by Rachael Link, MS, RD
Though once limited to the menus of high-end eateries and gourmet restaurants, truffle oil is now a common ingredient found in kitchen pantries across the globe. It’s enjoyed by many as a simple way to amp up the flavor of everything from pasta dishes to risottos and beyond — much like olive oil.
Although many people have started stocking up on this aromatic oil, few people really understand what’s actually in it or whether they’re getting the best value for their money in terms of both nutrition and flavor.
So what does truffle oil taste like, and is it actually good for you? Keep reading to find out whether this popular ingredient really lives up to the hype, plus how you should use it in your own kitchen.
What Is Truffle Oil?
Truffle oil is a flavorful type of oil that is often drizzled over pizza, pasta, risotto or vegetables and is enjoyed for its rich taste and extensive health benefits.
When discussing truffle oil, however, it’s important to distinguish between the real and synthetic stuff. Real truffle oil is made by adding edible truffles to an oil base and allowing the flavors to infuse over several days. Ensuring you’re getting real truffle oil can help maximize the health benefits of your dishes while getting a more authentic truffle flavor. Synthetic truffle oil, on the other hand, is what’s mostly found on the market. It’s produced by adding a chemical called 2,4-dithiapentane to oil, which mimics the taste and aroma of truffles.
Truffle oil ingredients may vary, but it is usually made using olive oil as a base. However, some truffle oil manufacturers may use other types of oil, such as canola oil or grapeseed oil instead, diminishing many of the potential health benefits of truffle oil.
So what is so special about truffles? Aside from their high price tag, truffles are considered a delicacy due to their intense aroma and ability to punch up the flavor of just about any dish. Plus, they’re loaded with health benefits. Much like other types of fungi, such as mushrooms, truffles are loaded with antioxidants and flavonoids that can fight disease and boost overall health. (1)
Is Truffle Oil Good for You? Benefits of Truffle Oil
- Promotes Heart Health
- Aids in Weight Loss
- Preserves Brain Function
- Fights Cancer Development
- Keeps Skin Glowing
- Regulates Blood Sugar
1. Promotes Heart Health
Truffle oil is usually made using heart-healthy oils, such as olive oil as a base. Olive oil accounts for many of the health benefits of truffle, including its powerful effect on the health of your heart. Truffle oil is rich in polyphenols, which are natural compounds with antioxidant properties that can prevent oxidative stress and damage to your cells. Polyphenols can also help reduce inflammation, which is believed to be linked to a long list of chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease. (2)
Studies show that these polyphenols can effectively reduce levels of cholesterol and triglycerides and lower blood pressure, and we know how high cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure are major risk factors for heart disease. (3) A study published in the journal BMC Medicine even found that a higher intake of olive oil is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. (4)
2. Aids in Weight Loss
If you’re looking to shed a few extra pounds, swapping the unhealthy, heavily refined and processed vegetable oils in your diet for truffle oil may be able to help. One human study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed 187 adults over a three-year period and found that a diet rich in olive oil, the primary ingredient in truffle oil, was associated with a reduction in body weight. (5)
Not only that, but dietary fat takes a long time to digest and can slow the emptying of your stomach, resulting in increased satiety and decreased hunger. (6) Plus, fat can also reduce levels of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger, more than carbohydrates, helping to ward off cravings and promote weight loss. (7)
3. Preserves Brain Function
In recent years, there has been increasing evidence strengthening the connection between diet and brain health. Upping your intake of healthy fats, in particular, has been shown to have numerous brain benefits, especially when it comes to the prevention of cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
According to one human study out of Pamplona, Spain, following a Mediterranean diet enriched with healthy fats was associated with better brain function compared to a low-fat diet. (8) A 2013 animal model also found that a compound in olive oil had neuroprotective properties and was able to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by preventing the accumulation of a substance called beta-amyloid plaque in the brain. (9)
