Why Truffles Don't Taste Like Truffle Oil

If you've ever wondered how your neighborhood bar can afford to have truffle fries on their menu, the short answer is they can't. Well, they can't afford real truffles, but they can afford to sprinkle truffle oil on there. 

Truffles are difficult to source and come at a high price point, so in the 1970s, food scientists attempted to artificially replicate the flavor in the form of a chemical called 2,4-dithiapentane (via Reader's Digest). This chemical gives truffle oil and other truffle products its flavor, so if you've only had truffle oil, you've never tasted a real truffle.

If you've watched food competition shows, you probably associate truffle oil with the judges freaking out when a contestant reaches for it, and they do so for good reason. On "MasterChef" (via TastingTable), Gordon Ramsay scolded a competitor for using truffle oil and said it's "one of the most pungent, ridiculous ingredients ever known to a chef." The pungent flavor of truffle oil is now widely associated with real truffles, which is understandable because of the misleading nature of its name — but to chefs, it's a disservice to the natural ingredient.

Truffles are much more subtle

Cheaper, fake versions of ingredients are hardly a new concept in the food world (looking at you, imitation crab), but chefs like Ken Frank, host chef of the Napa Truffle Festival, don't hate on truffle oil for existing. Instead, they dislike how it changes diner's expectations. 

According to the Napa Truffle Festival's official website, truffle oil has a strong, one-dimensional flavor, while truffles have subtle, complex aromas and flavors. Toscana Divino, a restaurant in Miami with a six-course truffle tasting menu, details the flavor profiles of black and white truffles on their official website. They explain that black truffles have a chocolatey, nutty, earthy, and slightly woody flavor, while white truffles have a slight garlicky flavor and deep musky aroma.

When Felicia LaLomia, a food & culture editor for Delish, tried black truffles shaved onto a dish for the first time, she explained that she didn't detect the earthy taste that she was expecting. She was frustrated to learn that truffle oil contained no actual truffles, which is what she was basing her expectations on. If you ever have the opportunity to try fresh truffles, try to erase all memories of truffle oil and focus on appreciating the complexity. Regardless of it straying pretty far from the real flavor, truffle oil still gives us a fake sense of luxury, so if you like it, who cares if it's fake.