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From Food of the Gods to Forbidden Fruit and Back Again: A brief history of truffles

on September 27, 2022

Earth-bound ambrosia

By the time cuneiform was used to write humanity’s first history over 5000 years ago, people in Mesopotamia enjoyed truffles. 4600 years ago in Ancient Egypt, it was the favorite food of the Pharaoh Cheops. During the time of Aristotle nearly 2500 years ago, the Greeks saw this bulbous fungus as a "valuable" table decoration and awarded truffles to cooking competition winners in Athens.

According to Greek mythology, Zeus turned himself into a golden rain in order to conceive a child with Princess Danae and the drops that reached the ground became truffles. Since Zeus always longed for her, the arousing truffle grew again and again. Ancient Greek physician Galen of Pergamon even hypothesized scientific reasons for the fungus’ role as an aphrodisiac.

When all roads led to Rome, truffles were officially declared as a potency agent and used throughout the empire to cure impotence. The delicacy’s amorous arousal effects are still whispered about to this day.

Oddly enough, truffles have a strangely similar scent to the pheromones emitted by the reproductive organs of wild boars. Because of this, the animals will scrounge recklessly for truffles making them unreliable truffle hunters. Instead, dogs are used since they can be trained to sniff the fungi without eating them.

Fall from grace

After the fall of Rome, everything resembling decadence and depravity was deemed immoral and sinful. B
ecause of their dark and subterranean nature, truffles were seen as sacrilegious and some even believed they were grown by the Devil himself!

 The return to reason during the Renaissance, though, allowed the truffle to make a comeback. When Italian poet Francesco Petrarch brought Europe out of what he called the “Dark Ages”, he included a sonnet dedicated to truffles in his enlightened writings. It is said that Caterina de’ Medici requested truffles be part of her dowry when marrying the future King of France, Henry II.

It was during The Enlightenment that Tuscan poet Giovanni Bernardo Vigo wrote the poem Tuber Terrae. Eventually, even Napoleon helped reaffirm the truffle’s status as a noble and generous edible gift fit for kings and emperors such as himself.


Culinary immortality

In the pages of European and even World History, the truffle has outlived all its proponents and is seen today as an essential ingredient in refined and high-culture cuisine. With that esteem, the truffle is the most expensive culinary fungus ever.

However, truffles are not only esteemed because of their flavour and their rarity, they are incredibly healthy as well. Full of antioxidants, proteins and fiber, the underground delicacy keeps us young and helps prevent diabetes and heart disease. Truffles have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects that can protect against some types of cancer. Plus, they are full of micronutrients such as vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, iron, and manganese, making truffles a superfood.

Secular indulgence

Whether it’s the Noble Tuber, the Black Diamond, or Aphrodite’s Lascivious Gift, the truffle has been irresistible to humans since before written history. Once deified and then demonized, it has long since made its way back into our hearts and onto our plates. The obsolete stereotypical thinking that condemned truffles should be left buried in the past while we dig up and add this nutritious and tasty tuber to our diet.

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