In spite of the fact that truffles are truly a tasty treat, there are several other reasons why you should be eating it, the most important of all being the health benefits it offers. Truffles are round and irregular shaped fruiting bodies of a subterranean fungus group known as Ascomycete. Coming from the fungus group, they are found growing around the roots of certain trees such as chestnut, oak, hazel and beech trees. Some of the truffles are edible and they are considered to be a highly valued food item. In fact truffles happen to the one of the most expensive natural foods in the world. They are used in many cuisines of the world such as Greek, Italian, French, Middle Eastern, Spanish and international haute cuisine. There are over 100 varieties of truffles but the most commonly used edible truffles include the Italian white truffles, the French black truffles, the Summer truffles and the Chinese truffles.
Nutritional value of truffles
Truffles were once considered to be of no nutritional value and were used in cooking just to impart flavor and aroma to the dishes. However, studies have shown that they are highly nutritious and can offer you with numerous health benefits. Truffles are made up 73% water and are high in protein content. They are low in fat and are totally free of cholesterol. They contain many nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Calcium, potassium phosphorus, iron and magnesium are some of the minerals that are found in high amounts in this fungus. Truffles are a good source of vitamin K, vitamin D and B group vitamins like riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5).
In spite of the name, truffle oils that are commonly available in markets are not actually made from truffles. It is in fact a synthetic product that is a combination of 2, 4-Dithiapentane (thioether) and olive oil. Thioether is one of the many odorants found in truffles. Truffle oil is easily available in all seasons and is quite a favorite of many chefs as it is much less expensive when compared to actual truffles, and it adds the same flavors and fragrance of truffles. However real truffle oil, which is made by infusing grapeseed oil or olive oil with pieces of actual truffle is also available, but is usually very costly. Truffle oil is used mainly as finishing oil rather than cooking oil. Drizzle this oil over salads, risottos and soups and you get a wonderful taste and aroma of truffles. Since it is expensive and has a strong aroma, truffle oil should be used sparingly. Similar to all other kinds of oils, truffle oil should also be kept away from heat and light.
Health benefits of truffle
Throughout the history of mankind, fungi have been considered as nutritious and functional foods that help in improving the overall health and in preventing many ailments. Here are some of the health benefits that you can get by eating truffles:
Truffles are low in fat
Truffles are extremely healthy as they are very low in fat content. It is an ideal food option for people who are concerned about their fat intake. Dried truffles are even lower in fat content (two to eight percentage), which is mostly made up of crude fat and lipid compounds such as glycerides phospholipids, sterols, linoleic acid and other fatty acids.
Truffles are cholesterol-free
One of the most important health benefits of eating truffles is that they are absolutely free from cholesterol. Cholesterol has been considered to be one of the main culprits of heart diseases and many other ailments. For those who have a high risk of heart attack or stroke, it would be a good idea to consume foods such as truffles that have no cholesterol content. This will help in lowering the total cholesterol levels and in protecting against health problems caused by the accumulation of cholesterol in the blood stream.
Truffles are a rich source of protein
As mentioned above in the nutritional properties, truffles are high in protein content. In fact a single serving of these fungi can provide you with protein content in the range of 20 to 30 percent. In addition to being a great source of protein, truffles are also high in all the essential amino acids needed to maintain proper health. The high protein content makes truffles an ideal protein source for people who do not eat meat.
Truffles are a good source of carbohydrates
Although truffles do not contain high amounts of carbohydrates when compared to other vegetables, they do provide moderate amounts of carbohydrates. Mushrooms and truffles are mainly composed of carbohydrates that contain fungus cellulose known as glycogen and chitin. Truffles are low glycemic index foods, which mean that they do not cause significant spikes in the blood glucose levels. As such, they are safe for people suffering from diabetes.
Truffles have aphrodisiac properties
Truffles are considered to be one of the best aphrodisiacs ever since ancient times. The scent of this fungus is very much similar to the male pheromone androstenone, which is probably why truffles are considered to be effective as an aphrodisiac. However, its aroma is not the only factor that contributes to the aphrodisiac properties of truffles. Studies are going on so as to find out whether their high protein content and amino acids has any significance in contributing the aphrodisiac attributes of these fungi.
Truffles for depression
Truffles have been found to be beneficial in the development of drugs for depression. A new polyhydroxy sterol glycoside known as tuberoside has been obtained from the truffles along with four ergostanes. These are compounds are considered to be precursors of steroid hormones or structural elements of cellular biomembranes.
Other medicinal properties of truffles
Truffles are considered to be effective in preventing dementia, improving immunity, preventing early aging, preventing atherosclerosis and cancer.
Culinary use of truffles
Because of the strong aroma and high price of truffles, they are used very sparingly in cooking. They are available in the fresh as well as preserved forms. Truffles are added to certain types of specialty cheeses. White truffles, the most expensive types are usually served uncooked. Shavings of white truffle are added over salads or pasta. Sometimes truffles are cut paper-thin and inserted into meats before roasting. They are also used in stuffing and in foie gras preparations. The flavor and aroma of black truffles is more refined and less intense than that of white truffles. They are usually sliced and cooked over low heat. Truffle oil is generally used as a less expensive substitute for truffles to impart the flavor and aroma of truffles in dishes. However as mentioned earlier, most truffle oil contains a chemical substance that gives the fragrance of truffles instead of actual truffles.
Storage and handling of truffles
Since fresh truffles have a very strong aroma, the fragrance fills the room when they are exposed to air. Truffles should be kept wrapped in a paper towel or stored in an air tight container, as prolonged exposure to air will reduce the intensity of the aroma. It is better to change the paper towel daily since it is important that the truffles stay dry. Even a small amount of moisture or dampness is likely to lead to the development of moulds on the truffle. In case moulds are formed, shave off the affected area.
White truffles will last for about five days to a week after harvesting. So it is better to consume them within this period. If the truffles are store bought, then they should be consumed within three days of purchasing. Black truffles and summer truffles will keep fresh for up to ten days if they are stored in a dry and cool place. Although storing fresh truffles in the refrigerator helps them to last longer, it is better to consume them as early as possible because the aroma and taste start to deteriorate on storing.
Before using the truffles in cooking, make sure to remove all the soil and dirt on them. This can be done by cleaning them with a moist brush. If you are peeling the outer layer of the truffle, do not throw away the rind as it can be combined with oil to make sauce or dressing. This truffle oil should be used within one or two days. Leftover pieces of truffles can be mixed with butter and stored in the freezer, which will last for several months.
Truffles have a strong penetrating smell and a very interesting fact about them is that they are found with the help of pigs and trained dogs that can locate the smell underground. Dogs are preferred more because pigs like to eat the truffles. The earthy taste and intense aroma of this fungus cannot be put into words – it’s something one must really experience! It’s been said that the enticing smell and taste of truffles once experienced can never be forgotten. Popular all around the world as the “White Diamond”, “Black Diamond”, “Black Pearl”, and several other names, truffles are beyond doubt one of the wonderful miracles that nature provides us.Image Credits: Pixabay, Wikimedia - Adrian Pingstone