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The truffle industry is a scam (tasteatlas.com)
585 points by carabiner 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 373 comments

I used to grow my own in Australia, as a hobby, patience is the hardest part really. 5-7 years after planting seems to be needed.

At one stage I was the northern most producer of truffles (very few produced actually but I only had 40 trees and didn't really look after them to the utmost detail) in the southern hemisphere, then a guy 150km further north, and in soil that was near total sand, got some to grow. This was totally unexpected.

It seems the conditions required are not quite so special as thought, and some totally unsuited conditions (as previously thought) might be good due to reduced competition from other fungi.

The action of inoculating trees is simple as well, get a ripe couple of real truffles, blender them up and pour it over the small saplings in pots, if the mycorrhizal sets in you can see it as white bits on the roots. (I think you need two, but not even sure on that).

A wide range of trees will work, oak, hazel, cork to name a few. There is a preferred pH range for the soil, as would be expected for all fungi pH has a strong role to play.

There has been a lot of secrecy enshrouding the whole game for a long time.

I refer only to Tuber melanosporum in the above, I am not sure anyone has been able to get the white truffles growing out of the wild, there will be some special condition or symbiosis with an animal or something that is needed, but not understood yet.

"There has been a lot of secrecy enshrouding the whole game for a long time."

Now I'm imagining a Truffle Mafia/ Mushroom Cartel, with mushroom goon squads, fungi warehouses, and done up in gaudy suits & ostentatious furs.

Super Mario Bros was based on this, I think.

> Now I'm imagining a Truffle Mafia/ Mushroom Cartel, with mushroom goon squads, fungi warehouses, and done up in gaudy suits & ostentatious furs.

It exists in Italy and France, who cash in on the point of origin of truffles, but it's a total free-for-all in Croatia where truffles can be had for remarkably cheap by contrast in Istria.

I'm told when everything was shut down in 2020 they were practically giving them away in Croatia since the prices collapsed without anything but a small local demand to sustain it, and how Italian vendors were finding ways to cross and take the excess supply to artificially maintain the prices and avoid arbitrage, now this is all speculative and needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but I know from personal experience from running a kitchen in Istria that black truffles late into the winter season can be had for a pittance than whatever can be found out of season in the Spring/Summer/Fall because most local restaurants are closed and the hassle of exporting them is often not worth the trouble of just offloading them despite EU membership (this was in 2013 when it had just joined).

In many ways I think this will be one of the few Industry's to benefit from Schengen the most now that Croatia is entering it in 2023, before you had to wait in a rather long line to cross, but now a quick trip 1-2 hour round trip from Koper or Triste (all with decent plane/train options) can be the only thing that is required to take advantage of this price arbitrage in the Winter and then pass them off as Italian and a significant markup.

You can likely pay a Croatian to negotiate and settle a price with the vendor and then have them drive/bus to Italy or Slovenia for less than what it takes to buy locally despite the high fuel prices right now because of this markup--which to me is reminiscent of how it was cheaper to import grain from Egypt and bake the bread than it was to have a local do so in Rome during the height of the empire.

They touched on such ideas in Nic Cage's movie 'Pig'.

It was a surprisingly decent flick.

It was quite good. It also kind of skewered the Portland foodie scene. Loved the ending.

This kind of happens in Pig with Nicholas Cage

For anyone that hasn’t watched it, there’s a documentary on netflix about the cartel of maple syrup. Turns out maple syrup is expensive for different reasons

The maple syrup cartel is only for quebec, so while it does influence the price to some extent, producers in Vermont and Ontario are in no way required to match the price.

It’s expensive because you need a huge amount of land, it only produces for a few weeks, and you can have years with almost no production. The cartel was created to protect producers against those huge variation of supply from years to years.

Yeah. We make our own from the trees at our house, and it’s appallingly intensive in time, labor, and land. Obviously there are economies of scale, but it’s much, much worse than any other form of hobby farming I do. But the two gallons or so we make a year are great fun for the kids, and what else are you going to do in March?

If growing maple trees is wrong, I don't want to be right!

There is a very nice/thriving truffle scene around Canberra. I miss it!

Interesting! What part of Australia are you in?


I have family starting a truffle farm in WA’s south west. More interesting that grapes!

Maybe 5 years ago I was hanging out with a buddy and we took an angle grinder to an empty propane tank. When we were finished, we smelled uniquely awful. It turns out that added to propane is a tiny amount of the odourant Ethyl Mercaptan. Now when you’re using propane you get just enough of a whiff of it to remind you that you’re using propane, but if you get a smell of the inside of an empty propane tank? Well, something about the liquid propane residue that remains, some miracle of science and chemistry, creates a density of Ethyl Mercaptan that is shocking. Room-fillingly shocking. Clothes throwing away shocking. Many showers worth of shocking.

A couple years ago I had my first “truffle” experience with some truffle cheese and was like cutting back into that propane tank. Not the same in scale, but certainly in type. Tremendously similar smells. Since then I’ve been sad and thought I just managed to ruin truffles for myself. This article has given me hope.

Only tangentially related, but: Some years ago, there was a flurry of reports of "gas smell" in places around the English Channel, and gas works engineers all over south-eastern England and north-western France scurried about their networks looking for leaks, finding none. Eventually, the leak was found — in the factory that produces the smelling agent!

I love imagining this scene.

Alice: I'm telling you, there is gas everywhere! This place is about to blow!

Bob: I have been up and down the block three times, and the sniffer is not picking up a thing.

Hahaha, this is a great story! Goes to show how pungent that stink is.

I seriously hope you filled that propane tank full of water then drained it completely and left it upside down before cutting into it. Hole pointing down. This is an extreme fire and explosion hazard because propane sinks to the bottom of the tank.

It was in my buddy’s shed. If it is a tale of wisdom you seek, turn back now.


Yup!! We had a neighbor with a propane fueled electric generator. He wanted to get it running so that he could use it on his boat. Soooo, Dad helped him in his garage. They kept cranking the generator trying to get it going.

Right, they were accumulating propane on the floor of the garage!

Then they got the generator running and KABLOOEY!!! The garage burned to the ground. Dad and the neighbor both ended up in the burn ward of the hospital!!

Lesson: Be careful with propane!!

The good news: They didn't burn and sink his boat and have to swim.

FWIW if you need to cut into a tank like this, a sawzall is a bit safer as you can operate it more slowly and "tear" the metal open. But the safest tools are like a giant can-opener for use on things like oil drums. Angle grinder... I can't imagine sparks not happening.

It also gets into the pores of the steel which can be enough to explode.

Steel has pores???

Technically, it has grains. As it hardens, the liquid steel stuff clumps together not too unlike bread, with the boundary and grain size / mix being factors that affect the quality of the steel.


More like cast iron, and some lower-grade steels. Higher-grade steels tend to have their pores closed off, the grains welded shut/together as a part of the mechanical processing.

Sorry, not being technical. The pits is probably a better way to put it. Point being just because the tank is empty doesn’t mean it’s safe. Should still fill with water.

I'm sorry but what compelled you to do that? Cutting into an empty propane tank with an angle grinder? You like being in close proximity to explosions or something?

Ahhh, a buddy and I were making a forge for knife making. I can’t defend my choices.

I mean, it's just metal. As long as you make sure it is empty this is perfectly safe. Once a propane tank has reached the end of it's life as a propane tank it is completely reasonable to re-purpose them. You just have to be safe. Welders do this all the time. The scent they put in is actually somewhat flammable too. You take the valve out, leave it inverted, clean clean it out with soapy water, etc. It is a non-trivial process, but propane tanks are good steel.

I’ve seen it done to make barbecue grills. I’ve always used hot water heater tanks for that purpose.

A hold my beer moment! /s

ah, that resonates with my experience with obviously fake truffle aroma: to me it always smelled like gas.

