Truffles: the aphrodisiac science and lore

January 8, 2012 /

By Amy Reiley

Truffles are well documented as one of the world’s finest aphrodisiacs. Although we know they’ve been held in regard as aphrodisiac since the times of ancient Greece and Rome, we don’t know the exact origin of their reputation.

Today, its generally accepted that a large part of their allure is their rarity. Technically fungi with a symbiotic relationship to certain tree roots, truffles are only found in a handful of places around the world. And although their scent can be one of the most alluring aphrodisiacs to the human sense of smell (more on that later), our noses are not good enough to detect these culinary delectables growing underground. That is why we’ve employed pigs or dogs for centuries to help us in the search and discovery of truffles. And it also helps explain their hefty price tag.

Although dogs must be trained to seek out the rare treats, female pigs are natural truffle hunters. You see, the scent of truffles is extremely similar to a male (both pig and human) pheromone. This is the reason modern science believes truffles are so successful as an aphrodisiac.

And let us not forget that truffles are among the world’s most healthy indulgences. The scientific community is yet to weigh in on whether or not their high concentration of protein, (needed for sustained energy if you know what I mean) and amino acids lends to truffles aphrodisiac attributes. But clearly, their nutritional makeup doesn’t hurt their potential to make the heart (and a few other things) flutter.

Those of us who have been so fortunate to taste the earthy, subtle, and slightly exotic notes of truffle may feel there’s more to the allure than simply a scent or a bit of protein. And trust me, as an aphrodisiac foods authority, I hear a surprisingly large number of unsolicited, firsthand accounts of romantic encounters involving truffles. But its not just lusty Americans with a passion for sharing too much information that have filed away such observations. Some great figures from European history would likely agree. Napoleon, for one, ate truffles to increase his masculine potency.

Like Napoleon, Europe’s great gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin became one of truffles’ greatest proponents. On the subject, Savarin is quoted as saying: “Truffle. As soon as the word is spoken, it awakens lustful and erotic memories among the skirt-wearing sex and erotic and lustful memories among the beard-wearing sex. This honorable parallelism comes not only from the fact that this esteemed tuber is delicious, but also because it is still believed to bring about potency, the exercise of which brings sweet pleasure.”

Throughout history, truffles, both black and white, have been dubbed everything from the “diamonds of cookery” to the “testicles of the earth.” But I believe it is the caution of an old proverb that best represents truffles’ aphrodisiac appeal throughout the ages, “Those who wish to live virtuous lives should abstain from truffles.”