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Fat Guy

The claim: all truffle oil is fake

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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.

At last!

Some valuable information on this subject.

As I see it there were two key problems at play here. Both unfortunate results of a poorly written and poorly researched piece in the Times.

First, the article was written by a chef not a food writer. He brought his own beliefs and prejudices to the subject --he was not presenting an informative and informed look at the issue of truffle oil. He was making a case that had more to do with his feelings about food and authenticity etc. The piece therefore was more editorial in nature.

Second, the Chef author can be excused more for his obvious lack of understanding and his intent to make a case. (though one would expect a chef would have a better grasp of the truffle oil subject). The Times can not be excused for presenting this piece as though it was a informative and authoritative consumer friendly piece of journalism. The piece sort of falls into a kind of informative/opinion gray area. The tease: "is it or isn't it" that ends the piece is confusing and mis leading. It is inexcusable that an editor at the paper did not fix this.

This piece is an obvious instance (all too common at the Times these days) of the blurring of journalism and reporting and opinion.

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That truffle oil is labeled as that and not "truffle-flavored oil",  appears to be fraudulent and not condoned by me...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.

This is pretty much my stance. I don't particularly like truffle oil, but there's no reason why people who do like it shouldn't enjoy it. The problem is when consumers are mislead, and paying an inflated price for an artificial product when they think they are paying a premium for oil flavored with real truffles.

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This situation reminds me a lot of that with wasabi. What passes for wasabi in most of the world (perhaps not including Japan and a few other places) is nothing more than dressed up horseradish. While I happen to like that, it is still somewhat deceptive as real wasabi is rare and expensive. BTW, the current issue (no. 75) of The Art of Eating contains an article written by Rowen Jacobsen on "True Wasabi" that is an interesting read.

The familiar blob of green "wasabi" served at nearly every sushi bar in the world is not really wasabi. It's horseradish, ground and mixed with green food coloring and sometimes a touch of Chinese mustard. True wasabi (Wasabia Japonica), a semiaquatic herb native to Japanese mountain streams, is rare and pricey, and doesn't keep nearly as well as horseradish, which explains why it has been abandoned by all but the most ferociously authentic sushi chefs. Horseradish bears the same resemblance to wasabi as that Roger Moore bears to Sean Connery. It refers to the original, one might say approximates it, but in no way replaces it. The experience is fundamentally different.

From the same article:

Beyond rarity and cost, why has wasabi been eclipsed by horseradish, a crude substitute at best? The answer comes down to convenience. Horseradish's ITCs (isothiocyanates) are virtually indestructible....wasabi tastes good only when grated fresh.

The remainder of the article goes on to describe true wasabi and details the wasabi growing operation of Dr. Brian Oates in British Columbia.


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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Most individuals know by now what is in wasabi powder or if they don't, they can look on the container for the information. We get fresh wasabi from Mitsuwa which costs $79.99/# and pure Wasabi powder from Penzey's. Frankly, the fresh root can vary so much that the powder is sometimes preferred for consistancy.

But in any event, no one is using an artificial ester and not labeling as such selling wasabi made from horseradish as the makers of truffle oil are.

My concern is that the over use of the ester can lead to headache which I have had from a restaurant preperation of rissoto made with truffle oil. The oil also does not taste very good to me. So its fresh or nothing for me.-Dick

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This has certainly been very educational for me. I haven't yet ordered anything with "truffle oil" (and have never tasted a truffle, real or fake) but I always got the impression that, "Wow, they infused oil with truffles. That has to justify the cost of this dish" (which, looking back, was probably not as expensive as if they'd made it with real truffles).

In my mind it wouldn't be a big deal to label trufle oil "truffle-flavored oil." My guess is the Italian manufacturers didn't care for the nuance (is truffle oil widely known to be artificial in Italy anyway?), so they didn't bother naming it "olio con sapore del tartufo" or whatever.

I didn't know that wasabi was natural-but-fake either! I'd only seen (on NHK) a woman rubbing a giant green phallus on a bumpy surface for ages to produce a tiny wad of the stuff, so I was under the impression that this is how everybody made it. Live and learn.


Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

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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.

Ken, we're on the same page.

I had truffle oil for the first time six years ago.

I bought it in Valette, a foie gras and truffle supplier iin Gourdon, a village in the Lot/Dordogne area of France. BTW, in case you're ever in the area, they also sell simple dishes... like incredible truffle omlettes or plates of foie gras cooked in various ways... and the helpings are huge.

Anyway, I used some of the truffle oil on a salad when I got home, and it was really good. I forgot about the bottle, and when I went back to it a few months later, the oil (walnut) had gone rancid and there wasn't the faintest sniff of truffle. This appeared to me to be genuine truffle infused oil, although I have no idea if they are still selling it.

So I thought that truffle oil was fine.

My next encounter with it was four years later when I had the most hideous risotto I have ever had in my life. There was a screeching stench of truffle oil and the repugnant taste stayed on my palate for a full repulsive 24 hours. Absolute poison. Now, I know that the truffle oil was completely overused in this ignorant excuse of a dish, but it also was quite different from the oil I had bought in Valette.

I have experienced sneak attacks of truffle oil since, and regardless of how heavy or light the culinary hand, I can detect it immediately. It may share one chemical component with a truffle, but a truffle does not get you right in the centre of your tongue like a synthetic truffle oil does. It is a lazy ingredient, it's prime objective is to mislead and I question the palates of chefs who use it. It's all over the place these days. I mean, the ubiquitous amuse of pumpkin veloute with truffle oil (yawn)... pancetta works so much better.

Synthetic truffle oil should be clearly labeled. The wording I suggest is:

THIS PRODUCT DOES NOT CONTAIN TRUFFLES

You can buy it in Tesco.


Corinna Hardgrave aka "Corinna Dunne"

CorinaHardgrave Twitter

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Christopher Millinship at Auberge de Castel-Merle in Sergeac makes prize-winning black truffle oil. His secret, which he willingly shares, is that he puts bits of truffle into the oil and then puts the bottles in the freezer for a few days. When they come out, the extreme cold seems to have set the flavor and aroma in some fashion; he offers no scientific explanation.

I've seen his oil in the bottle and it certainly contains bits of truffle. I've also tasted it comparatively with fresh truffles. The flavor is not exactly the same, but it's recognizably similar and quite delicious in an omelette or scrambled eggs..


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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I'm afraid that freezing doesn't do the trick, we've tried. It is an easily reproduced scientific experiment that would work every time if true. Nothing short of a little chemical help will get a few bits of fresh truffle to amplify their meager flavor into a whole bottle of fragrant oil. The worthless bits of truffle in the oil are part of the con.

On a happier note, I tasted some plantation grown fresh Australian winter truffles for the first time this week. They are true "tuber melanosporum", very good, walnut sized, absolutely authentic, but a bit pricey at 1000 per pound delivered. I'm not sure they'd be so special if we can get them all year. Then again, how can you ever have too many truffles.

Maybe truffle oil dishes should carry an asterisk on the menu like chemically enhanced home run records.

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