Extremely curious why you guys were splitting open a propane tank

To make a forge for knife making.

You should fill the tank with water before doing something like that. You could have killed yourself.

I learned that like 15 minutes too late during the Googling process of “Why do I smell so very bad after cutting open a propane tank with an angle grinder”.

This is wild. Glad that you didn't explode yourself.

That’s how many industrial fires start.

This. Grinding = sparks. Sparks + propane remnants = explosions

I'm French and I live in France. Here, most of our truffles are real truffle.

We do get some Tuber aestivum as well, but that's alright because they're displayed as "truffe d'été". No harm done.

As the article said, the "truffle flavour" has nothing to do with the real stuff, and outside of France, Italy and Spain, you probably won't get them on the market. You might be lucky in some restaurants all over Europe. But everywhere else it's propably not the "real" black truffle. Especially, if they put some in ketchup...

Yeah I'm French too and second that. But also, I wasn't aware before reading this article that there was such a hype around truffles in the rest of the world? Why is everyone offering truffle-this and truffle-that? In France in my experience truffle dishes are quite rare and done in specialized restaurants. There are certainly counter-examples, but I don't think you can find many truffle-flavored pizzas in Paris for example.

Counterpoint: grocery stores in Paris regularly sell synthetic truffle flavored potato chips.

Speaking as an American who lived in France for several years in many different cities both metropolitan et d'outre-mer, from Paris to Entre-Deux and everywhere in-between, I can tell you that a lot of how French people feel about food in their own country stems largely from aspect blindness, and a lot of how Americans feel about food in France stems largely from never actually living there. France has the same flavors and foods available as everywhere else in roughly the same proportion if you spend the time looking.

There are differences of course. The US has many more different varieties of every kind of produce. In Paris you find "an apple" or "a lettuce", while in the US you have to choose between 10 different varieties side-by-side. On the flip side, France has many more varieties of pureed pork generally available.

In the US I can go to the supermarket and get "truffle macaroni and cheese" in a box for $5, because everyone knows that truffles are this rare, mysterious, and luxurious thing, and so incorporating them (or their essence) into relatively inexpensive food items allows companies to tack a small amount onto the price, but gives the consumers the feeling that even this luxurious thing is available to them.

Similar to why people might knowingly buy knock-off "designer" items.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the difference between France and America distilled to its very essence like these two posts.

I don't think anyone falls for that, everyone knows they cannot buy a truffle for $5. They buy it for the taste, wherever it comes from (e.g. crude oil) and that's ok.

I certainly thought that it was truffle infused extract or something.

Yep. There’s a reason my neighbor’s dog is named Truffle and I’m willing to bet it’s the same reason she has Gucci handbags and drives a Porsche.

I dunno (nor care) about the quality of a Gucci handbag but the Porsche is actually a high-end car, so while there very much is “status” associated, at least you’re getting something cool/fun as hell at the same time.

> There’s a reason my neighbor’s dog is named Truffle

It’s tasty when grated over a pasta dish?

I mean the other reason is that people enjoy eating this stuff.

I have truffle oil and truffle honey around the house. They’re useful ingredients.

I’m not sure what’s in truffle honey but it’s AMAZING with Camembert and other similar very soft cheeses so there’s that.

haha and I guess the camembert you have with your fake truffle is also fake camembert ^^ (I live in France and even here a lot of camembert in supermarkets are tasteless industrial crap made with pasterised milk, so I'd imagine in the rest of the world it must be pretty bad...)

> I can go to the supermarket and get "truffle macaroni and cheese" in a box for $5, because everyone knows that truffles are this rare, mysterious, and luxurious thing

I'm sorry and I'm not picking on you or trying to be smart, but this doesn't make sense: anything you buy for $5 in a supermarket is neither rare nor luxurious, by definition. Why do people fall for this.

> anything you buy for $5 in a supermarket is neither rare nor luxurious

When it's sitting next to a $0.89 box of Kraft macaroni, the $5.00 box definitely feels like a luxury.

Fresh in-season produce direct from a high-quality local farm can definitely be rare and luxurious even if it's sold in a supermarket for $5. This is especially true of things that are only in season for a few weeks and are from a farm small enough to only sell to supermarkets within a few miles.

These things may seem commonplace locally, but to people on the other side of the country these "cheap" things can be a rare luxury.

I think people but it because they like the taste, not because they think it’s an actually luxurious $5 box

I didn’t realize that truffle oil doesn’t come from truffles, so TIL as well. I don’t really like the flavor anyways but it is certainly unique.

Because it actually does have an unusual taste--the added aroma--which many people like. So smelling is believing.

> $5 in a supermarket is neither rare nor luxurious, by definition

Nor is buying a Lexus (by Ferrari's standards) since its essentially just a Toyota with a nicer interior and more gadgets.

People are dumb.

The price of a Lexus is nowhere near that of a Ferrari. A Mercedes is also essentially a Toyota with nicer interior and more gadgets - if you want to put it that way.

> The price of a Lexus is nowhere near that of a Ferrari.

This is exactly my point. Lexus is sold as a "luxury" car.

> A Mercedes is also essentially a Toyota with nicer interior and more gadgets - if you want to put it that way.

You missed the point - which is Toyota and Lexus share the same owner and are literally the same platform of a car: https://www.quora.com/Which-Toyota-model-is-the-same-as-a-Le...

Same platform, but I thought the manufacturing process was more stringent to increase the quality to luxury brand levels?

Lexus is Toyota's luxury brand, so the two have a fair amount of similarity. The connection to Mercedes is far more tenuous.

It seems like you’re putting additional meaning into luxury beyond “much more money and looks like that”. There is no inherent value for that extra, afaic.

No, I'm not. The parent made the point "is neither rare nor luxurious, by definition".

Lexus (レクサス, Rekusasu) is the luxury vehicle division of the Japanese automaker Toyota.[0]

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexus

It is all marketing. The US has been about 'lifestyle' brands for a while. The US wants to sell you an upscale experience, whether it is really upscale or not. Things with truffle flavor seem to be a fad at the moment.

Think about Starbucks. You don't need a $7 coffee drink, but its sweet and tasty, maybe you like the homey atmosphere and fake friendliness from the staff, maybe you like using the fancy names, maybe you like being seen with your Starbucks cup, all because you too can afford a luxury lifestyle. Its all marketing to sell you overpriced coffee and milk.

I much prefer the abundance of smaller privately owned shops you tend to find in Europe over the factory made franchise options you see all over the US. Most Americans seem to have no idea.

Not sure why are you singling out US here. People all over the world like "ecsotic foreign" stuff and pay premium for it. Starbucks has 2000+ stores in Europe despite having a lot of smaller (and sometimes shittier) smaller shops. Same as in US.

The truffle flavor is no different from the fake "college t-shirts"[1] that big pseudo-american chains like NewYorker[2] sell all over the Europe.

[1] https://www.newyorker.de/products/#/detail/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Yorker_(clothing)

> The US wants to sell you an upscale experience, whether it is really upscale or not.

Oh phooey. Ferraris are Italian.

The quality and price vary a lot, from a simple white base with truffle-flavored oil poured on top to slices of actual truffle, but truffle-flavored pizzas are on the menu of lots of restaurants in Paris.

American food has historically been focused on being cheap and filling (this isn’t new: you can find 18th century British tourists complaining about how the colonies mostly had overcooked flavorless meat) and for a long time somewhat industrial in focus (large scale distribution of bland things).

That started to change in the 1970s and 80s but that still tended to be focused on specific ingredients (which have producers advertising them heavily) with the same expectation that they’re available year round everywhere. There were whole campaigns promoting things like Angus beef as a premium ingredient rather than the more easily produced but less flavorful breed it actually is.

Truffle derivatives fit well into that: toss some “truffle salt” or oil onto the same hamburger or French fries you were serving last week and it’s now $10 more expensive. The truffle products don’t need to be local or in season, so anyone can do that. Plus since the flavor change is quite modest most of your customers will consider buying it.

