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Fat Guy

The claim: all truffle oil is fake

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A number of years ago, Vogue, yes, Vogue ran an article where the author actually purchased the chemical compound that is the truffle ester. Working with it was nauseating when they tried to dilute the ester. The author also supplied information leading to the conclusion that most of what's on the market is not real.

Fresh truffles, white or black are expensive. We used to purchase freah but with the Euro and increased demand, the price is excessive. The potential for making money is enormous using artifiical ester. The fact is that you CAN'T tell what's real and what's artificial. Truffle oil preperations that i have had in restaurants always seemed a bit harsh. Now I will not eat anything on the menu not made with fresh truffles, period. I have no desire to purchase a product where I can't determine its authenticity. It's a little like wild Sturgeon Caviar, the price varies so much and the origin is so speculative, that its best left alone. Farmed like Sterling is a known quantity.-Dick

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My gripe with truffle oil is that it's a crutch - truffles taste better because they're seasonal.  No mealy white-cored winter tomato will stand in for a freshly picked august tomato, the same is true for truffle oil in place of real truffles.  Looking forward to the first tomato, strawberry, peach, asparagus, white truffles, black truffles, or whatever of the year is a pleasure - eating the same flavors year round is boring and frankly it isn't as delicious.  Truffle oil, real or fake, is no less nasty to me than winter strawberries.

On the other hand, tomato sauce and strawberry preserves taste pretty good all year 'round without diminishing the joy of the first fresh arrivals of the real stuff at the local markets. Same with truffle oil, I'd suggest.

If you're eating whole truffles out of hand like an apple, sure. Most of the time people use truffle oil in place of the real thing rather than as you suggest in a completely different preparation.

The biggest reason people use truffle oil in place of truffles is cost. Truffle oil provides a reasonable facsimile of truffles at a fraction of the cost. The problem is not with truffle oil, but with its occasional overuse and abuse. All else being equal would I prefer fresh top-quality truffles? Of course, but it is rare that all else is equal. If I am at a restaurant where I trust the quality of the truffles, I am happy to pay a premium for them on occasion, but if not, I'd rather take the truffle oil and skip the premium.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I'd much rather skip the truffles than have truffle oil in their place. If you're going to use truffles out of season, truffle butter isn't a bad way to go. When I've got leftover truffles at home I make truffle butter and freeze it. I only really use the truffle butter for popcorn, but I much prefer it to truffle oil.

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i'm with the doc on this one. the thing i find curious is that so many of the chefs who now so vocally abstain from truffle oil really liked the flavor until they found out it was artificial. sorry, but if it tastes good, it tastes good. This is not to say that it should be thrown on like hai karate.

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I'm not in the camp that thinks it should be tossed because it's artificial, I think it should be tossed because I don't like how it tastes.

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there's certainly no disputing taste, so I won't try to argue the point, but just to say that FOR ME, i find that a couple of drops--literally around a teaspoon--of a high-quality truffle oil really works magic on things like mushroom risottos. hey, if it's good enough for thomas k, it's good enough for me. remember: as they say in another context, it's the dose that makes the poison.

(edited to reduce argumentation: perhaps an e-gullet first)


Edited by russ parsons (log)

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There are a number of problems with truffle oil. First of all it is fake. Unless you've made it yourself, and it takes a good amount of real fresh truffle, what you have is chemically enhanced. And it will only be good for a few days, just like the fresh truffle you've made it from.

Do the math! Do you really think that the little "fingernail clipping" sized piece of "truffle" is generating all that flavor? If you look carefully, more often than not the piece of actual "truffle" they put in to sell you on the authenticity is not even tuber melanosporum or tuber magnatum pico. They use summer truffle or an even more worthless whitish truffle cousin that sells in Italy for about 20 bucks a pound. As is always the case in life, if it seems to good to be true........

Look at the history. Truffle oil has not been around since time began like truffles have. It's appearance on the world scene conveniently coincides with the succesful isolation and duplication of the keys to truffle flavor in an Italian laboratory a few decades ago.

To me, butter is a far better vehicle than oil for keeping truffle flavor around all year if you keep it in the freezer. But I'm, leery of any commercial product. The "truffle product" industry has a real credibility problem.

