On Truffle Oil

Priceonomics, "The Truffle Oil Shuffle":

The truffle stands in stark contrast to the convenience-biased trends of the late 20th century that allowed wealthy consumers to buy fruits and vegetables during any season and filled bread with enough preservatives that it lasts weeks. Admirers contend that the truffle begins to lose its flavor as soon as it is pulled from the ground, and fresh truffle season really only lasts a season. The rarity and temporality of truffles have made them -- at €4,400 to €11,000 per pound for Italy’s prized white truffles -- the most expensive food in the world. In 2007, a Macau casino owner set a record by paying $330,000 for a 3.3 pound truffle unearthed in Tuscany. The combination of these two trends -- the desire for a convenient, ever-ready supply of an ingredient and a hunger for the traditional, the rare, and “real food” -- led to what would seem to be a remarkably successful scam on foodie culture: truffle oil. Despite the name, almost all truffle oil does not contain even trace amounts of truffle; it is olive oil mixed with 2,4-dithiapentane, a compound that makes up part of the smell of truffles and is as artificial and associated with a laboratory as Californian food is associated with local and organic ingredients. Essentially, truffle oil is olive oil plus truffles’ “disconcerting” smell. In some ways, chefs’ embrace of cheap, artificial truffle oil represents the absurdity of believing that any food is worth thousands of dollars per pound. It also demonstrates that truffles are so amazing -- or at least unusual and prized -- that prestigious chefs fell for the con like sinners buying absolutions from swindler priests. Seems that every celebrity chef that I know avoids truffle oil like the plague, precisely because it bears no resemblance to actual truffles. Truffle oil is an artificial, synthetic product. (via The Loop)