Thank Soil Microbes for White Truffles’ Heavenly Aroma

Bacteria produce the signature smell that truffle-sniffing dogs and pigs pick up on

Photo: the food passionates/Corbis

Truffles are one of the most expensive and sought-after foods in the world, thanks largely to their heavenly, unique aroma. As it turns out, however, the fungus itself cannot take the credit for its own delicious scent. Instead, bacteria play a major role in creating that signature truffle smell, a new study from Goethe University Frankfurt found

While the role yeast and bacteria play in creating the smells and tastes of cheese and alcoholic beverages has been studied in depth, not much is known about the role microbes might play in funguses like truffles. Researchers from France and Germany found that bacteria living inside white truffles called Tuber borchii produces volatile cyclic sulfur compounds—the key smell that enables truffle-sniffing dogs and pigs to root out those tasty morsels.

Those bacterial compounds only turn up in white truffles, the team points out. Furthermore, a DNA analysis of black truffles conducted in 2010 indicated that those fungi have enough genetic assets to account for their own smells. So while black truffles' deliciousness appears to be a solo act, in the case of white truffles, teamwork seems to be key for their mouth-watering delectability. 

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.