> you can find 18th century British tourists complaining about how the colonies mostly had overcooked flavorless meat

Wow, because the Brits are not exactly known for their haute cuisine.

My understanding is that this impression is heavily colored by WWII-era shortages, and also the difference between country and urban availability of fresh ingredients before then.

It’s really weird. But truffle stuff outside of France mostly comes from truffle oil which is really intense in flavor (personally I like it), much different from truffle dishes you can get in high end restaurants in France (which personally I like, but isn’t the crazy flavor people seem to think it is, I even got the VGE soup at Bocuse and it’s Ok guys)

Because it adds an expensive swing to your otherwise bland product. And that without actually putting real truffles in it: a great marketing ploy.

>I'm French and I live in France. Here, most of our truffles are real truffle.

In Michelin star restaurants maybe. Else, you'd be surprised...

In very vast territories of Western Europe, coldtea, direct providers such as restaurateurs still work through reputation.

You'd stop working if the clientele saw you are not trustworthy.


What you will see in the frontpage of the "Truffle Dogs University" in Roddi - http://www.universitadeicanidatartufo.it/prodotti.htm - is relevant: you will see the picture of a guy in front of the products. He "puts his face on it" - that is his reputation at implicit stake -, and he is proud. That is the normal standard. Also notice one important thing: «Available for /small/ shipments» - the goods are in limited quantity (fake ones could be produced ad libitum).

What’s sad is even if you get some real truffle (grated/chips…) customers expect a stronger taste so it’s mixed with oil with synthetic aroma. In the Perigord region there are controlled open markets I visited, a 20g truffle for like 2 persons costs around 15€.

If/When you are in Paris, "Le comptoir corrézien" [0] is a very good address to buy truffle (also foie gras etc). They supply some of the top fancy restaurants.

[0] https://www.comptoir-correzien.fr/en/home/

> foie gras

As if just breading and killing animals is not sick enough, there's foie gras.

Finally it's being banned in more and more countries.


I find it bizarre that here on HN someone advertises it, albeit in parenthesis...

I agree with your overall sentiment. I'd never buy or consume foie gras and don't care that it's a "cultural thing".

But your general description of meat production is a bit too simplistic. The main issue with it, for me, is not the very act of taking a life for food. It's about what comes before it. The life the animals have in captivity. There are differences of course, but generally lifestock is held in too little space, too high stocking density, inappropriate bedding, flooring and treatment in case of diseases. It's a matter of cost. One can provide conditions where lifestock is suffering much less, having a good life even, but that means much more cost per pound meat sold. In addition, beginning of life (insemination which can be "natural" or artificial or some kind of in-between rape kind) and end (different ways of taking the life, some gas suffocating the animal causing terrible pain, or bolt-into-brain or) can also provide or prevent different levels of suffering. Again it's a matter of cost.

I personally do eat meat. Not everyday but most days. I do try to ensure that the farmer provided the animals with a good life, as I know most of them personally. Or it's a wild animal, running through the forest until the last moments. Not practical for everybody, and pretty pricey, but avoids the worst.

As you see, suffering is key here. The mere act of taking a life is "natural". (A bolt through the brain is quick and less painful than the long hunt by a pack of wolves or a lion.) It's still a kill, but that's the balance I'm striking personally.

Everyone strikes a balance personally. Myself, being vegan, I still drive a car which kills some bugs. So I have no pretence I'm "fully right".

That said, let's consider dairy. Cows have their babies taken from them right after birth, which entails days of audible suffering from the mums (they cry for days). This happens 4-5 times in their live. The baby is fed formula, the moms milk is taken and sold for profit. That's the suffering you mentioned. That's impossible to avoid when producing dairy at scale.

That's why I'm vegan.

Yes, it's correct that a majority of larger scale dairy farming today practices this. The usual argument is that it reduces separation stress (since the calf is assumed to be too young to remember and the cow didn't yet get used to having it by its side), but that argument does not have actual scientific evidence.

But it's far from impossible to avoid. There are farms that keep calves with their moms for the first months and this is an active topic of academic research in animal welfare groups around the world, mostly in Europe. There are some drawbacks, like obviously the calf drinks some of the milk that otherwise could be sold, but there are advantages too, like calves growing faster and having better health which could compensate for these effects, but again, this is still being researched.

So, it's not even clear that it's economically better to separate cow and calf right after birth (dairy industry is quite conservative and slow to adopt change.) But even if there is an economic hit, it's not so big and consumers who care could just pay more. It could eventually be included in regulations for dairy farming, and until then, people who care (like you and me) can voluntarily buy milk from farms that practice keeping them together. Apart from being better for the animals, it also shows farmers and regulators that people care and this can work.

I respect you going vegan, but for this particular problem there are solutions and it seems like there are worse things that we do to animals.

There are people producing foie gras nowadays without force-feeding the animals. I don't know if that's what the shop linked above sells or not. There are humane ways of producing it, though unfortunately I think the majority is still made by force-feeding.


HN is not, last time I've checked, a vegan outlet. Plenty of us are completely fine with breading, killing, eating animals.

Foie gras is unbelievably cruel, even by meatist standards.

So what ? Even if it were ten times more cruel I wouldn't think twice about bursting my belly with it for Christmas. They're just geese, not people.

> They're just geese, not people.

That's how we used to talk about different types of humans in the not so distant past.

That your empathy has fixed limits does not mean society does not move fwd. Thank God.

Are you making an equivalency between discriminating between various ethnic groups and discriminating between species ? I don't know where your society is going but I sure don't want to go with it.

I’ll be serving it up for sure. I probably will not even think of the goose while eating it, or if I do, it’ll be to toast the animal. Lol

I mean... yes, but the order there is hilarious.

Personally it would be killing, breading, and eating.

I assume they meant "breeding".

Having had foie gras in a previous time, the food is regretfully an amazing experience.

It's also the reason I expect Tuna's days are numbered.

breading and killing animals

Sounds like a new process to make fried chicken.

Personally, I only bread animals after they are dead, and never before.

I am Italian, and went for truffles a few times as my grand-uncle used to. We got both tuber melanosporum and tuber aestivum, it was fun.

In my experience in Italy, I would say you usually get real truffle outside of scammy tourist places, but it is generally unspecified on the menu. AKA, you are getting the cheap one rather than the expensive one, unless the menu says the opposite.

I would go further and say unless you see it prepared at the table, you are getting the cheap one, essentially anywhere.

I believe that in France the common complaint is that cheap truffles are actually a different species from Yunnan, China.

That's the T. aestivum GP mentioned.

(Edit: no it's not, it's indicum, see below. In the OP, the former is described as very mild but somewhat prized; the latter as tasteless, cheap, used for appearance (& perhaps in combination with synthetic flavouring) only.)

Not sure. Wikipedia says that T. aestivum is from Europe and also known as Burgundy truffle [1].

I suspect that the Chinese truffles are T. indicum or perhaps T. himalayense [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuber_aestivum

[2] https://www.trufamania.com/Tuber%20indicum%20English.htm

The article notes T. indicum as the cheap scam.

> There is also the notorious tuber indicum, the Chinese black truffle, which has flooded the European and American market. It has no taste or smell, and its price starts at less than ten euros per kilo. Visually, it does not differ much from the black winter truffle, and it will often be falsely presented as such, although the flavor and the aroma do not resemble in any way.

> This truffle also has a derogatory nickname: potatoes - because the price and taste do not differ much from those of potatoes. If you get a truffle with a dark core during summer, it is also a scam.

Oh yes, sorry, I was commenting having read that (not prior expertise) and misremembered/associated above.

Italy has the same issue with pine nuts. Most are Chinese and nowhere near as nice as the real deal.

