It’s great on french fries; better on sea salted popcorn- but that flavor of sophistication, fine cousin and feeling of fancy is in fact- NOT REAL sorry.
“Truffles’ oil” is spreading all over menus faster than Miley Cyrus’ legs. I think it’s important to know why products, flavors, trends reach our everyday choices.
Now you know what you are enjoying…doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it!
See article from NY Times.
A TRUFFLE by any other name may smell as sweet, but what if that name is 2,4-dithiapentane? All across the country, in restaurants great and small, the “truffle” flavor advertised on menus is increasingly being supplied by truffle oil. What those menus don’t say is that, unlike real truffles, the aroma of truffle oil is not born in the earth. Most commercial truffle oils are concocted by mixing olive oil with one or more compounds like 2,4-dithiapentane (the most prominent of the hundreds of aromatic molecules that make the flavor of white truffles so exciting) that have been created in a laboratory; their one-dimensional flavor is also changing common understanding of how a truffle should taste.
When I discovered truffle oil as a chef in the late 1990’s, I was thrilled. So much flavor, so little expense. I suppose I could have given some thought to how an ingredient that cost $60 an ounce or more could be captured so expressively in an oil that sold for a dollar an ounce. I might have wondered why the price of the oils didn’t fluctuate along with the price of real truffles; why the oils of white and black truffles cost the same, when white truffles themselves were more than twice as expensive as black; or why the quality of oils didn’t vary from year to year like the natural ingredients. But I didn’t. Instead I happily used truffle oil for several years (even, embarrassingly, recommending it in a cookbook), until finally a friend cornered me at a farmers’ market to explain what I had should have known all along. I glumly pulled all my truffle oil from the restaurant shelves and traded it to a restaurant down the street for some local olive oil.
That truffle oil is chemically enhanced is not news. It has been common knowledge among most chefs for some time, and in 2003 Jeffrey Steingarten wrote an article in Vogue about the artificiality of the oils that by all rights should have shorn the industry of its “natural” fig leaf. Instead, the use of truffle oil continued apace. The question is, Why are so many chefs at all price points — who wouldn’t dream of using vanillin instead of vanilla bean and who source their organic baby vegetables and humanely raised meats with exquisite care — using a synthetic flavoring agent?
Part of the answer is that, even now, you will find chefs who are surprised to hear that truffle oil does not actually come from real truffles. “I thought that it was made from dried bits and pieces of truffles steeped in olive oil,” said Vincent Nargi of Cafe Cluny in Manhattan, which made me put down my pen and scratch my head. The flavor of real truffles, especially black, is evanescent, difficult to capture in an oil under the best of circumstances.
But, much as I did for years, chefs want to believe. Stories of sightings of natural truffle oil abound, like a gourmand’s answer to the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. One chef told me in an excited, slightly conspiratorial tone that Jing Tio of Le Sanctuaire in Santa Monica, Calif., who sells high-quality specialty ingredients to chefs, mixed his own oil to order.
This seemed unlikely. When I asked Mr. Tio, he gave me a funny look. “Natural?” he said, rolling his eyes. “Nooo …”
Truffle companies are secretive, and speaking to their representatives does little to illuminate their production techniques. I was told by Federico Balestra at Sabatino Tartufi that its oil is now “100 percent organic,” made from dried truffles and other ingredients with flavors “similar to truffle.” Vittorio Giordano of Urbani Tartufi called its manufacturing method, though conducted in a laboratory, a “natural process.” He described the essence that his company uses as “something from the truffle that is not the truffle.”
Whereas once truffles were hallmarks of local cooking — black in France and white in Italy — the globalization of cuisine has led to worldwide demand for an ingredient whose output continues to decline. As with some highly collectible wines, the virulent combination of high value and scarcity have created an environment ripe for fraudulent behavior. French agencies conduct chemical analyses of black truffles to ensure that they are not inferior Chinese or Spanish truffles soaked in truffle oil or juice. White truffles from other areas of Italy have been known to show up at the Alba market, summer truffles passed off as winter. But when it comes to the oil, chefs are helping to perpetuate the fraud. Why?