Monday, May 21, 2007

The Distrubing Truth about Truffle Oils

"I can't taste the potion!", originally uploaded by oatmeal2000.

Well, you might be able to taste that potion, but it's not the real thing: Apparently, the truffle oils in the market have very little to do with truffles. They are made of olive oil "infused" with 2,4-dithiapentane, according to Daniel Patterson's article in the New York Times.

If you find this puzzling and unsettling, you are not alone. Truffle oil was mentioned many times in Daniel Patterson's and Mandy Aftel's book Aroma (about using essential oils in the kitchen, which included recipes for both food and perfumes). I am sure it took a lot of guts as well as a good healthy dose of honesty, modesty and integrity for Patterson to publish this article. After all, he wrote the above mentioned book, with a whole chapter dedicated to recipes using truffle oils (p. 134-139).

I felt very awkward about this discovery. I have just published here a couple of recipes of my own using truffle oils. I am going to need to "take them back" in the sense that I cannot stand behind this material as a natural one (unless you choose to infuse the truffles yourself, which is what I am planning on doing from now on for my personal use).

This got to show us how deep the aroma chemical industry has penetrated our culture. We can't even know for sure if what we use in our food is natural or not?!

The truffle oil I got was not particularly cheap either, at $16.95 per a 1.8oz (55ml) bottle. There is a slight difference in the labeling between the white and the black ones though:

Black Truffle Oil is called "Fine Olive Oil with Black Winter Truffle Essences" and the ingredients lists "Olive oil, black winter truffles aroma (Tuber Melanosporum vitt)."

The White Truffle Oil is labeled similarly as "Fine Olive Oil with White Truffle Oil" yet the ingredients do not specify the Latin name of the species. It reads "Olive oil, white truffless aroma".

Above the ingredient list for each of the bottles, they say "Olive Oil Infused with Black/White Truffles", which to me would imply that the truffles were steeped in the oil to infuse it with their aroma... According to Patterson, this is a lie and a true truffle oil is not available. It is simply olive oil "infused" with man-made aromachemicals.
Both oils that I have were made in Italy, and the brand is URBANI TARTUFI.

We are getting deeper into issues of truth in labeling, and the ability of consumers to make a truly informed decisions about what they spend their money on, what they put into their food, and what enters their bodies. In a time where perfume manufacturers are required to list all suspected allergens on the packaging, it is more than alarming that the same standards would not go the other way - making clear labeling when the flavour materials are in fact completely synthetic!

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