4. Fights Cancer Development
Rich in powerful antioxidants, some research indicates that olive oil, the main ingredient in truffle oil, may help block the growth and development of cancer cells. Although studies in humans are still limited, in vitro studies have found that olive oil may be effective in killing off cancer cells and suppressing cancer growth. (10, 11) Plus, other studies indicate that olive oil intake may also be associated with a lower risk of cancer. (12)
When made using actual truffle residues, real truffle oil may even boast some additional benefits over olive oil when it comes to fighting cancer cells. In fact, in vitro studies show that truffles are brimming with powerful antioxidants that can prevent the formation of cancer-causing free radicals in the body. (13)
5. Keeps Skin Glowing
From reversing aging to speeding up wound healing, the long list of white truffle skin benefits is truly impressive. Truffle oil is rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that can reduce inflammation and may aid in the treatment of conditions like atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and acne. (14, 15, 16) A 2000 animal model in Japan also found that applying olive oil topically helped protect skin against UV exposure as well. (17)
Not only that, but truffles are also commonly used in skincare products, serums and cosmetics alike. The extensive truffle benefits for skin stem from their rich antioxidant content, which can prevent oxidative damage, reduce skin aging, ward off wrinkles and smooth out skin tone. (18)
6. Regulates Blood Sugar
High blood sugar can wreak havoc on health. In the short term, it can cause symptoms like fatigue, increased thirst, headaches and blurred vision. In the long term, however, it can have much more serious consequences, such as nerve damage, kidney problems and impaired wound healing. (19) Truffle oil may help keep blood sugar in check by regulating levels of insulin, the hormone responsible for transporting sugar from the bloodstream to the cells, where it can be used as energy.
The olive oil found in truffle oil has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, which can help maintain normal blood sugar levels. (20) A 2017 review composed of four studies and 15,784 adults showed that people consuming the highest amounts of olive oil had lower levels of blood sugar, plus a 16 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (21)
Types of Truffle Oil: White Truffle Oil vs. Black Truffle Oil
Truffles can be divided into two main groups: white truffles and black truffles. Although there is little difference between the white and black truffle nutrition facts, there are distinct differences in the taste, appearance and price point of these two types of truffles.
White truffles are found mostly in Italy and are a common ingredient in exotic Italian cuisine. They have pale white flesh with a marble-like appearance and a delicate flavor. White truffles are incredibly pricy, costing upward of $3,000–$5,000 per pound. This makes authentic white truffle oil an extremely costly option compared to the black truffle oil price.
Black truffles are native to southern Europe, including countries such as Spain, Italy and France. They have a richer, more robust flavor and are slightly more affordable — though not by much. Black truffles usually cost around $95 per ounce, or about $1,520 per pound.
Black and white truffle oil can be used interchangeably in many recipes and can be drizzled onto mild foods like pasta, vegetables, potatoes or pizza. The light flavor of white truffle oil works well with meats that have a delicate flavor, such as fish filets or rabbit meat. Black truffle oil, on the other hand, is a bit stronger and can be a good match for heartier dishes like beef or sauces.
Note that dark chocolate truffles, which are a type of fancy dessert, do not actually contain truffles or truffle oil. In fact, these delicious desserts have little in common with actual truffles apart from their name.
Truffle Oil Nutrition
Authentic truffle oil is made by adding truffle residues to oil, allowing the flavors to infuse into the oil over several days. However, many of the truffle oils found at the grocery store are actually made by mixing aromatic compounds with an oil base to mimic the flavor of real truffles. Truffle oil can be made with just about any type of oil, including canola or grapeseed oil. Most often, however, it is made using olive oil.
