Most truffle oil producers are more secretive about their methods than champion barbeque pit masters, but here’s what is known to be true:
The idea behind truffle oil is to enable people to enjoy truffle flavor without actually using fresh truffles. There are two reasons for this: A) truffles are rare, and B) actually infusing truffles into oil doesn’t provide reliably potent results.
A few truffle oils, like our Organic White Truffle Oil, DO contain truffles, but they are only tiny pieces included with the oil for (frankly) labeling and mystique reasons. They don’t actually give the oil its flavor.
Because of this, the majority of truffle oil on the market today (if not all truffle oil) is produced using laboratories. Don’t immediately assume that’s a bad thing, let us explain.
Molecular Gastronomy – Building a Truffle
If you were to use a bunch of expensive lab equipment on a fresh truffle to map out the flavor and aroma components that make truffles smell and taste like truffles, you’d end up with several identified compounds (the most well known is 2,4-dithiapentane). For the purposes of maintaining your sanity, we’ll say that number is four and call them A, B, C and D.
A + B + C + D = Truffles!
The key is that though this specific combination of compounds in nature is unique to truffles, individually those compounds can also be found elsewhere. With skill and the right equipment, one can harvest them from other things and combine them to make truffle identical essence/aroma. This is what the labs do in truffle oil production.
Once the truffle essence/aroma has been made, it must then be carefully infused into the oil. Different producers use different oils. Olive oil is traditional (and the most widely used). We aren’t big fans of extra virgin oil, as it can compete with the truffle flavor. High quality, but neutral olive oil bases are what we recommend, or sunflower oil, which has a completely neutral flavor and the added benefit of being cheaper than olive oil.
Chemical Truffle Oil vs. All Natural Truffle Oil
Although as we’ve demonstrated above truffle oil is by its very nature a manufactured product, the key distinction lies in where those puzzle-piece-compounds come from.
All Natural Truffle Oil (<20% of all Truffle Oils)
Artificial/Chemical Truffle Oil (~80% of all Truffle Oils)
How Can You Tell Which is Which?
The good news is that we’ve just started offering all natural black truffle oil, all natural white truffle oil, and all natural white truffle sunflower oil. And at this point, we are merely relying on the promises of our suppliers, since we have no way of verifying. We’ve tried to be as clear as possible in the product descriptions to help you make an informed choice. We’ve also published a full truffle oil tasting guide using information passed on to us by an expert buyer in the field, to help you judge for yourself.
You can also contact us with any questions about our truffle oil products…we’ll answer to the best of our ability based on tasting experience and what information the manufacturers have given us.
For more reading about truffle oil creation, we recommend Daniel Patterson’s excellent NYTimes Story “Hocus-Pocus, and a Beaker of Truffles”.
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