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Let’s be honest, truffles are way expensive.
Eating at a high-class restaurant just to catch a whiff of its amazing aroma and taste is expensive, and trying to procure truffles for your own home cooking is even more expensive.
Many top notch chefs turn their noses up at truffle oil, calling it a sham, but they don’t know the struggles that an average 9-5 worker has to go through just to eat a dish with truffles in it do they?
And so, even if truffle oil is just an alternative to wild truffles, it’s the best alternative most of us are going to get, unless you plan on skimping out on every other expense in life just to get your truffle fix.
I’ll stick to truffle oil then, thank you very much.
Although more affordable, truffle oil still carries a huge price tag, which is why you want to make the most out of it. And the best way to get the most out of your money’s worth is to extend the lifespan of your truffle oil for as long as possible.
Today, we show you exactly how to do that, along with other important information that any truffle oil owner should know. We’ll give you the lowdown on what truffle oil really is, and how to tell whether your bottle of truffle oil has already expired or not.
Truffles have always confused people, mainly because most people are aware of the more commercially-available chocolate truffles. Which is why it usually confounds them when someone talks about truffles, and about growing them underground. Wait, chocolate truffles grow underground?
To clear up this confusion, let’s get one thing straight: chocolate truffles and truffles are two different things. The original truffles are edible fungi that grows underground and is considered a culinary rarity. It has a distinct aroma and taste that brings out the best in even the most common of dishes.
Chocolate truffles on the other hand, are bite-sized chocolate treats that are usually made of a chocolate ganache filling and cocoa powder coating. Nowadays, you’ll see chocolate truffles of all different shapes and sizes, but before they were shaped like irregular and uneven balls, which look similar to the original truffle. This is where chocolate truffles got their name.
Today, however, we’re going to talk about the earthy type of truffle, the truffle that is, sadly, not common knowledge. If you’ve ever eaten at a fancy restaurant, one where you had different kinds of cutlery and dishes that are difficult to pronounce, you’ve probably tasted a dish with truffles on it.
You might ask yourself, why are truffles considered delicacies when it’s just fungi? For one, truffles work wonders on food. No matter what dish you concoct, whether it’s a nice steak or creamy pasta, a few shavings of truffles will turn it into high-class cuisine that’s fit for top class restaurants.
The demand for truffles far outweigh the supply because the conditions for its growth are strict. They need a specific environment to grow in, which you cannot recreate in a greenhouse or laboratory. They also grow underground, so you need the help of pigs or dogs to sniff them out. White and black truffles grow mostly during the fall and winter, while burgundy truffles grow during the summer. This is what makes truffles expensive, which is why it’s found mostly in restaurants and other dining establishments.
In the 1980s, the use of truffles in different types of cuisine became popular as tales of their distinct flavor and aroma spread. This bolstered supply for these delectable fungi, which was difficult because supply couldn’t keep up with it. Sure, truffle experts found ways to make the environment friendlier for truffle growth, but this wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t that difficult for people who lived in areas where truffles thrived, like italy, Spain and France among others, but what if you lived in other countries? The shelf life of fresh truffles is finicky and sensitive, and shipping over long distances made things even more complicated. Even if you lived in areas that grew truffles, they were still seasonal, and manufacturers would often favor international buyers over local ones.
Thus, the preservation of truffle in various ways became popular. Even though preserved truffles will never live up to the standards of fresh truffles, it’s a good alternative since it was more widely available and affordable.
There are many ways of preserving the flavor and aroma of truffles, including:
- Truffles soaked in brine
- Truffle oil
- Truffle butter
- Truffle salt
Truffle oil is a popular method of preservation because oil is commonly used in many dishes. However, experts say that the use of truffle oil as a substitute for cooking oil is actually bad practice. Anything that involves high heat removes the flavor and aroma of truffles from the oil. The best way to use truffle oil is to drizzle it over the dish right before serving.
So how does one make truffle oil? There are actually two ways of making truffle oil: the authentic kind, and the synthetic kind. Before, most truffle oil products are genuine. Leftover truffles are usually crushed or cut into tiny pieces and soaked for a long period of time in either olive, grapeseed or canola oil. It’s easy to distinguish this type of truffle oil as you can see bits and pieces of truffle in the oil and some brands are even murky in color.
Nowadays though, most commercially-available truffle oil is synthetic. It’s simply oil infused with 2,4-dithiapentane and and other chemicals that mimic the taste and aroma of truffles. There is no actual truffle content in these oils. These truffle oils are usually shunned by professional chefs and truffle aficionados, but it’s a nice alternative or ordinary housewives or occasional chefs who would like to use truffles in their cooking.
