The Properties and Allure of the Mystical Truffle
The appeal of truffles is undeniable. These mysterious mushrooms are as elusive as they are captivating, hunted in the foggy mornings, as trufficulteurs delve deeply into the dark forest in the silence of the frosty winter dawns. There is something unquestionably exotic and seductive about the truffle, and for many centuries – and even today- it was attributed aphrodisiac qualities. In the highest of social circles, gourmet truffles were highly coveted and consumed to enhance the amorous experience; even the great Napoleon submitted its sensuous charms, as well as the infamous Marquis de Sade, who fed it to his paramours to entice them into the throes of passion. In Renaissance Italy, it was rumored that Lucrezia Borgia and Catarina de Medici were downright addicted to the victual. The famed gastronome Brillat Savarin declared that “the truffle is not exactly an aphrodisiac, but it tends to make women more tender and men more likeable”, no small feat considering we’re talking about a lumpy little mushroom. Indeed, this euphemism is almost whimsical, if one considers other Frenchmen will come right out and liken the heady musky aroma of truffles to the scent of an amorous woman.
These days, science has helped shed some light (albeit if somewhat diminishing the mystique) over the intensely erotic status of gourmet truffles, which also helps explain why traditionally boars have been the man’s best friend in the search of truffles. Truffles contain alpha-androstenol, the equivalent of boar’s pheromones, which appears to attract the animal to the mushroom, indicating truffle-hunters as to the location (today the weight of the boar limits its use in modern trufficulture, so highly-trained dogs are used). Pheromones are also found in humans – our bodies release them during perspiration, contributing to the musky scent of body odor, and are intricately related to physical attraction and arousal, thereby explaining somewhat the truffle’s erotic reputation. However magical and sensual, the truffle has other positive, even therapeutic characteristics. It is very nutritious, and low in fat. It is composed mainly of water, and has a high proteic and mineral content (including calcium and magnesium). So it’s delicious, and good for you!
Although the erotic and healing properties of gourmet truffles are probably completely anecdotal, their singular reputation contributes to the timeless intriguing allure and power of this irresistible culinary delicacy.