Ramblings of a Tampa engineer
"25 grams of pure pleasure." by pug freak is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

A week or so ago I ate at a semi fancy place downtown called Cena, and I noticed shaved truffle on a few of the menu items. I've seen truffle all over random YouTube videos claiming "most expensive burger" this and that. However, I never took the time to figure out why these things were so expensive and where they came from. So this post is that investigation.

To start off, a Truffle starts growing from the root of a tree in very specific areas and climates. They require such a unique balance of soil contents between pH (7.5 - 8.3), moisture and minerals (iron rich red limestone) that it makes the living conditions for these quite rare. [1]

So how do we find truffles in they are hidden beneath the ground in very unique places?

Photo by Pascal Debrunner / Unsplash

In early days, surprisingly enough pigs were used. They could sniff out the truffles and dig them up. Unfortunately they weren't they most delicate creature, more than likely destroying the roots of the tree with their snouts and of course eating them. They did this as the small little truffles contain a substance that is also created in the testes of boars, thus driving them to find them and eat them.

As time evolved, dogs started to fill this role. Trained to sniff out and begin the dig site for where the truffle rest below. They could be trained much easier than pigs and were much easier to work with for finding truffles. The video below (2min) shows dogs in hunt smelling for truffles.

Though, I want to take a step back and look at this at the biology level, because I'm still confused.

It seems the truffle engages in this crazy word of mycorrhizal symbiosis [3], which is a type of mutual association between truffle fungus and tree roots.  It appears a tree with tiny roots cannot absorb the amount of minerals that a large fungal truffle can. This means the attached truffle can share obtained minerals with the host. What is interesting about this is the truffle could theoretically not share with the host, but it depends on energy from the host (tree roots) in order to grow.

That is mycorrhizal fungi in a nut-shell. A mutual relationship between parasite and host in order for both to benefit without harming each other. The only thing that harms this relationship is pigs destroying the truffles and tree roots with its snout.

Black Truffle - Cena Tampa - All Rights to them

So the next time you pass a dish and see little shaved truffles. Imagine the work and time that goes into finding and/or growing one of those.


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