Truffles are a fungus that grows underground. There are two main varieties -- black and white, with white being the more flavorful of the two. Truffles are one of the most sought-after foods in the culinary world due to their sweet and buttery taste. Because they are a rare luxury food, truffles themselves can be incredibly expensive (reaching $3,200 per pound in 2017), which causes many chefs and home cooks to look for cheaper alternatives. This is where truffle oil comes in.
Truffle oil is the cheaper alternative to adding the taste of truffles to dishes without breaking the bank. Unlike many other oils, truffle oil is used to season and garnish dishes, rather than cook them outright. Truffle oil adds a strong flavor to dishes, but it should be used sparingly due to the cost (while much cheaper than truffles themselves, an eight-ounce bottle still costs 60-80 dollars), its natural strength and how it can taste overly pungent for some people.
While truffle oil can be made by infusing small pieces of truffles in regular cooking oil, many manufacturers use a chemical known as 2.4 dithiapentane, a compound found in petroleum and naturally in rotting wood. As such, truffle oil can be completely artificially made, depending on the company who makes it. While higher-end products might use a combination of truffle pieces and chemicals, there are no commercially available truffle oils that are 100 percent pure.
A few common uses of truffle oil include making truffled French fries or mashed potatoes. For fries, a shake or two of the oil can be added along with salt and other seasonings. In mashed potatoes, a small drizzle at the end of preparation can provide a unique foil to an upscale main component, such as filet mignon.
Another common use of truffle oil is to add some to pasta dough. A small amount goes a long way and can make homemade fettuccine or pappardelle richer. Try buying a small bottle of truffle oil to experiment with and see if it fits your style of cooking.