truffles?
The truffle is not one specific species. Most fruiting bodies that get classed and consumed as truffles are from the Tuber genus of fungi, but this is not always the case.
Truffles, unlike their closely related mushroom cousins, live in the ground. This natural setting makes them difficult to cultivate and difficult to find in the wild.
Truffle hunters have been using pigs to locate where to dig for truffles since at least the 15th century, but in recent times, dogs have been trained to do this due to their lower interest in eating the truffles themselves.
What Do Truffles Taste Like?
The taste of truffles defies absolute explanation, but a good starting point is to classify them as umami. This “fifth taste” was first named in the early 1900s by a Japanese chemist and can be very loosely translated into English as savory, brothy or meaty. As none of these descriptors cover it completely, umami remains as a loanword in the English language.
The two flavors that most people will liken truffles to are mushrooms and olives. The mushroom comparison is not surprising given truffles’ genetic closeness to their fellow fungi.
Other comparisons that get made include many to animal products, such as butter and game meat. Some people will even compare them to garlic.
What Do Truffles Smell Like?
Truffles have a very deep fragrance that many will say carries onto the taste of the delicacies. The most common words you will hear people use to describe the smell of truffles are earthy and musky. The fungus does reproduce by releasing spores, so its aroma is an integral element to its survival.
Other descriptors that you can hear people use to describe the smell of truffles include pungent, sweet, nutty and oaky. As you can see by the wide variety of similarities to vastly different aromas, the smell of truffles truly defies any clear explanation, and this uniqueness is likely key to its luxury.
What Texture Do Truffles Have?
The easiest thing you can compare the texture of truffles to is mushrooms. While not quite the same, truffles also have a sort of spongy texture that is firm but not hard. You will never, for example, hear a crunch as you bite through a truffle, but they also won’t fall apart in your hands.
Black Truffles Taste Vs White Truffles Taste
When it comes to comparing the tastes of black truffles to white truffles, black truffles have a more subtle flavor than white truffles. Both still taste ‘truffle-like’, which, as we’ve explained, is a difficult flavor to explain, but white truffles have a stronger taste.
So, typically, you would use less white truffle in a dish as its strong taste could overwhelm the other flavors. So white truffle is used sparingly, often shaved over the top of dishes such as pasta. Black truffle, on the other hand, has a softer, more subtle flavor so it can be blended into sauces without overpowering the meal.
So, we’ve learned that even though it’s easy to compare truffles to mushrooms, the taste is much too complex to describe in a few words, making truffles truly an ingredient in their own class. The only way to truly know and understand what truffles taste like is to try some for yourself. But, be warned, they can be expensive to buy.
One of the best ways to dip your toe into the tasting of truffles might be to first try some truffle-infused oil or, next time you’re at a fine dining restaurant, order a dish that includes truffles and see what you think. Then and only then will you understand why it is hard to describe what truffles taste like because the only true answer is truffles! Truffles taste like truffles!