There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Chinese truffles. Consumers simply need to be aware that Chinese black truffles (Tuber sinensis, Tuber indicum and Tuber himalayensis) are a different variety of black truffles than the prized Perigord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum).
Chinese truffles are winter black truffles, which are abundantly available in China, and wholesale for as little as $20 to $30 per pound. In contrast, Perigord truffles, mostly harvested in France, start at $800 per pound wholesale.
Chinese vs. Perigord
Chinese truffles are often used in pate or economical truffle products. There is demand for lower priced products containing truffles, and the Chinese truffle provides a solution for this market. Consumers who are concerned about the type of truffles used in these products should read the packaging carefully or inquire with the manufacturer to determine the truffle variety used in the product. The fact that the product is manufactured in France or Italy does not mean that the truffles are Perigord black truffles.
The only similarity between fresh Chinese truffles and Perigord black truffles is the appearance. Some varieties of Chinese black truffles (specifically Tuber himalayensis) look almost identical to Perigord black truffles, and would require a microscope to differentiate between the two truffle varieties. The similarities between the two types of winter truffles stop with their appearance. In fact, there are numerous differences between Chinese truffles and Perigord black truffles including the fragrance, taste, texture, shape and the amount of veins.
How to select and handle Perigord black truffle mushrooms
Perigord Black Truffle
Fragrance: First, and most notably, the fragrance of the two truffle varieties is strikingly different. Chinese black truffles do not have a strong aroma. In contrast, the slightly musky and slightly sweet aroma of Perigord black truffles is so pungent and unique, the earthy fragrance cannot be mistaken.
Taste: The taste of the two truffle varieties is also a dead giveaway. When Perigord black truffles are fully mature and cooked (the heating process releases the truffle flavor), they have a distinct flavor, which is undeniably superior to the mild flavor of Chinese truffles.
Texture: Chinese truffles tend to be more elastic than Perigord Black truffles. Sliced Chinese truffles generally won’t break because of the difference in elasticity; they are more likely to bend than break.
Shape: Perigord black truffles are frequently bulbous and irregular in shape, where Chinese truffles tend to be more on the round side.
Veins: When ripe, black truffles should be black inside with white veins. Perigord black truffles are characterized by having many veins, where Chinese truffles may appear darker because they might have less veins and the veins are frequently smaller than those of the Perigord black truffle.
China is known for producing cheap “knock offs” of the real thing, and the Chinese truffle seems to follow this trend. Though the Chinese truffles appear to be very similar to the world famous Perigord black truffle, the differences in taste, texture and aroma are profound. There is no substitute for the divine fragrance and rich earthy flavor of Perigord black truffles.
by Laurel Pine