Because of this, the truffle oil nutrition facts are about the same as whatever oil used to produce it. If made using olive oil, it is generally high in calories and monounsaturated fats, as well as vitamins E and K. Olive oil is especially high in oleic acid, a type of heart-healthy fat that plays a central role in health and disease and is believed to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. (22)
One tablespoon of olive oil (about 14 grams) contains approximately: (22)
- 119 calories
- 13.5 grams fat
- 1.9 milligrams vitamin E (10 percent DV)
- 8.1 micrograms vitamin K (10 percent DV)
Truffle Oil Uses
Truffle oil is extremely versatile and works well with a variety of different foods. Drizzle just a bit over truffle oil pasta, pizza, vegetables or even truffle oil macaroni and cheese to kick up the flavor. You can also use it to enhance the flavor of truffles, mix it into a vinaigrette for salads, or toss it with cooked potatoes or popped popcorn to add a tasty finishing touch.
Opt for white truffle oil when cooking dishes with a more delicate flavor, such as fish, and use black truffle oil for heartier meat dishes. They can be used interchangeably for most meals, though, and can also be swapped based on your taste and personal preferences.
Be sure to use only a small amount as a finishing oil rather than a cooking oil like olive oil or coconut oil. Using it sparingly can help extend its use, preserve its health-promoting properties and allow you to get the most bang for your buck.
Where to Find Truffle Oil + Truffle Oil Recipes
Wondering where to buy truffle oil? It can be found almost universally in most grocery stores and online retailers. For the best oil, look for a product infused with real truffles rather than truffle flavoring and select a type that uses extra-virgin olive oil as its base. Although it can be a bit more pricey to get the real stuff, it’s definitely the best option in terms of taste and nutrition.
If you find that genuine truffle oil is a bit out of your price range, olive oil makes a great truffle oil substitute in most recipes. It may not have the aromatic truffle flavor, but it can bump up the nutritional value of your dishes and supply some healthy fats to your diet.
Looking for some creative ways to try it out? Here are a few truffle oil recipes to get you started:
- Truffle Marinated Asparagus
- Parmesan & Lemon Kale Salad
- Béarnaise Sauce
- Baked Parmesan Truffle Oil Fries
- Mushroom Risotto with Parmesan and Truffle Oil
Truffles have a long history of use in cooking and were first mentioned way back during the Neo-Sumerian era in the 20th century B.C. They were later produced in ancient Rome and regained widespread popularity during the Renaissance period as well. By the 1780s, truffles were a favorite in Parisian markets, though they were so expensive that they were enjoyed primarily as a delicacy by nobles.
Artificial truffle oil produced using chemicals designed to mimic the aroma of real truffles was first produced in the 1980s, and has been met with mixed reviews among food critics. Renowned chefs ranging from Gordon Ramsay to Anthony Bourdain have been openly critical of truffle oil, with many stating that they believe it may alter the perception of what truffles should actually taste like.
Regardless, truffle oil has continued to soar in popularity as the mass production of cheap yet affordable artificially flavored truffle oil has made it more accessible to the general population.
Although truffle oil can be a nutritious (and delicious) addition to your diet, there are some side effects that need to be considered.
One of the most common side effects reported with truffle oil is stomach upset, especially when used in large amounts. If you find that you experience any gastrointestinal distress after consuming it, consider cutting back on your intake to help reduce symptoms.
Because truffle oil is typically made using olive oil, it may also lower blood sugar and blood pressure. If you’re taking medications for your blood sugar or blood pressure, keep intake in moderation to prevent any potential interactions.
Additionally, applying truffle oil directly to the skin may cause dermatitis or skin irritation in some people. If you have sensitive skin, truffle oil may not be a great addition to your natural skin care routine and may be better enjoyed when drizzled over your favorite foods instead.
- Authentic truffle oil is made by infusing edible truffles in an oil base, such as olive oil. Most commercial truffle oils, however, are made using a chemical designed to mimic the taste of truffles.
- Because it’s usually made from olive oil, truffle oil has been associated with a number of health benefits, including better heart and brain health, increased weight loss, and decreased cancer development. Some also use truffle for skin health and to promote better blood sugar control as well.
- White truffles and black truffles have minute differences in taste, appearance and price but can be used interchangeably in many recipes.
- Drizzle a bit of truffle oil over pasta, salad, vegetables or pizza to take the flavor and nutritional benefits of your meal to the next level.
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