Then there are brands that are a hybrid of both. They use chemicals to achieve the flavor and aroma of truffles, but have genuine bits of truffles in the oil.
So what does a regular bottle of truffle oil look, smell and taste like straight off the shelf? When purchasing truffle oil, here are some things you need to keep in mind to ensure you get the freshest and best quality.
- Looks: The color of truffle oil differs, depending on the manufacturer. It goes from pale yellow, to rich yellow, dark yellow and yellow green. Some truffle oil brands, especially those with pale yellow color, tend to be super clear, while others may be cloudy. You may see small bits of truffles in the oil, while some brands have an entire truffle soaking at the bottom of the bottle.
- Smell: Describing the scent of truffle oil has always been difficult. There’s an earthy, musky scent to truffle oil, with a tad of mushrooms and exotic herbs. With truffle oil, the smell is a bit one-dimensional compared to the real thing, but this is to be expected. Synthesized truffle oil is made up of 2,4-dithiapentane, which is the most prevalent smell in truffles. Prevalent yes, but it’s not the only smell that contributes to the final scent produced by truffles.
- Taste: This is a difficult thing to assess because for one, nobody would purposely taste truffle oil when looking through a grocery aisle. Also, truffle oil on its own is not very appetizing. In fact, some people say truffle oil on its own tastes like flatulence. Weird right? It makes everything taste great, but on its own, most people agree it tastes bad.
- Price: Synthetic truffle oil often goes for $20-30, while authentic truffle oil starts at $100. This should be a good standard to follow if you’re looking for the real thing. To guarantee its authenticity, always look at the ingredients list. If it has truffle flavoring or truffle aroma, it’s probably synthetic. Manufacturers try so hard to make synthetic truffle oil sound genuine, even using words like “natural truffle essence”, which ironically, isn’t natural at all. Unless it has truffles in the ingredients, it’s not authentic.
So how long does truffle oil last? There’s no single answer to this question, because truffle oil is a very finicky thing. On one side, you see people who complained that their truffle oil went bad even before the expiration date. On the other hand, you see people using truffle oil well past its expiration without any problem.
Unopened, truffle oil can last up to a year if stored properly. Contrary to popular belief, there is no difference whether you place the bottle of truffle oil in the fridge or on a kitchen shelf when it hasn’t been opened yet. Of course, the exception here is if you live in areas with hot, humid climate, which is bad for truffle oil.
Each time you open the bottle of truffle oil to use it in your dishes, the aroma and flavor diminishes quicker. This is because truffles don’t have any oil composition, and the creation of truffle oil is more of an infusion than extraction. Infusion isn’t a very strong process when it comes to binding one product with another product’s flavor and smell. Thus, as soon as you open the bottle for the first time, deterioration and fading of its distinct taste and smell occurs. This is sped up each time truffle oil is exposed to air, but it still deteriorates even when the bottle is closed.
Once opened, truffle oil lasts for around 4 to 6 months at room temperature, and 6 to 8 months when refrigerated. This number is just an average. The type of oil that’s infused with truffle flavors is also a determining factor. For example, olive oil lasts for 2-3 years once opened, while canola oil lasts for one year, and grapeseed oil lasts for 3-6 months. This means that truffles infused in olive oil tend to last much longer than those infused in canola and grapeseed.
Also, there’s no difference between black truffle oil and white truffle oil, especially when it comes to synthetic oils. Some people think that just because black truffles are more fragrant than white truffles, black truffle oil is stronger compared to white truffle oil. While this may be true in some cases, the difference is very small, and their aroma deteriorates at the same rate.
Truffle oil is susceptible to oxidation, which often occurs when air is let into the bottle when opening it. The oil also degrades when exposed to heat or light. While bottles will always have an expiration date written at the back, this is just an estimate. You might find yourself with bad truffle oil way before or way after that date, depending on how you store your truffle oil.
If you want to know whether or not your current bottle of truffle oil is still safe for use, here’s a short list of things you should watch out for.
- Let your nose be your guide. As a habit, whether intended or not, you’ll most likely take a whiff of the oil every time you open the bottle. After a few uses, you’re probably used to its smell and can detect if the smell has changed, even a little. If there’s a change in smell, even if it’s not a horrible smell, should be something to watch out for.
- Expired truffle oil usually goes rancid because of oxidation. This will be noticeable in the smell, and of course, the taste.
- Some truffle oils are cloudy from the very start, but if they were clear at first, then turn murky and cloudy after some time, it could be a sign of lapsed truffle oil.