The problem with "fake" truffle oil is that it allows cheating. That simply cannot be tolerated, it's dishonest! Truffle oil should not be labelled as such any more than Nestle Quik should be called "chocolate". If you enjoy it, fine, it's a free country and apparently there's no danger in consuming it. Eat all the flavored popcorn you want. Chefs should not use the word truffle on menus as if they're using the real thing. Don't call it "truffled" if it's not the real thing. Truffle product purveyors should clearly and honestly label it. They are the ones being cleverly ambiguous, not Patterson.

I stopped using any truffle oil years ago because I didn't like the taste and I'd been fortunate to eat so many great fresh truffles over the years that it just annoyed me to waste my palate on the phony stuff. Plus, integrity really counts to me, it's part of the unspoken promise and bond of trust I have with my customers.

For the last few years I've bought almost all my truffles from my friend Gennaro in Italy. His family has been in the truffle business for generations and now has a very successful truffle plantation. They know more about truffles than anyone else I know and he confirmed to me that truffle oil is a fraud.

Truffle oil has accustomed many to expect stronger flavors than real truffles have to offer. This is a largely American problem, we tend to like our flavors very strong. True truffles are sublime. Each one is different like a great bottle of Red Burgundy. There is something very magical about them and to enjoy anything less than the real thing is shortchanging yourself. It takes a lot of practice to get the most out of truffles and a lot of money too. That's just the way it is.

At the end of the day, truffle oil demeans and cheapens the real thing and that is a shame. Truffles are a miracle of nature and their season deserves some respect. Would you settle for a lousy supermarket peach in February enhanced with a few drops of "peach oil" or would you rather wait until summer at the Farmers Market and enjoy every last drop of a dead ripe perfect peach. Nature has provided us with ample gifts, there is always something great in season. You can't beat nature but you can learn to appreciate its perfection if you are wise and patient.

As for those who say "so and so" uses it so it must be good, I would point you to the story in the article about Jean-Louis throwing the bottle against the wall in the alley. Of all the great meals I've ever enjoyed anywhere, the best ever were at Jean-Louis. He was better than anyone I know cooking today and I'll trust his judgement.

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Ken, I agree completely. You've made the point much better than I did.

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There are a number of problems with truffle oil. First of all it is fake. Unless you've made it yourself, and it takes a good amount of real fresh truffle, what you have is chemically enhanced. And it will only be good for a few days, just like the fresh truffle you've made it from.

Do the math! Do you really think that the little "fingernail clipping" sized piece of "truffle" is generating all that flavor? If you look carefully, more often than not the piece of actual "truffle" they put in to sell you on the authenticity is not even tuber melanosporum or tuber magnatum pico. They use summer truffle or an even more worthless whitish truffle cousin that sells in Italy for about 20 bucks a pound. As is always the case in life, if it seems to good to be true........

Look at the history. Truffle oil has not been around since time began like truffles have. It's appearance on the world scene conveniently coincides with the succesful isolation and duplication of the keys to truffle flavor in an Italian laboratory a few decades ago.

To me, butter is a far better vehicle than oil for keeping truffle flavor around all year if you keep it in the freezer. But I'm, leery of any commercial product. The "truffle product" industry has a real credibility problem.

The problem with "fake" truffle oil is that it allows cheating. That simply cannot be tolerated, it's dishonest! Truffle oil should not be labelled as such any more than Nestle Quik should be called "chocolate". If you enjoy it, fine, it's a free country and apparently there's no danger in consuming it. Eat all the flavored popcorn you want. Chefs should not use the word truffle on menus as if they're using the real thing. Don't call it "truffled" if it's not the real thing. Truffle product purveyors should clearly and honestly label it. They are the ones being cleverly ambiguous, not Patterson.

I stopped using any truffle oil years ago because I didn't like the taste and I'd been fortunate to eat so many great fresh truffles over the years that it just annoyed me to waste my palate on the phony stuff. Plus, integrity really counts to me, it's part of the unspoken promise and bond of trust I have with my customers.

