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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Truffle Oil

bloombergA tiny treasure: about $40 worth of truffles, fresh from the ground.
If you think a reasonably priced dish infused with truffle oil is too good to be true, you're probably right. Much of what chefs add to dishes as "truffle oil" actually doesn't come from real truffles.

Real truffle oil is olive oil infused with morsels of white or black truffles. France and Italy are the primary sources of truffles, a rare type of underground fungus. Up until the 20th century, truffle oil was used only in traditional French and Italian cuisine, but both the taste and the rarity of truffles have led to broader demand for truffle flavor. Now, restaurants all over the world add it to various dishes.

The majority of truffle oil, however, is made artificially by mixing olive oil with synthetic compounds. The 2,4 dithiapentan compound is most frequently used to give oil a truffle aroma.

Marco Zampieri, the Tuscan head chef at Cantinetta Antinori restaurant, said he used real truffles during truffle season. When truffles are not in season, Zampieri does occasionally use truffle oil, but he does not like that much of the product is chemically manufactured.

"It's 80 percent chemicals," Zampieri said. "But if we were to use the real thing, the dishes would be very expensive. I try to use as little of it as possible."

Zampieri said truffle-flavored dishes were very popular among his Russian customers and that he thought it had as much to do with taste as the status associated with the delicacy.

The chefs at Palazzo Ducale say they use natural truffle oil to give a dish its truffle flavor, but they charge accordingly. The prices vary seasonally with the fluctuations in the availability and cost of truffles. Palazzo Ducale is now hosting a seasonal truffle festival, with the possibility of ordering truffle as an addition to any dish on the menu -- at 390 rubles per gram of white truffle or 160 rubles per gram of black truffle.

Another Italian restaurant, Sorrento, flavors pasta dishes and mushroom soup with what the staff said was real truffle oil; each dish costs around 400 rubles.