What is a truffle?

What is a truffle? Our first thought may be about the chocolate. But truffle mushrooms are a delicacy that people may have heard about or seen preparation instructions in cookbooks, but not actually tasted.  In  Latvia and Lithuania the generally opinion about the truffle is that it is as an exotic mushroom that grows underground and is rarely discovered within the nation’s borders.

The Latvian truffle expert Diāna Meiere writes: “[a truffle] is a dark or light colored ball that grows at the roots of several species of deciduous trees. Yet it functions like other mushrooms that have caps and stems. Those mushrooms that grow above ground their caps have been shaped by the seeds–really spores–that push out from below. Truffle spores, on the other hand, form balls inside the developing truffle. If the spores of the above ground mushrooms are dispersed by the wind, for truffles the spores are dispersed by animals who detect the powerful aroma on the top layer of the soil. It is the powerful scent that attracts the gourmands. Truffles do not serve as an ingredient in soup, or are sautéed on a frying pan, nor even are they julienned. Instead, they are finely grated and sprinkled on top of prepared dishes. The aroma is so powerful that only a couple of grains are needed to make a dish unforgettable. Diana also indicates that because tastes differ, the first time a person smells a truffle the reaction may not be favorable. It is difficult to describe the scent of a truffle because there are as many scents as there are varieties–and there are many species. They include the black winter truffles, summer truffles, white truffles, Burgundy truffles, musk truffles and many others. The scent of truffles develops as a result of unique chemical mixtures that are not possible to precisely recreate under   laboratory conditions. The truffle aroma has been compared to cheese, curdled milk, or nuts. Truffles have an aroma that that is like garlic, sweets, or even acetone. The truffles bearing the last two scents are not usually considered in the gourmand category.

As Signe Meirane, the Latvian food expert writes in the culinary blog “Four Seasons” ( [i] truffles are used to the best effect in food preparation when their “perfume” is an assortment from many different varieties of truffles. The preeminence of the truffle as a garnish is due to two factors: truffles are relatively rare as well as that their odor and taste are so pungent that eating them, even once, is an unforgettable experience. The truffle scent does not give off a single order; rather is a combination of autumnal scents that are reminiscent of fallen leaves, damp wood, and sodden earth. All these scents form the truffle aroma–only as more pungent and concentrated. In fact, the aroma of truffles can be so pungent that some chefs report that cutting-up many truffles gives them headaches. Yet it is the pungent aroma that gives the truffle its preeminence.

[i] “Cetras sezonas” means Four Seasons in Latvian