You wrote: <<the real deal>>

I Googled about pine nuts. Here is what Wiki says: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_nut

    According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, only 29 species provide edible nuts, while 20 are traded locally or internationally
Right there: The term "pine nut" is generic. Probably, the "Italian" ones that you like are a particular species. Are you really sure they are Italian, or actually grown in a neighboring country, then through the magic of "last step processing" imported and repackaged as "Italian"? Italy is famous for it in international trade. And, the "Chinese" ones (it is a massive country after all -- same size as EU?) are a different species -- perhaps less tasty. My guess: Pine nuts are very labor intensive. As a result, imported pine nuts from developing countries are much cheaper than those from developed Italy.

In Italy (And Southern France and Spain), most likely nuts from Mediterranean stone pines, Pinus Pinea [1]. In French it's called "pin pignon", which means (pine) nuts pine. I don't think these pine trees exist in China, although some areas do have a lot of pine trees. Maybe those Chinese pine nuts are from Pinus koraiensis [2] or Pinus armandii [3] as the nuts look reasonably similar.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_pine

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinus_koraiensis

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinus_armandii

Excellent, informative reply! It sounds like tree farms should try to grow this tree in India, North Africa, or Turkey where climate is similar, but labour is much cheaper.

Well real or not, the pine nut from the stone pine is vastly superior in flavor and aroma to the Chinese imports, which is where the comparison to the truffle comes from.

Pine nuts from the stone pine are really expensive. Although, in this case, it's rather easy to notice the difference.

They have gotten expensive, so now when I make pesto at home, I just use walnuts.

Nice hack! I never thought of that idea.

I won't buy pine nuts anymore, since I'll never know their provenance, and I got pine nut mouth once from a batch from Whole Foods. Pine nut mouth is not fun.

I am French and I live in France.

For some time now I have been wondering why the little pieces of truffle were tasteless when the dishe as a whole smelled so strong.

Now I know.

> what is sold as truffle flavor is 2,4-dithiapentane, an organosulfur compound that is naturally found in truffles


> it can be extracted from oil. [...] Liters of this petroleum-derived product, the colorless 2,4-dithiapentane liquid, are sourced for a few euros...

We've discussed this in chemistry classes. The compound is the compound. Why does it matter where it's sourced?

Anyone who's heard about the rarity of Actual Truffles can reason out that they can't possibly be squeezing enough "truffle oil" from Proper Truffles to supply the world. They're obviously recreating something. So they identified the tasty (smelly?) chemical that identifies with Real Truffles, and source it elsewhere.

It reminds me of the every-decade story about how Twinkies are made, and the myriad of scary chemicals in them. The recipe has changed a bit over the years (actually getting safer...) and the last article I read on the subject was all "OMG THEY ARE USING INDUSTRIAL CLEANER IN TWINKIES" then continued to have a food scientist explain that they discovered the Actual Food ingredient cleaned better than the Chemical Cleaner, so switched from Chemical Cleaner to Actual Food Ingredient Cleaner.

It matters because I’m sure there are other compounds in truffles that make the flavor well rounded and unique. The same way watermelon and grape and blueberry flavor in candy don’t really taste anything at all like the real thing.

The article definitely conflates these ideas:

1. there are real truffles that in his opinion are much better than the artificial flavor (fair)

2. the food industry is deceptive about real vs artificial truffle flavor (fair)

3. the artificial flavor is harmful because it is derived from petroleum (silly)

The problem with the article is that 1 is interesting but just, like, your opinion man, and also like a thousand dollars. And 2 is business as usual. So if you want people not to just say “Sure, but I personally really like artificial truffle flavor” (which I did, several times, while reading) you need to convince them there’s something sinister about it that there isn’t about, say, artificial watermelon flavor. But 3 is a huge miss.

That no one know how truffles smells and tastes, not even "experts", was the important part of the article. Also informing on how, when and where to get and ask for real truffle.

Artificial is bad if served as the real thing, that most certainly is harmful and dishonest.

The wikipedia article on dithiapentane is amusing:

> "2,4-Dithiapentane is the dimethyldithioacetal of formaldehyde. It is prepared by the acid-catalyzed condensation of methyl mercaptan, (the main aromatic compound in both halitosis and foot odor and a secondary compound in flatulence), with formaldehyde."

The issues with such synthesis or extraction from petroleum largely revolve around purity; I notice that online sellers describe a '99% pure' product, but what's in that other 1%? Sloppy cheap synthesis produces potentially harmdful side products.

I'm not familiar with food requirements (although a bit more with medical devices) but if you are selling something as food I assume there are some requirements that your side products and impurities are not harmful or present in sufficiently low amounts to be safe. Seems like GC-MS or something would be relatively straightforward and routine here.

The petroleum industry is pretty harmful. People caring about where the food they eat come from is far from being a silly thing.

It’s not silly. The petroleum derived product is probably loaded with carcinogens that they’re failing to detect/filter out.

If it’s the same chemical how can it be loaded with carcinogens?

Water from the pond is the same as water from my tap - they are both H20. Kind of like that, I imagine.

Water from a pond and tap water are both heterogeneous mixtures of things dissolved and suspended in H2O, they are in fact very different. A synthesized chemical will be identical to the same chemical produced in a plant. The synthetic counterpart will just be in a mixture with distilled water or a neutral food grade oil.

It’s a better analogy than you think. “Petroleum” is very much a hydrocarbon “pond water”.

How confident can you be that the end result is filtered appropriately, every time?

Its not filtered, its the result of chemical reactions and purification steps and you can measure the result. Same reason why your tap water is safe, the resulting product, either water or a purified chemical has impurities monitored by a variety of analytical techniques.

Absolutely. I always thought I hated truffles until I was more or less forced into trying a few dishes while visiting Italy.

Real truffles taste almost nothing like the fake truffle flavor you seem to get in most dishes. I think you made a great comparison to fake watermelon flavor vs. the real thing. It's only in the vague ballpark.

I now will have a truffle dish if it's done at a very high end establishment that deals with those ingredients on a consistent basis. I still absolutely cannot stand the fake stuff (like truffle fries) to this day.

I don't think the fake fruit flavors are based on the same compounds found in the actual fruit. I'm pretty sure it's a combination of Whatever Can Be Sourced Cheaply to "emulate" the fruit flavor.

I'll agree that an actual truffle, with all the fabulous fungus intact, is going to give a completely different experience.

But if the claim is that the truffle-extracted compound is somehow different from the oil-extracted compound, that's a lie equivalent to claiming Real Truffles are flavoring your truffle fries.

Strawberries and oranges seem the most obvious offenders.

Red and orange taste just isn't close.

Vanilla extract is another good example - sure, it tastes like vanilla, but real vanilla is so much more complex.

That's a bit tangential, I agree most simulated flavors with a single compound don't capture the complexity of a natural version with many compounds and more variation, however, that doesn't make them bad and in some situations, like vanillin in a baked good, its likely imperceptible.

Outside of the simplification of class, it turns out molecules are actually quite complicated.

Significantly more complicated than “this one single molecule is the flavour X, and therefore indistinguishable from an actual X”.

This reminds me of https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2019/09/solving-the-lo...

> Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus first reported friction-induced static electricity in 600 B.C. After rubbing amber with fur, he noticed the fur attracted dust.

> “Since then, it has become clear that rubbing induces static charging in all insulators — not just fur,” Marks said. “However, this is more or less where the scientific consensus ended.”

Of course, you get taught in class that when you rub things together you pull free electrons off one and that magically makes static electricity.

…of course, that’s a gross simplification and also wrong (read the article).

Ie. it’s a fair suggestion that what you learnt in class was not domain specific to taste and organic chemistry; and, wrong.