For the last few years I've bought almost all my truffles from my friend Gennaro in Italy. His family has been in the truffle business for generations and now has a very successful truffle plantation. They know more about truffles than anyone else I know and he confirmed to me that truffle oil is a fraud.

Truffle oil has accustomed many to expect stronger flavors than real truffles have to offer. This is a largely American problem, we tend to like our flavors very strong. True truffles are sublime. Each one is different like a great bottle of Red Burgundy. There is something very magical about them and to enjoy anything less than the real thing is shortchanging yourself. It takes a lot of practice to get the most out of truffles and a lot of money too. That's just the way it is.

At the end of the day, truffle oil demeans and cheapens the real thing and that is a shame. Truffles are a miracle of nature and their season deserves some respect. Would you settle for a lousy supermarket peach in February enhanced with a few drops of "peach oil" or would you rather wait until summer at the Farmers Market and enjoy every last drop of a dead ripe perfect peach. Nature has provided us with ample gifts, there is always something great in season. You can't beat nature but you can learn to appreciate its perfection if you are wise and patient.

As for those who say "so and so" uses it so it must be good, I would point you to the story in the article about Jean-Louis throwing the bottle against the wall in the alley. Of all the great meals I've ever enjoyed anywhere, the best ever were at Jean-Louis. He was better than anyone I know cooking today and I'll trust his judgement.

Your points are all very well made and in an ideal world I would fully agree with you. Unfortunately though, this is not an ideal world so I agree with you only partially. That truffle oil is labeled as that and not "truffle-flavored oil", appears to be fraudulent and not condoned by me. I wish that I had a relationship with a reputable truffle dealer and even more I wish that I could afford to foster such a relationship if I had one. I'm reasonably well off and able to order real truffles on occasion, but it certainly strains my wallet to do so. That is where your analogy with the peach fails. A really good summer peach is within the reach of most Americans on occasion. A good truffle is out of reach of all but the wealthiest Americans (and residents of other parts of the world as well). Truffle-flavored oil offers some pretty good flavor to those who haven't had the opportunity to be spoiled by the real thing. As such I think it has a legitimate place in the pantry so long as its use isn't abused or mislabeled.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Ken, I agree 100% with your very elequent Post!

As PT Barnum once said"..........................." -Dick

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It seems like we're dancing on the line between "nature" and "science" here, and in some respects it's clear, and in other respects it's blurred. Upon reading Ken's post, my first reaction was that I wanted to know more from his friend the truffle purveyor.

If there are no actual truffles in truffle oil, then it should be labeled appropriately.

What we don't know is whether there is ANY way to make shelf-stable truffle oil from actual truffles. Does anyone know whether truffle oil was ever used in cooking before the present day? Did French cooks of the 1800's or 1900's make it, using the last bits of truffle left from a meal, and maybe use it up within a couple of days?

When it comes to whether we would use it because it's "artificial" or not is an interesting issue. Beef cattle, for example, naturally graze on grass, but most people would not care for a steak from a completely grass-fed animal. So we resort to the somewhat artificial method of feeding cattle corn and other grains to get a palatable steak. Yes, the grains are natural grains, but they are not what cattle naturally have available to eat; hence the modern steak is aritficially produced, to an extent. There are a lot of other examples where the line between "natural" and "artificial" become blurred.

In my mind, if the flavor is acceptable or better, then what's the issue, other than proper labeling? I'm no food anthropologist, but it seems to me that lots of what we put on our tables, even in the very best restaurants, is a significant departure from the ingredients of 100+ years ago, and many of those departures were made expressly for mass-marketing purposes.

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Nature has provided us with ample gifts, there is always something great in season. You can't beat nature but you can learn to appreciate its perfection if you are wise and patient.

If we couldn't beat nature, we'd all be dead! Agriculture is by definition not a natural process. Truffles are one of the few foods we eat that are truly gathered, though eventually we'll figure out how to cultivate good ones just as we figured out how to cultivate good oranges, beans and wheat -- all of which have not only been cultivated but also improved by human intervention. Once we beat nature and are able to cultivate and hybridize truffles we'll be able to take the tastiest specimens and breed them and look back with bewilderment at the days when they had to be sniffed out by dogs and pigs and cost so much money. Remember, there was a time when salt was as precious as truffles are today.

