Truffle oil is derived from either black or white truffle, a subterranean fungus that grows in the roots of trees such as oak or willow,1 and is one of the most expensive food products today.2 It is an earthy, pungent and powerful oil used to add flavor to dishes.3 Black truffle oil is less aromatic,4 while white truffle oil has a garlicky taste.5
Knowing that truffles are sold at a premium, you may be wondering how truffle oil has become widely available in supermarkets or gourmet food stores. Even simple dishes in restaurants are priced higher when the word “truffle” is added before a dish’s name.6
This is because truffles are not easily grown and harvested, and are hunted with the help of trained dogs or pigs. Once found, the soil must be gently dug up and the truffle carefully removed, as they are fragile.7
What Is Truffle Oil Really Made Of?
According to Cook’s Illustrated, authentic truffle oil is made by adding truffle oil flavor molecules to olive oil. These molecules may either be extracted from organic sources or harvested from fresh truffles.8
However, most truffle oils sold in supermarkets and specialty stores are just made with olive oil and synthetic ingredients like 2,4-dithiapentane,9 which make them taste just like real truffle oil. Some oils may not even possess the actual taste of real truffles, but because they are more common, many people believe that their taste is authentic.10
If using the real whole food is not an option, I recommend using authentic truffle oil made with real ingredients so you can reap the benefits that they provide. When buying, read the labels carefully and watch out for terms like “truffle aroma," "essence" and "flavor." There may be dried truffle bits in the oil, but this is not a guarantee that the oil is authentic.11
3 Truffle Oil Uses in the Culinary World
If you do manage to get your hands on authentic truffle oil, then you must know how to use it efficiently so as to not let it go to waste. Truffle oil is used as a finishing oil rather than a cooking oil because it loses its flavor when it comes in contact with heat.12 Also, remember that it works best in dishes that contain fat such as olive oil, cheese and cream.13 Here are some of the best ways you can use truffle oil:
- Garnish eggs or pasta with a small amount of truffle oil.14
- Similar to olive oil, you can use truffle oil as a dipping oil for bread.15
- Boost dairy-based sauces like béchamel, and unflavored bases like mashed potatoes, polenta and risotto with a drizzle of truffle oil.16
Because of its strong flavor (especially if synthetic ingredients are used) truffle oil must be used sparingly to avoid overpowering the rest of the dish. For entrees or appetizers, a droplet is enough.17
How to Make Truffle-Infused Olive Oil
Truffle-Infused Olive Oil
Truffle oil’s aromatic flavor can easily amp up a dish with a light drizzle. While it’s best to use authentic oil so you can fully gain its benefits, you can create your own truffle-infused olive oil by following this recipe.
✓ 1 to 2 small white or black truffles
✓ 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Shave paper-thin slices of the truffles using a truffle slicer or mandoline. The smaller and thinner the truffle pieces, the stronger the flavor of the finished oil.
- Place the truffle slices in a small saucepan with the olive oil and warm gently over very low heat for an hour.
- Pour the mixture into a small, sterile jar. Close the jar, and then place it in the refrigerator for a week to infuse.
- After the oil has infused, pour it through a fine mesh strainer or layers of cheesecloth to remove the pieces of truffle.
- Pour the oil into a sterile bottle. Cap and store in the refrigerator for up to 30 days. Remember to take the oil out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before using.
(From “Infusing Flavors: Intense Infusions for Food and Drink: Recipes for Oils, Vinegars, Sauces, Bitters, Waters and More”18)
Note: This homemade truffle oil infusion must be refrigerated and used within 30 days, as this recipe will not preserve the truffles. This oxygen-free oil has a high risk of botulism,19 a rare but potentially fatal illness caused by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum,20 which can contaminate various food sources, including infused oil.21
Here’s a Truffle Oil Recipe That You Can Try
Fennel Salad With Walnuts and Truffle Oil
✓ 1 cup fennel, shaved or thinly sliced
✓ 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
✓ 1/2 teaspoon truffle oil
✓ 1 tablespoon walnuts
✓ 1 tablespoon goat cheese, crumbled
- Mix fennel, lemon juice and truffle oil in a large bowl. Add salt to taste.
- Sprinkle walnuts and goat cheese over the salad.
(From “Austin Chef's Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the Texas Capital”22)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Truffle Oil
Q: Where can I buy truffle oil?
A: Authentic truffle oil is available online and in specialty markets.23 Remember to be mindful with your choices, as an exorbitant price may not guarantee that the oil is made with real truffles. You should check the labels and note that “truffle aroma,” “essence” and “flavor” may imply that they’re synthetically flavored.
Q: How does truffle oil taste like?
A: Truffle oil, with its strong odor, has an earthy and pungent taste. Black truffle oil is less pungent, while white truffle oil has a garlicky taste.
Q: How could I use truffle oil?
A: Truffle oil may be used to garnish eggs and pasta, added as a flavoring in dairy-based sauces like béchamel and unflavored bases like mashed potatoes, polenta and risotto, or used as a dipping oil for bread.
Q: What is truffle oil made of?
A: Truffle oil is made with black or white truffles and extra-virgin olive oil. Some brands, although they are of the same price as the authentic ones, are made with synthetically flavored olive oil that mimic truffle oil’s flavors.
Q: Is truffle oil vegan?
A: Although truffle oil does not contain animal products, some people do not consider it vegan because pigs and dogs are used to locate and identify them. Veganism does not tolerate the use of any animal for any purpose.24,25