The Price of Oil

One of the most popular and misunderstood oils in cooking is truffle oil. Here are a few fun facts about it:

Fun Fact! It's not actually made with truffles. Not even a little.

Fun Fact! It doesn't actually taste like truffles. Not really.

Fun Fact! It's pretty much just an artificial additive bound with olive oil (or grapeseed oil, in some cases).

I use truffle oil in the portobello mousse and I also brush it onto the toasted baguettes that come with that dish, but I try to use it sparingly. So many restaurants are awash in truffle oil that I think people are getting a little too used to the taste and it doesn't really wow them anymore. The flavor you're getting from truffle oil is not truffles, however, it's 2,4-dithiapentane and in my opinion it doesn't really taste like truffles at all. Truffle oil has a heady, oily mushroom taste and so it's perfect as an enhancer in the portobello mousse, but I don't kid myself that I'm somehow adding magical truffle flavor - to me it's more like a really good mushroom oil. Oddly enough, people are getting so used to truffle oil that they're starting to be disappointed in real truffles, which have a far more subtle flavor and require you to sort of come to them, they don't jump around on your tongue like it's a trampoline the way the 2,4-dithiapentane in truffle oil does.

These two things - truffles and oil - actually have nothing to do with each other.

There's nothing wrong with using truffle oil for its taste, but don't fool yourself into thinking you're tasting truffles. Even the truffle oil that comes with a little piece of truffle floating in it derives its flavor from 2,4-dithiapentane, not the truffle bits themselves. Truffles don't naturally infuse oil from soaking in it, at least not to a degree you'd notice. I suspect that having those pieces in there are either a way to seduce the consumer, or to get around FDA labeling requirements (ie, they need to have truffle in the product to call it "truffle oil" and not "truffle flavoring" or "truffle flavored oil") or it might be a bit of both.

One of the best articles about truffle oil, the misconceptions around it and how it's made, is in the New York Times, written by chef Daniel Paterson. The only thing I don't agree with is that he seems to find the truth about truffle oil so shocking that he's banned it from his kitchen. To me, it's a nice flavor enhancer that brings intense mushroom flavor to the table. I just have to always remind myselt that it has absolutely nothing to do with truffles.