Truffle oil is a relatively recent invention. It started showing up in the 1980s, which is around the time when truffles began to be a trendy ingredient around the world.
Truffle oil is supposed to provide you with the flavor of truffles without the need to source and use fresh truffles. Genuine truffles can be expensive — a pound can cost thousands of dollars. Truffle oil’s popularity in the 1980s and 90s came from the fact that it enabled chefs to claim that they had truffle dishes on their menus. This gave their restaurants a certain amount of prestige because of the association with real truffles.
Truffles have long had a reputation of being among the finest foods in the world right up there with beluga caviar and wagyu beef. Historically, the most famous truffles have been those from the south of France and the Piedmont region in Italy.
The downside of most truffle oil is that it is made with a chemical that mimics the truffle aroma rather than with actual truffles. Some truffle oils may include small pieces of truffle for marketing purposes but these add nothing to the flavor.
The chemical in truffle oil responsible for its aroma is called 2,4 dithiapentane. It is also the main aromatic compound in foot odor, bad breath and flatulence as well as in Camembert cheese and real truffles. Truffle oil that manufacturers claim to be an all-natural product may have its 2,4 dithiapentane sourced from a variety of vegetables including broccoli, garlic or onions. In other products, the chemical may come from petroleum products.
Truffle oil is made by combining 2,4 dithiapentane with oil and a few other flavoring compounds to enhance the truffle oil’s complexity. Any cooking oil can be used to make it. Typical oils used for truffle oil include neutral-tasting oils like grapeseed and canola oils but flavorful ones like extra virgin olive oil are sometimes used.
Truffle oil flavor profile
While it is possible to make truffle oil with truffles for home use, commercial truffle oils aren’t flavored with real truffles because the taste and aroma don’t last for very long. Some experts claim that truffle oil doesn’t taste much like real truffles and that any similarity that its aroma has to real truffles is only superficial. Some will say that it is artificial and excessively perfumy or that it tastes like gasoline.
The truffle oils that get closest to the taste of real truffles will have some of the distinctive earthiness and intense mushroom flavor that you would get from truffles. The flavor profile varies significantly from maker to maker as well as the kind of truffle that is being imitated. For example, black truffle oil may have a noticeably different flavor profile from that of white truffle oil.
Health benefits of truffle oil
Truffle oil’s health benefits are based entirely on the type of oil into which the 2,4 dithiapentane is blended. If extra virgin olive oil is used, the benefits of truffle oil will be the same as extra virgin olive oil. The addition of truffle aroma offers no nutritional benefits.
Like all cooking oils, truffle oil is calorie-dense and should be consumed in moderation to prevent obesity.
Traditional applications for truffle oil include its use as a finishing oil. It is typically drizzled over foods including mashed potatoes, pasta dishes and fries.