The very word “truffle” brings to mind luxurious meals and fine dining. Black truffles and truffle oils are very common to find on high-end dining menus and are regarded as a delicacy in the culinary world. How much do you really know about truffles, though?
I guess we should start by answering the most pressing question. Namely, “Are truffles vegan?”
Truffles are 100% vegan! They are a type of fungi that’s very similar to mushrooms, which are generally considered plant-based food.
Although fungi aren’t exactly “plants,” they’re regularly consumed as plants and don’t have a nervous system or any type of sentience that would make eating them unethical.
So go ahead, the next time you find yourself being offered a truffle, do yourself a favor and take it!
There’s just one problem… Truffles are a little bit expensive and are somewhat hard to find. As such, they’re usually reserved for the realm of fine dining, where they go for top-dollar.
In today’s post, I’m going to answer some of the most relevant questions that I’ve been seeing about truffles and clear up the mystery behind this ancient fungus. I’ll also clarify the difference between truffles and chocolate truffles, so you can tell the two apart!
Are you ready to learn some more about fungi?
Are Truffles an Animal Product?
It’s easy to understand why some people would think that truffles would be an animal product. When they’re seasoned and lightly cooked, they have a very similar consistency and texture to real meat. They also release scents that are very savory, umami-centered, and similar to what you’d smell if you were eating real meat.
This is one of the reasons why mushrooms are so commonly used to make plant-based burgers. Mushrooms are a great source of nutrients, antioxidants, and trace minerals that can only be obtained from the soil.
They’re also a great source of natural plant-based fiber and protein! I regularly eat mushrooms as a meat substitute. One of my favorite plant-based meals is mushroom and veggie stir-fry over steamed rice. With a bit of my favorite soy sauce, it’s just as savory and fulfilling as meat-based stir-fry.
All of that being said, truffles are NOT an animal product. They’re a fungus that grows naturally underground, making them far more similar to plants than animals.
The only animals that are involved in truffles are the dogs and pigs that are often employed to find them. Since truffles grow underground, they’re almost impossible to see from the surface of the ground.
Both pigs and dogs have powerful noses and can smell the truffles underground. They’re naturally attracted to the scent of truffles as they produce a scent that’s similar to mammalian sex hormones!
The animals used on truffle farms are treated with dignity and respect, though. It’s not like the meat industry, where animals are seen as pure meat and slaughtered. These pigs and dogs are specially trained and rewarded for helping farmers find wild-growing truffles!
Check out this truffle dog in action:
Are Truffles Animal Poop?
One of the most ridiculous (although understandable) questions I’ve heard some vegans mention about truffles is that they’re “animal poop.”
I admit they do look a little bit like animal droppings. However, they smell nothing like feces.
One of the most common mistakes that I’ve seen dog owners make is that they correct their dogs for eating “dog poop” on the ground, when the dog was really just eating all-natural truffles they dug up!
To reemphasize, truffles are 100% organic, don’t come from animals, and are actually quite healthy.
Are Chocolate Truffles Vegan?
Chocolate truffles are often confused with real truffles since they share the same name. To be fair, chocolate truffles were named after real truffles, since they share a similar shape, are dark on the outside, and are filled with deliciousness.
However, chocolate truffles are pure candy that isn’t made with the slightest bit of mushroom or truffle extract. Real truffles, on the other hand, are pure organic fungus that grows underground.
Chocolate truffles are that delicious little fruit, nut, and cream-filled chocolates that you’ll see on sale during the holidays and Valentine’s day.
Unfortunately, many chocolate truffles are not vegan. The majority of chocolate truffles are made with milk chocolate (which contains dairy) and white sugar (which is filtered through animal bone char).
Additionally, chocolate truffles may use dairy-derived ingredients to make the creamy filling at their center.
I’m sure there are some vegan-friendly chocolate truffles for sale, I just haven’t found any. It also doesn’t help that most chocolate truffles are sold in a variety pack, which makes it nearly impossible to tell what’s inside the truffle until you actually bite into it.
If you’re a vegan, it’s best to avoid chocolate truffles and stick to pure dark chocolate or other vegan-friendly treats.
Where Do Truffles Come From?
Truffles have been eaten for thousands of years. In fact, the earliest reference to truffles was by the ancient Sumerians. Stone tablets recording observations of an enemy nation, the Amorites, reveal that humans were consuming truffles as far back as 4,000 years!
That’s just based on historical records. It’s very likely that truffles, along with mushrooms, have been eaten by humans since the early days of the first hunter-gatherers.
How Do Truffles Reproduce?
Truffles are fungi. Like all fungi, truffles reproduce using spores. The process is relatively simple. Male and female spores mate (in a process similar to pollination) and form roots. The ensuing fungi feed on decaying plant and animal matter found in the soil.
Once the truffles are full-grown, they release their own spores and continue the process.
Another way that truffles reproduce and spread is when they’re eaten by animals. The spores often survive the digestive process and reproduce after they “exit” the body. This is also another reason behind the “truffles are animal poop” misconception!
Unfortunately, not much more is known about truffle reproduction and exactly how spores mate with each other. They only know that male spores have slightly different DNA than female spores.
Why Do Truffles Taste So Good?
There’s a reason why truffles have been considered a delicacy for thousands of years. Simply put, they taste great!
They have a rich, savory, earthy flavor that makes them quite unlike any other plant you’ll find. Some species of culinary mushrooms might be similar, but truffles are still distinct.
So, what makes truffles taste so good?
Here’s where it gets even more interesting… Truffles release a scent that mimics certain mammalian sex hormones; specifically male sex hormones.
This is why female dogs and pigs are most commonly trained as truffle-finding animals! The females are naturally attracted to the reproductive hormones of their male counterparts, which leads their trainers straight to the truffles.
Apparently, these scents aren’t just limited to dogs and pigs, though.
Humans (females, in particular) are very attracted to the scent of truffles for the same reason. This is why they’ve been historically regarded as an aphrodisiac!
Are Truffles Healthy? Benefits of Fungi
Truffles are not only delicious; they’re also incredibly healthy! Here are some of the top health benefits of truffles:
|Health Benefits of Truffles||Why It Matters|
|Great source of plant-based protein.||Truffles are made up of 20-30% protein, which means that they have more protein than most vegetables. |
While they’re expensive, they are very nutritious! Some studies also indicate that truffles are a complete protein that contains all nine of the essential amino acids our body needs.
|Rich in fatty acids.||Truffles are a great source of plant-based fatty acids. These support healthy bone and joint health and can alleviate inflammation.|
|Can help kill cancer cells.||It’s unknown exactly why, but several studies have shown that truffles can reduce or eliminate the presence of cancerous cells in the colon.|
Conclusion – Truffles Are a Plant-Based Delicacy
Truffles are 100% vegan and are a delicious, nutritious way to get the essential amino acids, protein, fatty acids, and trace minerals that your body needs to thrive. If you can afford them, then I definitely recommend giving them a try!
On the other hand, if you’re looking for some more affordable sources of plant-based protein, be sure to check out my list of the best vegan protein sources next!