Pure chemical flavours are not equivalent to natural equivalents, because they are:

- not chemically equivalent (the natural product is a mixture of many molecules)

- probably not chemically pure (since they’re cheap ass imports)

- probably contain contaminants from the chemical process they were produced by, if they have obvious (eg. a smell) differences from the natural product.

So… yes, a chemical, in its pure form is just a chemical, no matter where it comes from.

…but that’s an ideal, not reflected, most likely either the source natural ingredient, or the cheap ass petroleum products you can buy for a few bucks / liter.

The article author spends much time focused on this one chemical compound. They should have made their argument about the complexities of truffles versus the simplicity of chemical compounds.

You’d make a good point if the result was the same. It isn’t. Truffles (or anything we eat) is not a single chemical, it’s a dance of every molecule that creates it.

I don’t particularly dislike truffle-flavored products, but I know they’re nothing like the real thing. Same exact thing goes for wasabi. Some “wasabi” products are just vile.

This is one chemical that is a major part of the scent and flavor, but there are countless others. As an analogue, citric acid is the main "sour" flavor in lemons, but it's not very representative of a lemon, is it?

I agree with you but citric acid is a bit different as its not a volatile aroma compound in a lemon, its only sour and you taste it. I couldn't find a specific flavor compound responsible for lemon flavor in a quick google search but limonene appears to be responsible for the aroma of oranges...

Are you saying there’s only one chemical compound that matters in the taste or nutrition of truffles?

What about sweet potatoes or lamb? Can they be represented by a chemical?

Nope. But that seems to be a claim in the article. And that the various sources of an identical chemical make for drastically different experiences.

If the article were just "truffles are more than this one chemical compound, and you're being lied to about truffle flavoring on your fries," I would have commented differently (or maybe not at all.) But the article is too busy being elitist to make a reasonable argument like "truffles are more than this one chemical compound..."

The article doesn’t claim that; it’s closer to the opposite

> We've discussed this in chemistry classes. The compound is the compound. Why does it matter where it's sourced?

Because the purity might not be 100%. There might be some petroleum left in the end product. Especially given that suppliers have a financial incentive to not care about safety that much.

Im sure you wouldn't be okay with me soaking said oil into a piece of dog poop feeding it to you as a real truffle

And of course, charging you the price of real truffles for it

You don't have to be a scientist to know that twinkies are not a healthy thing. Pretty much all ultra-processed food is bad for you, however the industrial cleaner used is claimed to be safe.

And if you taste a real truffle you'll know that it's a much more complex thing that this one compound, it just doesn't taste the same.

> ...twinkies are not a healthy thing.

You don't have to be an English major to see that I didn't claim they are.

> ... the industrial cleaner used is claimed to be safe.

Did you miss the point that it was a food ingredient before it was a cleaner? Kind of like discovering (theoretically) that corn meal scours better than Comet - of course we'll switch to corn meal! No one wants Accidental Comet lunch, we can eliminate that purchase altogether, and we can get a bigger quantity discount on corn meal!

> ...it's a much more complex thing that this one compound

Indeed! But I'm discussing the article's specific claims about the smelly compound.

Because you can’t be richer than thou if you’re eating or using the industrial chemical. It’s got to be the artisanal version

See H Enfield:Richer than thou


People should do more thinking with their taste buds and less with what they hear. If they enjoy this truffle oil made from gasoline, why not eat it. Otherwise leave it be.

This morning I had an expensive artisan craft coffee. I've never been able to taste the difference, so I'm not going to act like it was something extraordinary. Atmosphere was nice though.

>People should do more thinking with their taste buds and less with what they hear.

First people should not be lied to by restaurants and the food industry, and prices should not be jacked up selling crap as premium...

Then they can decide freely if they like gasoline-derived oil for what it is itself...

Completely agree with you.

It reminds me that in the USA there are rules for what constitutes a bourbon whiskey. You can make and enjoy other types of whiskey, just don't call them Bourbon.

There's also Jack Daniel's, from what I remember they actually pass the requirements to be a Bourbon, but the company chooses not to label it that way. That's also fine!

What wouldn't be fine is a whiskey calling itself rum or vodka, because when I buy one I don't expect to get the other.

> First people should not be lied to by restaurants and the food industry, and prices should not be jacked up selling crap as premium...

I would caveat that with: First people should ALL work in the hospitality and service Industry.

You will be shocked if you think this is the most egregious thing you will find in the culinary Industry.

Honestly, after what the Industry like since COVID, I hope it collapses and people just start to eat healthier at home, in the US the Industry has been consolidated by Corpos who could get millions in PPP and didn't have to pay it back and low interest rates to win a battle of attrition against the smaller spots who relied on word to muth and higher QC/QA to justify those high prices that the public feel entitled to complain about despite not knowing the mechanics of getting a kitchen to function let alone turn a profit.

It's sad... I really thought prior to COVID we were making serious inroads in educating the American population to something that most in Asia and Europe is pretty normalized: food culture.

As a cook that has worked in and ran kitchens in both Europe and N. America the fact that most people think that what is in those atrocious bottles (truffle oil) resembles anything like a black truffle underscores what I mean.

Most people in the US freak out when they see a vein in their shrimp let alone a head, whereas when you're in Spain the best part of a tapas bar is when the numbers are thin and the patrons still drinking get the good stuff like 'gambas' and you can suck the heads after having been served countless olives, patatas bravas or various bread with stuff plates with your drinks.

Personally speaking, I don't really think black truffles are that great and I've worked with quite a lot of them over the years, it mainly benefits a lot from it's marketing more than it's actual flavour.

The perfume it gives does enhance a dish, which makes it good to garnish as a table service option, but the taste is rather unremarkable to me, at best it's like having good biodynamicly grown garlic. White truffles are far more aromatic, and just keeping them in rice is enough to brighten up a rissoto, but also suffers from the 'too Earthy' category for most people's palettes unless they are trying to impress people who gravitate towards high end ingredients or are actually coming for that as the highlight of their meals while it's in season, which is an incredibly small percentage of patrons.

But this is something that's really difficult to regulate. A good example is that wine brewed from natural yeasts that smells like horseshit. It was branded as "barnyard".

> But this is something that's really difficult to regulate. A good example is that wine brewed from natural yeasts that smells like horseshit. It was branded as "barnyard".

How does that make things hard to regulate?

"Selling crap as premium" is hard to regulate. Yes, you can put laws in place to say what is allowed to be called truffles etc., but it will be hard to stop people from selling what is technically a truffle as a premium truffle. I.e., selling crap as premium.

The issue here isn't whether a wine company can creatively brand smelly wine as "barnyard". Before we even deal with the question of how do we grade products, we first have to ask whether companies should be able to simply lie to customers about whether listed ingredients are even present.

That is definitely true, I got a bit side tracked there to be honest. However, those laws already exist in the EU, so the article could probably be summarized as "truffles should be protected".

There's also the funny angle that some real "premium" stuff is actually awful crap, or at least an utterly crappy experience.

Years ago, I bought some very pungent blue cheese, must have been either from SW France or NE Spain. Definitely not a household name, and priced quite high. One of the worst eating experiences I can remember. The flavour was so strong a small crumb was enough to burn your tastebuds. Almost painful to eat, and we had to toss the thing out.

It smelled really good, though. I learned my lesson. These days I refuse to buy any unfamiliar cheese I can't sample in the shop first.

All we have to do to get the people selling petroleum-derived oil as a truffle is require good-faith truth in advertising.

Now, catching people selling a cheaper truffle as a more expensive truffle may require more educated customers.

Another such 'flavor' is boxwood. That description is what cat piss smells like.

If you see a fine wine with 'hint of boxwood', run.

Or a rich potent wine with the sweet distinctive scent of Linden tree.


The wine industry is pretty well regulated in the EU. In my country wine was generally a hit and miss before we got into the EU. Now, almost everything bottled over 5€ is okay and also cheaper wine sold in bulk. This year we've bought some excellent white wine by the bulk directly from the producer and it was cheaper than gasoline. I mostly buy local bottled wine rather than imported table wine sold as premium. Why? Because I know most of the big producers and also some of the smaller ones.

