The white truffle, scientific name Tuber magnatum, has been described for the first time in 1788 by Pico. He named it after the Latin word magnatus, which means lord or very important noble.
White truffle mushroom is found in great numbers in Italy, especially in the rural areas around the towns of Asti and Alba. However, they are also common in the Piermont region of northern Italy, in areas like Langhe and Montferratareas. The most famous annual white truffle festival in Italy actually takes place further south, in the city of Acqualagna near Urbino, located in the northern part of the Marche province.
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White truffles can also be harvested from the hills surrounding the Tuscany city of San Miniato, as well as in Abruzzo or Molise. Outside Italy, white truffles grow in the Drome area in France. They are found in former Yugoslavia as well, in the valleys of Dragonja and Rizana rivers in Slovenia and in the Motovun forest along the Mirna River in Croatia.
White truffles are usually small but can grow up to a weight of 500 g and a diameter of 12 cm in exceptional cases. They mature during the autumn and live in a symbiotic relationship with oaks, poplars, beech and hazel trees. The flesh is light cream or brown in color, with a distinctive white marbling pattern. Of all white truffles, the ones from Italy are considered to have the best quality and are the most expensive. During October and November the traditional fair Fiera del Tartufo takes place in the town of Alba and the local market becomes very active.
There are many truffle varieties but the white ones from the Piedmont region are said to have the best aroma. The distinctive smell that doesn't resemble the one of a normal mushroom can be released if a truffle is cut in half. Professional truffle hunters use pigs or dogs that can detect their smell no matter how deep they are buried underground, due to their very sensitive nose.
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Truffles are mushrooms that consist of two parts. The main part is actually invisible and acts as a root system for the species. The second is the fruiting body that can be harvested and consumed.
The fruiting season is not the same for all truffles and depends on the species. These mushrooms also live at variable depths, from 4 to 16 inches, and can have various sizes. Some are rather symmetrical, while others have a very irregular shape. The flesh is always soft but the skin can be either smooth or rough.
One of the reasons why truffles are so rare and expensive is that they can only grow in very special conditions. The environment has a major influence on their development, while their taste also depends on the local conditions.
White truffle mushrooms enjoy dense forests with a mixture of trees. While every species has its own distinctive requirements of weather and soil, they all need a number of common conditions. The undergrowth must be limited and the soil has to be humid, so they are usually found near streams and footpaths but also under species like pines or poplars.
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Fresh white truffles bought from markets are usually dirty. In order to clean them, place the fruiting bodies under a stream of running water and use a toothbrush or another small brush to gently remove any dirt. When fresh, truffles are still alive and taste best. They will dehydrate fast, losing at least 1-2% of their initial weight every day. The scent is also lost this way, so consume them as quickly as possible.
If you have to store truffles or parts of them, use a dry paper towel to wrap them up. Replace the towel every day in order to keep them fresh for longer. For even longer storage, keep them at 39-46 degrees Fahrenheit in a tightly closed glass jar. This temperature is usually found in the warmest corner of the refrigerator. However, even with these efforts, fresh white truffles will only have a limited shelf life. Black truffles can be stored for a maximum of two weeks, while white ones won't last longer than one week in the fridge.
Fungi are one of the earliest human food sources and well-known for their nutritional qualities. Even when people were not aware of their medicinal benefits, truffles were considered a healthy food.
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The extremely low fat content in white truffles makes them a great choice for people who are on a diet or are concerned about their weight. In dried form, truffles are even healthier and only include between 2 and 8 percent of fats. In addition, these are mostly healthy compounds: fatty acids like linoleic acid, crude fat and lipid compounds such as glycerides, sterols or phospholipids.
There is no cholesterol at all in truffles, which makes them an even smarter nutritional option. Modern scientists have identified cholesterol as one of the most dangerous compounds for human health, responsible for many serious diseases such as heart problems. Foods without cholesterol are recommended for people who have a history of heart issues and risk strokes or heart attacks. Cholesterol can clog arteries by accumulating in the blood stream, so decreasing its total level has a very beneficial effect on your health.
White truffle mushrooms are extremely rich in proteins, with a total content of around 20 or 30 percent. This is very unusual for a fungus. In addition, many of the essential amino acids that are critical for a proper metabolism are found in large amounts in truffles and can quickly boost your health. People who don't eat meat usually have a hard time sourcing enough proteins in their diet.
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The amount of carbohydrates in truffles is a moderate one, without the very high dose usually found in vegetables and fruits. They have content similar to other mushrooms and the carbohydrates in their composition consist of glycogen and chitin, which are two types of fungus cellulose. Since they are not rich in carbohydrates, white truffles don't cause important blood glucose spikes and are classified as foods with a low glycemic index. People who suffer from diabetes can consume them without any issues.
Even in ancient civilizations, white truffles were considered to be one of the most effective aphrodisiacs. The main cause for this effect is their smell. The scent of truffles not only resembles the one of animal hormones, but also the human male pheromone androstenone. Scientists suspect however that other factors influence its aphrodisiac properties as well. It is possible that the richness in proteins and amino acids is also very important, a theory that is currently being investigated in several serious research studies.
Companies that produce drugs against depression have also discovered benefits of truffles. Researchers have identified four ergostanes in their composition, as well as tuberoside, which is a new and exciting polyhydroxy sterol glycoside. These chemicals later evolve into steroid hormones or support cellular biomembranes as part of their structural elements.
White truffles are used only in small amounts, not only because of their high cost but also due to the very strong taste. They can be acquired either fresh or preserved in a solution with a low amount of salt.
The powerful aroma of white truffles makes them very tasty when consumed raw. Chefs usually shave a small amount on dished such as salads, pastas or eggs. Very small slices, as thin as a sheet of paper, can be served as part of meat dishes. They are added to foie gras, roasted birds, as part of stuffings or in pates. Truffle skins are used to prepare a sauce that is traditional in some Swiss restaurants.
For a long time, it was a common practice to remove the peel of truffles and only eat their flesh. However, due to their very high cost, modern restaurants also use the skin after carefully brushing it in order to remove dirt. As already mentioned, the skins themselves are used for certain local recipes.
Due to their rarity, white truffles are among the most expensive cooking ingredients available on the market. They are used sparingly, as a precious appetizer and gourmet ingredient.
These delicate mushrooms have the best taste in raw form but can be cooked as well. They are also available as juice, essence, concentrate or funet. Truffles pair very well with pastas, salads, eggs, sauces, rice or stuffed recipes. A few thin slices can really improve the taste of meat dishes, such as the traditional Christmas turkey. No more than a few pieces are required, due to their very pungent flavour.
The best habitat for white truffles is forests located in alluvial plains with good drainage. They enjoy porous soils based on limestone and dense shaded woods where there are not very high differences in temperature. Microclimates that include a short dry season are the best for Tuber magnatum, especially areas with very rich vegetation. In order to develop properly, they need rain during the months of July and August. The harvest season depends on the region but is very short, during the months of September and November. Italian white truffles can't be cultivated and are associated in the wild with oaks, lindens, poplars, willows and hazels.
It was believed for a long time that white truffles are only useful for their aroma and have no actual nutritional value to speak of. Modern studies have changed this view and it is known today that white truffles are excellent for health and provide many nutrients. Their main components are water (up to 73%) and proteins. They contain no cholesterol and the overall amount of fats is very low. They are very rich in minerals and include high amounts of phosphorus, iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium, all of them essential for human health. White truffles also supply B group vitamins like riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), as well as vitamins D and K.
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