These Are the Real Reasons Truffles Are So Expensive

Written by Erica Scassellati
Published: December 8, 2023
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Truffles are a type of fungus that is highly sought after for their amazing flavor and unique aroma. They are a prize addition to pasta dishes, seafood, meat, and even french fries. Truffles elevate the flavor of almost any dish.

Though they are delicious, these fungi can be hard to come by. Truffles are also very expensive. According to Martha Stewart, white truffles can cost $4,000 per pound, and black truffles can cost anywhere from $300 to $800 per pound. Several factors influence the high price of truffles, and why people are willing to continue paying for them.

Truffles Have a Short Growing Season

French black truffle, Tuber melanosporum

Truffles have a short growing season and don’t last long after they are harvested.

©slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

One of the main reasons truffles are so expensive is that there is a limited amount of these tubers. Truffles are seasonal, so they are only harvested during certain times of the year.

There are three varieties of truffles: white, black, and burgundy. According to Eataly, white and burgundy truffles are in season from September to December.

Other varieties such as winter black truffles are ready to harvest from December to early March. As their name suggests, summer white and black truffles reach their peak from May to August.

Truffles Are Difficult to Cultivate

Forest of White Paper Birch Tree Trunks

Truffles grow in the soil near the roots of certain trees, such as birch.

©kellyvandellen/iStock via Getty Images

With some produce, farmers can cultivate their own crops so that they can enjoy or sell sustainable fruits and vegetables at any time. It’s easy enough to grow your own bell peppers, tomatoes, or squash, but truffles are another story.

Truffles grow underground near the roots of certain trees, such as oak, hazelnut, and birch. They are typically found in European countries, including France, Italy, and Spain. Parts of the United States are working on cultivating truffles.

However, recreating the necessary conditions to grow this fungus is difficult and costly. Truffles are not hardy and require soil with very specific nutrients, PH, and moisture levels. It also takes many years for truffles to be ready to harvest, meaning that turning a profit on a truffle farm can be quite a challenge.

Harvesting Truffles Requires Specially Trained Dogs

Dog truffle gathering

Dogs are a valuable asset when it comes to harvesting truffles in Europe.

©slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

Thanks to their high levels of intelligence and keen sense of smell, pigs were once the prime animal used to locate truffles. Unfortunately, pigs came with the disadvantage of often eating their prize find, writes truff.com.

Today dogs are the preferred choice for truffle hunters. One breed of dog, the Lagotto Romagnolo, is specifically trained to root out truffles in Italy. Talented truffle dogs are a prized commodity in themselves.

“A very good dog to a hunter is the most precious thing in the world,” Francesca Sparvoli, co-owner of truffle distribution company Done4NY, told CNBC Make It. “The truffle hunters protect their dog more than their wives.”

Despite the good work these dogs do, truffle harvests don’t yield massive results. “Truffle Hunters are not going to find pounds and pounds,” Vittorio Giordano, vice president of New York-based Urbani Truffle USA, Inc., added. “Each one can find just a few ounces.”

Truffles Have a Short Shelf Life

Black truffles

Truffles need to be transported to their final destination quickly after they are harvested.

©Sofia Royo/Shutterstock.com

Not only are truffles challenging to grow, they are also difficult to transport. Truffle hunters have a very short time to harvest, process, and ship their products. According to CNBC, truffles lose about 5 percent of their weight every day.

“In less than 36 hours, we go from underground to on a restaurant table,” Giordano explained to the outlet. That’s a lot of pressure, considering truffles are often transported nearly 5,000 miles from Europe to the United States.

Truffles Are Lauded for Their Incredible Flavor and Aroma

Truffle mushroom oil on wooden background. Gourmet food

All varieties of truffles have an enticing flavor and aroma, making them sought after for many culinary uses.

©brebca/iStock via Getty Images

Truffles are lauded in the culinary world for their incredible flavor and enticing aroma. Taste varies slightly depending on the variety of truffle, writes Eataly.

For example, white truffles are the most pungent, while black truffles are earthy and robust, and burgundy truffles tend to be delicate and aromatic.

Truffles are often infused with oil, butter, or salt to be used in various dishes. Italians utilize truffles in pasta, risotto, and polenta dishes. Truffles also add a refined twist to simple dishes like scrambled eggs or even french fries. You can even utilize truffles in fondue or cocktails!

5 Types of Truffles

©George Riner CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED - License

Now that you know why truffles can be so expensive, here’s a list of 5 different kinds of truffles on the market today, along with their current price ranges.

  1. Oregon Winter White Truffle (Tuber oregonense): This truffle occurs on the western side of the Cascade Mountains from northern California to southern British Columbia, and can cost from $20-$50 per ounce..
  2. Oregon Black Truffle (Leucangium carthusianum): This truffle is found in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range in Douglas fir forests. These highly sought-after truffles currently sell fresh for about $50-$85 per ounce.
  3. Pecan Truffle (Tuber lyonii): These truffles can be found east of the Rocky Mountains, and can sell for $20-$85 per ounce.
  4. Appalachian Truffle (Tuber canalicaulatum): Native to the Midwest and Appalachian Range in the U.S., fresh specimens sell at no less than $100 per ounce.
  5. Smooth Black Truffle (Tuber macrosporum): Native to areas like Italy, fresh specimens of Tuber macrosporum sell for $60-80 per ounce.

Summary of the 5 Reasons Truffles Are So Expensive

NumberReason
1.Truffles have a short growing season.
2.Truffles are difficult to cultivate.
3.Harvesting truffles requires specially trained dogs.
4.Truffles have a short shelf life.
5.Truffles are lauded for their incredible flavor and aroma.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/vainillaychile


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About the Author

Erica is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on history, food, and travel. Erica has over 3 years of experience as a content writer and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which she earned in 2018. A resident of Kansas City, Erica enjoys exploring her home town and traveling around the world to learn about different cultures and try new food.

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