If we go to another country with good wines, we ask the waiter and it works out better than looking at the wine menu and making assumptions. One waiter in Sicily even suggested that he chose the wine for us and we were very satisfied with his choice after we also tried to get the same wine ourselves and ordered something different.

Also, Moldova used to export crappy sweet wine before their agricultural products were banned in Russia. Now it exports mainly into the EU and they have some good quality wines if you skip the ones made from hybrid grape varieties, which I wonder why I've even found on the EU market. Must be the new 2021 regulation allowing hybrid varieties in wines with protected denominations of origin. Apart from the usual varieties, they also produce wines with a Georgian variety called Saperavi, which I like quite a lot and also a local older variety called Rara Neagra which is popular but I don't like because it's acidic, however it can be sucessfully used in blends where one needs more acidity.

That is due to a species of yeast called Brettanomyces, usually shortened to brett. Judicious use of brett can impart smoky or leathery characteristics - lumped together politely as "barnyard" or "horse blanket" notes in beer or wine.

> If they enjoy this truffle oil made from gasoline, why not eat it

The article does say that, but makes the (valid) point that it's not okay to sell it pretending that it's "the real stuff" with a corresponding price tag.

What I'm curious about is that the author seems to suggest these artificial flavouring are unhealthy ("causing long-term damage to [...] your stomach and palate") but doesn't say why.

the author also says that the chemical is actually found in truffles

This is literally how all "natural flavor" works.

They analyze the real thing for what makes it smell or taste like it does. Then they take one or a few major molecules that make up the taste and that are easy to derive cheaply from something else and use it for flavoring stuff. The real thing probably had a hundred different things make up its smell and taste.

Bonus points if it can be derived from something that allows them to label it as "natural". Lots of natural flavor is produced by molds/funghi actually that have been modified to produce the molecules needed. Example: https://cen.acs.org/food/food-science/Edible-fungus-yields-n...

Case in point I just recently read here on HN I believe that banana flavored stuff still tastes like the old bananas that we can no longer buy because that variety is no longer possible to grow. The molecules they extracted from that aren't in the bananas variety we can currently buy.

Anecdote: we did this in our high school chemistry class w/ pineapple flavour, i.e. we created artificial pineapple flavouring right there in class. It was very strong and not as complex as a real pineapple, but identifiable.

> like the old bananas that we can no longer buy because that variety is no longer possible to grow.

that would be the Gros Michel. It is a common misconception that it no longer exists, but you can you actually still buy it (and grow it), you will find many results in google. It's just been replaced in the mass market.

It’s on my list to try one day, and see if it’s as good as the hype.

It’s one of my life’s entertaining side-missions to try as many types as possible, ever since I found out that “the (cavendish) banana” is not the end of the story.

I’ve ticked off Cavendish (of course), dwarf cavendish, lady finger, apple banana, Pisang Awak, red Dacca, Fe’i and various plantains so far. Many more to go!

Thanks! In case anyone else is interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gros_Michel_banana#Early_popul...

So I should have written: that you can no longer buy in the supermarket down the street :)

TLDR: it was made economically unsustainable to grow because of something called Panama Disease, which Gros Michel is susceptible to, where modern bananas are not

Hence we have https://www.jellybelly.com/jelly-belly-bean-recipes

I certainly would laugh if I went into a restaurant and on top of my 'truffle-infused' Lamb Ragù was a gently placed Truffle Jellybean.

The chemical used for artificial vanilla is found in real vanilla, but the artificial and real vanilla are rather different from each other. I can roll with either, but if I'm paying real vanilla prices for vanillin, I've been ripped off.

If you ask for a glass of water and a waiter gives you a glass of urine, do you smile and drink it because urine also has H2O in it and therefore has the same chemical found in water?

That's literally the OPPOSITE of what's happening with truffles, though.

how is this relevant?

Yeah, this is how I feel.

Truffle oil is kinda like that artificial grape flavor. It's clearly not the real thing if you've tasted both. But if you're honest, that fake grape in a Fanta or whatever is tasty in its own way.

Similarly there's a burger joint near me that does truffle oil fries with the synthetic flavor. They aren't priced like it's some luxury thing either, they're just the standard fries at the price you'd expect. They're tasty. I don't see the point of being all huffy about it.

Yeah artificial banana is actually pretty good. I do like bananas and the synthetic stuff is nothing like the real thing.

I do like to think that sim-flavors will eventually get their own seat at the taste at the table but there is still correlation between interest in the prototype taste and the sims.

However I do like organic raspberry for example, synth raspberry is meh.

It think the difference lies in valuing the process or the result.

Personally I think like you, if the product tastes good and the atmosphere is fine for the advertised price I'm 100% satisfied.

If the restaurant manages to achieve that with cheaper ingredients (while maintaining hygiene and not outright lying) I consider that a good business practice.

> and not outright lying

But what is constitutes outright lying? Some would assume that the word "truffles" on its own means the genuine article. Others would say they are telling the truth if they state that it is not the real thing in the small print. It wouldn't surprise me if someone tried to trademark Real Truffles for their substitute. All would claim that they are telling the truth, never mind deny they are not outright lying. Technically, they are correct.

Deception is not a good business practice, even in the slightest. It is the sign of someone who is solely interested in short term gain, rather than establishing a lasting institution.

Exactly. I like artificial truffle flavor and use it sometimes in my cooking. No way would I pay for truffles. There's no gas-like aroma and I don't know what the author is going on about in that regard. I've had a meal with real truffle once and I must say that the artificial flavor does a pretty good job.

Restaurants being dishonest are maybe problem for honest ones next-door, but if the customer is happy I see no harm done.

You don't see any harm done by lying to customers?

Truffle fries don't contain truffles. French fries don't come from france. I don't think the restaurant is to blame for our language. You want every restaurant to start calling them immitation truffle fries?

>French fries don't come from france.

According to Wikipedia, it's at least believed by some researchers that French fries originated in France.

Unless you mean "these specific fries don't come from France, any more than these specific fries contain truffles".

"Truffle flavoured fries"

Would be accurate and descriptive and makes them distinct from fries with actual truffle.

Gives you the same differentiation as whipped cream vs edible oil

Sure, why not.

Yeah. I deliberately buy imitation truffle oil made from mixing whatever-pentane into cheap refined olive oil with full knowledge that it's fake. I also buy fake saffron, fake maple syrup, and fake vanilla essence.

With all these foods the real thing is better, but the substitute is also fine.

I don't know if aunt jemima and similar brands of syrup count as "fake Maple syrup". It doesn't say maple syrup on the bottle anymore. They usually say "maple-flavored syrup" at worst, or just "syrup". It's not maple syrup, but it's not labeled as maple syrup and not advertised as maple syrup.

Imitation vanilla is labeled imitation vanilla. Not a secret that it's not made from actual vanilla.

I'm surprised honey hasn't come up here more. The majority of honey in the US contains very little actual honey, but the ingredients list just says "pure filtered honey". If you've ever had real honey, it's night and day. If you want a cheaper honey substitute, that's fine. If a company is labeling a cheaper honey substitute as "pure filtered honey", that's not fine.

I get honey from jars at the grocery store and, every once in awhile, from a local farm who supplies my local butcher shop (because I'm lazy, at the butcher, and realize I'm out of honey). The local farm honey is definitely real honey (the butcher shop people have been to the farm). Apart from the floral quality of the farm honey, I've never noticed a difference from the orange or blossom honey I get at the supermarket. I don't think most supermarket honey is fake. Maybe the bear honey is?

If it says honey on the jar and there is no ingredients list or the ingredients list says it’s honey, then it is honey (unless the producer is just absolutely breaking the label laws).