- Changes in consistency may mean your truffle oil has expired; however, this is not true in all cases. For example, if you store your truffle oil in the fridge, you may see clumps of silicone-looking oil after a few days. You only need to bring your truffle oil to room temperature and it should be the same consistency as before. However, if your truffle oil is clumpy and gooey even at room temperature, it means your truffle oil underwent a chemical change, which is not always a good thing.
- Not all signs of expiration are bad. You see a lot of people using truffle oil past their expiration date. This isn’t recommended, but if you’re one of the lucky ones, the only thing you’ll experience is the loss of flavor and aroma. This is especially true if you’re using olive oil infused with truffles. Olive oil is usually resilient and once your truffle oil has expired, you can still use the oil as regular olive oil.
Even if your truffle oil doesn’t have a foul odor or taste, it’s best to throw away the truffle oil, especially if it’s synthetic. Artificial truffle oil is made up of chemical compounds that may harm your body once it undergoes several chemical processes due to heat or air contamination.
Now we move on to the dangers of consuming expired truffle oil, which in all honesty, is not as bad as it seems. As we’ve already stated in the previous paragraph, some truffle oil just lose their flavor and aroma when expired, and revert back to whatever they were infused with, which is most likely olive oil. Olive oil is resilient so if your truffle oil becomes tasteless and odorless, you can still use it when cooking as olive oil.
The most common complaint people have on expired truffle oil is a wasted meal. You take one bite into your mashed potatoes and get a rancid flavor that makes you want to puke. However, this can be avoided if you sniff the oil first before drizzling it over your dish. The smell of rancid oil is very strong that you wouldn’t miss it.
Synthetic truffle oil contains chemical compounds, and when chemicals are contaminated and compromised, they create by-products. Any oil, when rancid, produces aldehydes, peroxides and free radicals, which causes healthy cells in the body to deteriorate. However, truffle oil is consumed in such low quantities that any chemical by-product in rancid truffle oil will not affect your health, unless of course you guzzle down an entire bottle of rancid truffle oil.
So what is the worst case scenario when it comes to consuming bad and expired truffle oil? That would be Botulism, which is potentially fatal, but also extremely rare. Botulism is caused by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, which produces toxins that cause the illness. However, it is caused by improper preservation. So this can only happen to you if you buy truffle oil that is subpar and preserved incorrectly.
While you’re in no serious danger from consuming rancid and bad truffle oil, it’s still considered an expensive commodity. You don’t want to waste your hard earned money by throwing away a half-full bottle of truffle oil simply because you didn’t store it properly.
If you want your truffle oil to last as long as possible, follow these tips and tricks:
- Remember that the clock starts ticking once you break the seal and open the truffle oil bottle for the first time. If you don’t have any plans of using it, don’t open it yet. You might get tempted to catch a whiff of that famous truffle odor, maybe to check the quality of your newly purchased truffle, but as long as you got it from a reputable brand, you can leave it alone until you need to use it.
- Every time you open the lid, you are risking loss of flavor and aroma. Since truffle oil is mostly used after the dish is done cooking, right before serving, you only need it opened for a few seconds. So open the lid, drizzle it over the dish, and then close it again. If you’re rushing, especially while serving your dish, you might set down an opened bottle of truffle oil on the counter and forget about it for several minutes.
- Remember to keep the lid tightly closed.
- Keep the truffle oil at a cool dry place, because heat and light can affect the oil’s consistency and viscosity.
- If possible, store truffle oil in the refrigerator. This preserves your truffle oil well, and reduce the risks of contamination from bacteria or chemical change.
- It’s better to purchase truffle oil in small quantities, especially if you don’t cook for a large number of people frequent. Remember, dishes only need a drizzle of truffle oil at best, so buying a really large bottle of truffle oil if you only cook occasionally isn’t a good idea.
Hopefully this article was quite useful to you in your endeavors to extend the shelf life of your precious bottle of truffle oil. Like anything that provides a unique aroma and flavor, truffle oil needs specific conditions in order to thrive, and while they’re not as delicate as wild truffles, they still need the correct temperature, light levels and moisture.
All in all, we hoped this article answered all your questions about truffles and truffle oil, how truffle oil is made and how close it is to the real thing. We gave you pointers on what fresh-off-the-shelves truffle oil should look, smell and taste like, and how to determine whether or not your bottle of truffle oil is still safe for consumption or now. We also showed you the dangers of consuming truffle oil, and the steps you can take to ensure that your truffle oil doesn’t go bad for as long as possible.
Armed with all these information, you’re sure to make the most out of your truffle oil, down to the last drop without any degradation in quality. When your truffle oil doesn’t suffer loss of aroma and flavor, you can make the dishes you want and get the results you worked so hard for! Good luck and happy cooking with truffle oil!