Meet Chef Ken Frank of the Michelin starred La Toque restaurant. He’s a Knight of the Order of the Truffles and Wine of Alba, the first American chef invited to cook at the Alba Truffle Fair and the host chef of the Napa Truffle Festival. He’s not only a leading truffle chef, but the world’s greatest truffle oil critic.
Why does Chef Ken dislike truffle oil as much as he does? In his words, it’s not only fake, and dishonest, and allows people to cheat, but it also tastes bad. As he explains it, truffle oil is one dimensional and even in small amounts it desensitizes your palate to fresh truffles. Says Frank, “It’s a huge rip off. It’s bad oil.” It’s also creating an issue for the appreciation of real truffles: “The problem is that if your palate becomes accustomed to truffle oil, you will no longer be able to appreciate the real thing. Consequently, when you dine on dishes with real truffles, you may not recognize the true flavor and think the truffles are flawed. Not so!.”
If you think truffle oil tastes like chemicals, you’re right. That’s because it’s made with 2,4-Dithiapentane—which is often cited as being derived from a petroleum base. As the chef explains it, there are four key aromatic compounds found in all truffles, but the ratios and amount are different. 2,4-Dithiapentane – synthesized in the lab for both black and white oil – isn’t either. By putting the tiniest amount of truffle in it, they can get away with calling it truffle oil, but as Frank says, “Truffle oil is to truffles what Tang is to orange juice.”
Truffle oil didn’t even appear until the 1970’s. Truffles are a big business and oil is so lucrative and profitable it’s hard to get rid of it.
Truffle salt or truffle honey? Frank doesn’t like those either. They’re also fakes. The one truffle product he does like is truffle juice, which comes from canning truffles and does have practical applications. Frank suggests adding the juice to a vinaigrette.
So, if you’re wondering, is it ever permissible to use truffle oil? Yes, says Frank, but only for training truffle hunting dogs.
To purchase real fresh black truffles, visit the Napa Truffle Festival Marketplace at Oxbow Market on Monday January 16, 2017.