Chinese truffles look a lot like Perigord Black truffles, cost a lot less, but have less flavour and aroma. They’ve been a major source of fraud over the last ten years. Time Asia digs into the issue this week, and provides plenty of colourful info:
From the French perspective, the bad news in this piece is the discovery that Tuber indicum out-competes melanosporum. There are fears that indicum may find its way into French truffieres, even unconfirmed reports that it’s already happened.
“We saw in experiments that Tuber indicum is very dominant, competitive and aggressive,” frets Gerard Chevalier, a researcher at INRA. He paints a scenario in which errant spores from imported Chinese truffles disperse into the air, contaminate the French countryside and do ecological battle with their more fragile cousin.”
It might be better for the rest of the world if the Chinese discovered a taste for their own truffles, but that doesn’t seem likely:
“None of that, though, changes one irksome fact that has limited Wu’s business. For all their gastronomic enthusiasm for endangered sea animals or all matter of rare mammalian life, the Chinese so far appear immune to the pleasures of a black truffle. Mushroom gatherer Li Kun shakes his head when asked whether he enjoys the flavor of the black nuggets he’s scooping up from the loamy soil near Hama. “When we’re really hungry, we eat them covered with soy sauce, coriander, chili paste and MSG,” he says. “That way you don’t have to taste the truffle too much, only the sauce.”
[Update: 10/1/08: The above is not true. Local populations in Yunnan and Sichuan were well aware of their truffles, and very happy to eat them.]