That said, you should be able to _easily_ distinguish different varieties of honey or even different sources of honey by tasting it. If you can’t then it’s likely a big commodity blend.

Go do a blind from a producer that lists the hive locations for the honey. It’s probably the product that has the most obvious “terroir” effect that I know of. I can tell the difference between honey from hives that are less than 2 miles apart (Woodlawn vs Englewood in Chicago).


A lot of honey is imported from places where it has been mixed with other sugars or adulterated in other ways. The bottlers either don't know or don't care because the price is lower and the profit margin is higher.

The labeling laws are being broken by a number of big producers. The adulterated honey is generally safe, but is not pure honey.

Until recently, the bear honey was basically all you could get at the grocery store. Now you can get some real stuff as well.

Fake saffron is the only thing I’ll disagree with here. It’s nothing like the real thing, and since most of the coloring in fake saffron comes from turmeric anyway, might as well use turmeric (and maybe something floral like rose water) as a substitute when you don’t want to splurge for the real thing.

Sadly, I've met people that actually enjoy fake maple syrup more than the real stuff. To the point of actually disliking real maple syrup because "it doesn't taste like the thing" that they'd been eating since childhood.

That's not sad, that's great! They're paying less than you for an equivalent level of enjoyment, so good for them.

Great point. It still makes me sad because I've unscientifically concluded that maple flavored corn syrup is unequivocally much worse for your health, on the basis that I want to justify still eating maple syrup and choose to believe that it's actually not the worst thing I could be eating, so it's ok to have it. This same unfounded belief has helped me curb my sweet tooth, as I no longer order pancakes or french toast, anytime I eat out, working at a fancier restaurant showed me that they all mostly use the exact same several gallon jugs of maple flavored syrup.

Ever since I found out that the main artificial maple-syrup flavor is a fenugreek derivative, I think of it as fenugreek syrup.

Never liked it, but now I like it less. And I like fenugreek.

How very post-modern. Jean Baudrillard would have been delighted.

That's not the point. The point is that calling it truffle oil is intentionally deceptive. Call the fake truffle oil something else, then see how many people still want to buy it.

I love coffee, and most of the time I go to specialty coffee shops just because they know the basics of making coffee: not heat up the milk more than necessary, and the coffee beans shouldn't be burned too much (which is necessary for the worst part of the coffee beans).

Sadly most of the coffee shops don't even try to achieve these two things.

That doesn't work, it's called fraud and can be dangerous in some cases... For example, restaurants do that a lot with fish too and sometimes they serve you an alternative that is much more likely to contain heavy metals.

Even in grocery stores you can't be sure what kind of fish you buy.


It’s nice to be able to attribute noticeable differences to a reason so you can learn. Maybe you don’t notice much difference with coffee (I’m with you there as long as it’s well extracted), but if you’ve been to a nice restaurant and notice the Caesar salad tastes better than at Olive Garden despite having the same ingredients listed on the menu, it’s helpful to understand that the kitchen sources the ingredients daily from a local farm.

The amount of people who are okay with being lied to by corporations is very concerning.

> People should do more thinking with their taste buds

This is meaningless.

If I buy a product that claims to contain X ingredient, the manufacturer has a moral, ethical, and legal responsibility to give me that ingredient.

I find it very frustrating that authors so often want to engage with this on this status-motivated "cheap is bad and you shouldn't like it" level. It takes this author a long time to get to "if you like it, that's fine", after we've been told that it smells like gasoline, that supposed "experts" in our own personal taste have told us that it doesn't belong in our kitchen, and that it's made of spooky petroleum products.

Yes, food should be accurately labeled, and I'll take the author's word for it that the imitation stuff is not very close to the real thing in flavor. Sure. Those are fine points. Stick to those, and stop implying that if I like the stuff I like, I'm some sort of slop-eating prole. You can argue for truth in advertising without appealing to classism.

Agreed. And the whole “derived from petroleum” == “tastes like gasoline” thing is so dumb. Pretty much every chemical we make comes from petroleum feedstock. Most of them don’t taste much like gasoline.

I don't think the sulfur containing 2,4-dithiapentane that is used in simulated "truffle" even smells like gasoline regardless of its similar origin, gasoline smells like other alkanes in the lab (hexanes, etc), not really sure how to describe it but not like sulfur containing compounds. I still don't like the truffle flavoring compound in my food, its overpowering to me, but if you like it go for it!

Synthetic vanillin is delicious.

Just because something is extracted from petroleum doesn't mean it must always taste or smell like gas. We have plenty of synthetic compounds that taste nothing like it at all.

That said, it's very ugly that this happens, I hope the EU will start protecting the term truffle.

> "Just because something is extracted from petroleum doesn't mean it must always taste or smell like gas"

But in this case it does, what's your point ?

Article says it's the same compound. So truffles also smell like gas.

Truffles have hundreds of chemicals in them, it's a complex aroma. Truffle flavour is one single note from this, usually at a very high intensity. It's a different experience.

(note that this is true for many artificial flavors, there's lots of esters often known as "pear" "banana" "strawberry" etc but as I'm sure you are aware artifical banana candy is a long long way from tasting like an actual banana.

Explains a lot. I remember having truffle shavings at the table on pasta at a posh italian restaurant in the early 2000, and it was reassuringly expensive. Didn't taste of much, I wasn't overwhelmed. A bit earthy, but nothing special. Then I read somewhere that some people can't taste truffle. So I put it down to that.

More recently if I get something that says "truffle", it's this crazy almost garlic style punch (without the aftertaste of garlic). I've been confused why my experience of this changed so much from then to now… should have known I was being scammed!

> Didn't taste of much

Truffles vary in taste and intensity, yet the price will easily be set on classes that ignore the quality of the single tuber. Some may taste horribly - it can happen - and yet be sold with a price following their class (not their individual merit).

I am afraid it is racist: all truffles of the same family are regarded the same by some, in spite of strong individual differences.

I don't see myself going to the effort/expense of having authentic truffles. It's just a very particular mild taste. I think I can do without it.

There's the kicker. Truffles aren't beloved because of their flavor (which is fine), they're beloved because of their rarity and expense, which allows you to signal your social status. They're the diamonds of the food world.

When I was younger I used to believe when people talked about how amazing certain items or experiences were. They were often very expensive, or very hard to get to. I used to believe that they really were such a unique and special experience and that was why people would go to the trouble and expense of having it.

Being older now, I see that the real value in the item or experience was being able to tell me about it. So many things fall into this category, if not completely, at least partially.

I believe truffle may be like coriander (cilantro) elucidating a disgust response in some people. I just cannot stand its smell, or taste, and avoid truffle fries and truffle oil extras.

It's not about being fungi, I love other mushrooms.

I love coriander. I just know some people say "soap" and wrinkle their noses. Well.. truffle does that to me, and I've had chunks of it the size of nuts in France in the early 70s, I know it wasn't some factory extract (it was the mayors birthday and we lucked into it with a local)

The first time I tasted coriander cake was on my friends' family boat. He and his mother made it and he was really proud.

I spit it out over board and complained it must be full of dishing soap ...

I have this issue as well. What drives me nuts is how people think it's a preference that I don't like cilantro. No, I'm fundamentally having a different experience. I have no idea what cilantro is supposed to taste like, but "fill a dish full of soap” seems very unlikely to be an intentional choice for a cook.

I've read that there is a compound in cilantro that we can taste that is untastable to other people. I've noticed that finally chopped and/or cooked cilantro is not anywhere near as strong. So it must be some volatile chemical. Once I was able to clearly identify the taste, I started noticing other tastes in raw vegetables that went away after fine-chopping and cooking. For the most part, I find raw vegetables almost inedible, especially things like bell peppers. But cooked up, they are completely fine.

