The Real Reason Truffles Became More Common

Unlike chocolate truffles, the truffles we're talking about are fungi that grow underground. Being a rustic ingredient, truffles used to be exclusive to culinary circles but are becoming more popular among regular consumers. Nevertheless, they're pretty tricky to grow because they require moist, subterranean, woodland conditions (via Britannica). These round, bite-sized fungi emit scents hoping to attract creatures that will dig them up and spread their spores. That's why foragers typically rely on canines and swine to help them find the truffles, but those with an expert eye know to look for certain cracks in the soil or nearby yellow flies. Fortunately, species of truffle grow on almost every continent, so nearly everyone can get in on the fun. Considering the price tag — the world's priciest food, per National Wildlife Federation — you might think they'd be nearly impossible to find, but you'd be wrong.

Truffles have a nutty, oaky, mushroom-like flavor, but are also juicy, savory, and sweet according to Caviar Star. So does their distinctive taste alone explain why truffles are so highly sought after?

Supply, demand, and workarounds

Truffles' apparent exclusivity is also part of the reason these fungi remain in such high demand. According to The Takeout, when prices are high, the perception that they're a delicacy is reinforced. Then, if market conditions make truffles more affordable, consumers seize the opportunity to try them. Now, truffles can be found in everything from entrées at fancy restaurants to snacks like French fries and pizza. 

For example, a particularly good harvest of Italian white truffles in 2015 led to high supply and low prices, as reported by Nation's Restaurant News. This made the demand mushroom in size (although truffles aren't 'shrooms), and five-star establishments then started featuring the fungus in their dishes. Unfortunately for customers, as recently as 2021, a scarcity of white truffles pushed the price back up, to roughly $4,500 per pound (via Robb Report). Yet their popularity seems to have endured.

One factor that may be contributing to the seeming ubiquity of truffles is the fact that many truffle-based products aren't exactly full of the fungus. Products often use other ingredients to pad out the recipe and add only a dash of truffle to give it that distinctive flavor. Sometimes, replacement ingredients are used to make the taste just convincing enough according to The Takeout. So the next time you see a cheap food item that claims to contain truffles, do a little digging first.