Why the white truffle you're eating is probably fake

They look like potatoes, smell earthy, and at their peak, have a flavor faintly reminiscent of garlic. They also consistently rank among the most expensive ingredients in the world and there's a reason for that. Alba's white truffle, or the tuber magnatum pico, can only be found in one corner of northern Italy's Alba region, as well as in the neighboring Asti region, and can only be found between September and January (via The Wall Street Journal). 

But why are Alba's white truffles, which are considered by gourmets to be the "diamonds of gastronomy," so far and few between? They are impossible to cultivate, making them rare; getting an area truffle-ready could take anywhere between 10 to 20 years (via Di Bruno Bros). White truffles are fickle, CNBC explains their growth patterns are affected by the weather and the climate during a particular season.

Then there is the fact that white truffles are incredibly difficult to find. One New York truffle broker tells CNBC that he keeps in touch with as many as 18,000 truffle hunters and brokers just to keep up with demand, and even then, "Truffle Hunters are not going to find pounds and pounds. Each one can find just a few ounces," Vittorio Giordano of Urbani Truffle USA says. This makes sense as to why restaurants and food retailers will use imitation truffle.

White Truffles also decay quickly

There is also the challenge of getting white truffles to their culinary destination as quickly as possible, because as The Wall Street Journal points out, white truffles decay rather quickly, and they begin to taste and smell in an unpleasant manner a week after they are taken away from their homes. Once that happens, there is no turning back. Paolo Staccini, a truffle judge for Alba's truffle fair says: "You can't correct the taste of a truffle like you can with wine. Once you take the truffle out of the ground, that's it." 

All this should explain why Alba truffles can cost between $2,000 to $4,000 per pound — a fresh 40 gram or 1.4 ounce piece of white truffle from Piedmonte's TartufLanghe store will currently set you back about $152. Anything and everything that costs less is proof of the maxim that if something is too good to be true, it definitely is, particularly where the Alba white truffle is concerned.