Look at the history. Truffle oil has not been around since time began like truffles have.

No, but the French have been preserving truffles in goose and duck fat for as long as it matters. So we know that truffles can be preserved, it's just a question of how best to do that. I too have had the best luck with truffle butter, though the best off-season truffle flavors I've experienced in restaurants have come from truffles preserved whole in duck fat.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Nature has provided us with ample gifts, there is always something great in season. You can't beat nature but you can learn to appreciate its perfection if you are wise and patient.

If we couldn't beat nature, we'd all be dead! Agriculture is by definition not a natural process. Truffles are one of the few foods we eat that are truly gathered, though eventually we'll figure out how to cultivate good ones just as we figured out how to cultivate good oranges, beans and wheat -- all of which have not only been cultivated but also improved by human intervention. Once we beat nature and are able to cultivate and hybridize truffles we'll be able to take the tastiest specimens and breed them and look back with bewilderment at the days when they had to be sniffed out by dogs and pigs and cost so much money. Remember, there was a time when salt was as precious as truffles are today.

There are a number of producers of 'cultivated' truffles - they aren't cultivated in the same way as button mushrooms are indoors in a box, but people have been planting trees with the truffle mycelium in the roots for quite some time. There was a time when truffles were quite cheap - I have cookbooks from the turn of the last century that suggest stuffing the entire cavity of a chicken with whole truffles.

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Truffles are one of the few foods we eat that are truly gathered, though eventually we'll figure out how to cultivate good ones just as we figured out how to cultivate good oranges, beans and wheat -- all of which have not only been cultivated but also improved by human intervention.

To the best of my knowledge -- and maybe this is implied in your statement, but I thought I'd say it outright -- we can and do cultivate truffles. Just not all truffles, and with somewhat mixed success.


--

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The cultivated truffle industry is currently producing a product markedly inferior to the best of the gathered product. Chances are, however, that if that industry progresses like much of agriculture has throughout history, the tables will eventually turn.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Have you had the Italian black truffles Ken references in his post?

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I must not have read closely enough because I didn't see that reference?

Here ya go:

For the last few years I've bought almost all my truffles from my friend Gennaro in Italy. His family has been in the truffle business for generations and now has a very successful truffle plantation. They know more about truffles than anyone else I know and he confirmed to me that truffle oil is a fraud.

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I guess I don't quite know what you're asking, but if you rephrase I'll try to answer. I've been known to be dense.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I guess I don't quite know what you're asking, but if you rephrase I'll try to answer. I've been known to be dense.

When you said:

The cultivated truffle industry is currently producing a product markedly inferior to the best of the gathered product. Chances are, however, that if that industry progresses like much of agriculture has throughout history, the tables will eventually turn.

I asked if you had tried the cultivated Italian black truffles Ken referenced in his post. They aren't as good as the best Perigord blacks, but they're better than the average Perigord blacks I've had in the states at restaurants and worlds better than the black truffles available at gourmet markets around the country.

FWIW, here's a picture of an Italian black truffle:

tartufo.jpg

The truffles cultivated in Oregon and the southeast are of no culinary value, but it's a mistake to write off all 'farmed' truffles.

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Got it. Didn't mean to write off truffle farming. I think it's the future. Glad to see there have been some good accomplishments. I haven't knowingly tried those truffles, but then again I have no idea of the provenance of most of the restaurant truffles I've eaten.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The problem with "fake" truffle oil is that it allows cheating. That simply cannot be tolerated, it's dishonest! Truffle oil should not be labelled as such any more than Nestle Quik should be called "chocolate". If you enjoy it, fine, it's a free country and apparently there's no danger in consuming it. Eat all the flavored popcorn you want. Chefs should not use the word truffle on menus as if they're using the real thing. Don't call it "truffled" if it's not the real thing. Truffle product purveyors should clearly and honestly label it. They are the ones being cleverly ambiguous, not Patterson.