I also noticed that, if I try to push through eating many raw vegetables, I start to have an allergic reaction on my tongue. This is especially true for cilantro, basil, celery, and to a lesser extent carrots and tomatoes. Again, cooked is no problem.

I'm my mind, they're all linked. Some uniqueness of my tongue genetics makes me susceptible to one or more certain chemicals that others can tolerate. And my tongue is trying to tell me it's bad for me.

The only actual investigation on the cilantro thing I’ve read was some years ago, I think by NPR. The guy went and had cilantro analysed by slow heating in a gas chromatograph, and while it turned out that others who enjoyed it could detect the negative flavour, he could not detect the compounds that others found appealing.

Ah, here it is - https://www.npr.org/2008/12/26/98695984/getting-to-the-root-...

The reaction you describe to raw but not cooked vegetables is probably something called “oral allergy syndrome”.

> Once I was able to clearly identify the taste, I started noticing other tastes in raw vegetables that went away after fine-chopping and cooking.

Ye exactly. Like licking a raw parsnip on the outside.

Coriander cake? I assume you mean the seeds, and I didn’t realize people had that same reaction as they do with the herb.

It was like a sponge cake with coriander in it. And chocolate on top.

I think that people must have quite difference reactions to spicy food. I have friends that eat spicy food and they are more or less ok with it but complain it burns their lips. I eat the same spicy food and its hot AF and is burning my tongue.

Someone I know had that, even the smell of coriander made them sick. But it passed after a few encounters with it and now they love it. I guess it varies in its constancy.

> elucidating

You mean eliciting?

I read like 60% of the article and all I know is I'm a dumb arse who knows nothing about anything.

Why not just write simply? What are you trying to tell me instead of calling me a buffoon over and over.

It is a poorly organized rant that should have been about 1000 words shorter, but the point is one worth making. Truffle oil and most truffle-flavored foods have no truffles in them. They have an artificial truffle flavor called 2,4-dithiapentane, which is extracted from petroleum oil. If they do have truffle in them, it's cheap tasteless varieties and the flavor comes from the artificial truffle flavor. Most of the truffle-based food you buy in stores and restaurants is not really truffles.

Brilliant post. I agree 100%. That article was nothing but food snobbery / gate-keeping. I would love to see this guy doing blind-folded taste tests. I am willing to bet he would score worse than 50%.

Regarding your excellent summary: If only there was a GPT-3 equivalent Chrome extension to automatically do this for me!

> They have an artificial truffle flavor called 2,4-dithiapentane

It's the same compound that's found in the truffle. We found somewhere else to extract it, but we don't make it from scratch.

I suppose, then, truffles are just artificially flavored.

They say it’s the same, but I doubt it.

The snooty article author says it's the same. One would presume that if the compound was not the same, the author would be all over it and exclaiming that from the rooftops.

As it stands, it's just an elitist article about the source of a compound that's either responsible for Terrific Truffles or Petroleum Pasta - author can't decide.

edit: improve alliteration

> What are you trying to tell me instead of calling me a buffoon over and over.

For the little it's worth, I interpreted the author's tone as one of having some confidence in his understanding of the subject and not intending to belittle people.

And he specifically said that there's no shame in not having good truffle knowledge as virtually the entire industry is lying about it.

> There is no shame in not knowing that. As the best truffles are extremely difficult to find, most chefs and journalists are unaware of this. Even the “experts” hand out awards for this aromatized garbage with only bits of decorative truffles. Almost everything with the truffle label that is available in stores or served in restaurants is a lie and a fraud.

I can’t help but think about whiskey’s history in America.

Stuff was being sold as whiskey that was anything but i.e. gasoline.

IIRC, The bottled in bond act was passed as the first consumer protection act. Basically whiskey was distilled, aged in a government warehouse, and (upon taxes paid) was bottled with a bonded seal that was meant to say to consumers “this is actual whiskey.” It also ensured the government got their taxes.

I recognize consumers don’t actually get to buy the whole truffle and would still need to trust restaurants if a similar bonding system were in place.

But an interesting precedent of food and marketing nonsense.


A friend of ours has a truffle farm (in France) and he does very well selling to restaurants all over Europe. The taste is nice but can be overbearing if you put too much. Don’t think I ever had the synthetic one as I was raised with real truffle taste. Did not know you could not freeze/keep them; will ask my friend now.

What did he say?

The solution to this is probably technology. We need the ability to farm truffles on a large scale, which will bring down their price. Until then, expecting imperfect substitutes is reasonable to me.

I actually enjoy the taste of truffle oil (especially on fries) and don't like spending enormous amounts of money on food, so it's a pretty reasonable compromise to me. I was planning to order some truffles sometime and make a few things with them and it's entirely plausible that I will prefer the synthetic version to the real thing.

there’s a company trying to do that


> The solution to this is probably technology

This is HN in a nutshell. When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.

Maybe this isn’t even a situation that needs to be solved?

That's a straw man, there are many things I don't think technology can achieve.

Food scarcity is one of the first, classic things human technology has improved through agriculture, and it's reasonable to think it will do the same thing to the high cost of truffles, and indeed the demand will incentivize people to try and reward those that finally succeed at it. If that's bad, then my question is why should truffles be expensive forever?

I only eat truffles in Michelin star restaurants in the US, it’s truly ridiculous how out if control food quality and legitimacy is in the US. Here if you find truffle oil it’s basically guaranteed to contain no (or minimal) real truffle, and the oil may not even be real olive oil.

You can get fantastic high quality food in the US, but it’s few and far between with a very high cost compared to average quality in Europe.

Does this apply to the EU? I had store bought truffle oil and self-made truffle oil and both tasted similar, so maybe it’s more regulated over here.

Absolutely. Here's a random example (Google translation). It has both the aroma in it and the cheap, allegedly tasteless, truffles in it. They have another product that purports to have no aroma and the most expensive truffles in it (around 1%); kind of hard to believe.

Tartufi di Fassia Tartufata with black truffles is made in Italy exclusively with organic black truffles and the natural aroma of black truffles. This tartufata comes without any artificial flavors and you can taste this unadulterated and delicious taste with every bite.

Shipping weight: 120 g per piece


Mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus), extra virgin olive oil, 6% summer truffle (Tuber Aestivum vitt), salt, parsley, black truffle flavored preparation* (extra virgin olive oil, black truffle flavorings), parsley, garlic*.


What are black truffle flavorings?

Your guess is as good as mine, but presumably it's 2,4-dithiapentane.

If I get something in a restaurant (in EU) that has "truffles" in it the taste is exactly like described in the article. Kind of gross and very pungent. I don't exactly go to high end restaurants often.

I’ve definitely come across this kind of truffle oil in the UK, pre-brexit

How sure are you about the purity of the 'self-made' truffle oil?

Because it is made by you with good oil and good truffles?

He did not say he made it himself. In this case you can objectively compare. But if you get it from a friend from a friend, chances are it got truffle aroma mixed in, with good intentions, without knowing it is artificial but nonetheless.

It was made by a new-age-y friend with self-salvaged truffles.

Not sure how legit this is, but Australia just had a bout of “truffles on everything” season in the last few months. And quite a few shops and markets had actual whole truffles to buy. Apparently they’re cultivated here?


Yeah there’s a whole back story about bringing over inoculated trees and then waiting years for them to spread and be harvestable, IIRC

> Synthetic garbage sold as a luxury gourmet item gives customers the idea that truffles have an intense gas-like aroma.

Huh, that’s my favorite part. It’s like the amazing smell of gasoline in an edible form.

I wonder if I’d even like real truffles?

I’ve got no hate for a flavor just for being synthetic, especially when getting the real flavor is destructive.

Saying that 2,4-dithiapentane has nothing to do with truffles is like saying that vanillin has nothing to do with vanilla. It’s artificial truffle flavor. I happen to enjoy it, I’d just like to be charged a fair price for it given that it’s not actually expensive.

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