This I haven't seen that much of except when, for example, the canned ones or perhaps frozen ones, or even worse frozen once canned ones are used and they beef up the flavor of the dish with the oil. My major beef is much more common: when it is used in combination with various common cultivated mushrooms in order to call the dish "wild", e.g. wild mushroom stuffed meat or wild mushroom risotto. Essentially the same beef that you have, just much more common IMO. I suppose it's a better dish taste wise if it's enhanced with oil though, lots of otherwise decent chefs commit this sin as well without the truffle oil. I guess I don't fault them as much seeing that health regulations are rather tight and them not being mycologists they would rather not kill any customers, at least we are not being tricked into thinking we are eating porcini. As long they keep the use out in the open it is OK I suppose, at least then I will know to avoid the dish. It is kind of sad that more people aren't privy to this lie, and so perpetuate it. White Truffle Aroma is not white truffles it is a chemical, and the bottle I had stating "Made with White Italian Truffles" is really quite deceitful when the next line lists the only two ingredients as Olive Oil and White Truffle Aroma.

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i'm with fatty on this one. there's probably as much or more manipulation in the average bottle of inexpensive wine as in truffle oil. by the time you've added the color, the sugar, the acid, the wood chips and adjusted the alcohol either up or down ... you probably could have started with water. It's perfectly fine to cook with, but you'd never compare it to a good burgundy (though, come to think of it, the embarrassment over having done just that might be what drives a lot of chefs' anti-truffle oil sentiment). again, my main problem with it is that too often it is over-used. but in small, occasional doses, i think it's an interesting ingredient and i say the heck with it.

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"Good Burgundy"?????

Alcohol is frequently "adjusted" even in the finest wines. The method is chaptalization. Basically, this involves sugar added to the must.

There are a lot of other "techniques" wine makers use.

The fact is wine does not make itself. It is not and has never been a pure natural product.

Truth in labeling is important but there is a point where putting the entire production process and the complete chemical analysis on every product is absurd.

Most industries and governments have basic standards. These are pretty much ok with me.

In addition to this, there are intermediaries like chefs and importers and sommeliers and critics and writers and consumer digest and consumer reports and......

(if Thomas Keller's judgment and my own palate are not enough to determine what is good and what I like then its all hopeless --isn't it?)

The end result is what counts. What is the taste?

People are not stupid.

Especially us uninformed Americans who somehow only like "big" flavors whatever they are. And just who are these Americans who are unworthy of true truffle appreciation?!--sheeesh!

I never thought I would encounter "truffle snobbery"--wine snobbery is bad enough for goodness sake!

Wild means wild. farmed means farmed. for trout and salmon as well as truffles.

Should all those "plantation" farmed truffles be labeled as such? Should every truffle be labeled with the source and the method and assigned a serial number?

I trust Thomas Keller and Jean Georges and the folks at D'Artagnon.

Most of all I trust my own sense of taste. If I like it-- it is good.

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The discussion of wine "manipulation" is completely irrelevant. There is no "manipulation" in truffle oil, it is just oil with artificial flavor added, period.

Allow me to quote from the book Caviar, Truffles and Foie Gras by Katherine Alford published by Chronicle Books in 2001. This is what those I know and trust in the truffle business have long told me. Here it is in print for you disbelievers.

Page 32. "The stark reality, according to Olga Urbani of the famous Umbrian family that for four generations has been the world leader in fresh and quality preserved truffle products, is that you can't use real truffles in commercial truffle oils. Fresh truffles stored for long periods of time in oil go rancid. Commercially produced truffle oils rely on simulated truffle flavors instead. The components of those flavors are patented trade secrets."

As has been widely noted in previous posts to this thread, truffle oil is too often overdosed and the results taste bad. However, the savviest chefs now buy the "essence" and mix their own versions using far better oil as the base and a very subtle dose of the flavor. I don't personally endorse this, but the taste is far better than any commercial oil I've seen.

The bottom line is that bottles of truffle oil should clearly list all of their ingredients on the label. They would have to state that they contain "artificial flavor" like countless other products on the shelves admit to. Flavor Scientists have made great strides in the last 20 years and can now recreate virtually any taste. Just look at the constellation of jelly bean flavors now available.

As for whole truffles preserved in duck fat, they are great. Duck fat seems to improve most things.

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