Asian black truffles vary in size and shape depending on growing conditions, but are generally small, averaging 2 to 5 centimeters in diameter, and have a lopsided, lopsided, globular appearance. Black-brown mushrooms are typically molded from stones in the ground and have a rough surface, covered in many small bumps, bumps, and fissures. Beneath the rough exterior, the flesh is spongy, black and chewy, marbled with thin, sparse white veins. Asian black truffles will have a more elastic texture than European black truffles and a slightly darker coloration, with fewer veins. Asian black truffles have a faint musky aroma and the flesh has a mild, earthy, woody flavor.
Asian black truffles are available from late fall to early spring.
Asian black truffles are part of the genus Tuber and are also known as Chinese black truffles, Himalayan black truffles and Asian black winter truffles, belonging to the Tuberaceae family. There are many different species of truffles found within the genus Tuber, and the name Asian black truffle is a general descriptor used to describe some of these tuber species harvested in Asia. Tuber indicum is the most widespread species of Asian black truffle, documented since the 80s, but when scientists began studying the mushroom's molecular structures, they discovered that there were other closely related species, including Tuber himalayense and Tuber sinensis. Asian black truffles have been growing naturally for thousands of years, but truffles weren't seen as a commercial commodity until the 1900s. During this time, the European truffle industry struggled to keep up with demand, and Chinese companies began to export Asian black truffles to Europe as a substitute for European black winter truffles. A truffle boom soon ensued throughout Asia, especially China, and small truffles were rapidly being shipped to Europe, making it difficult for European governments to regulate truffles. With a lack of regulation, some companies have begun selling Asian black truffles under the rare European Perigord truffle name at high prices, causing widespread controversy among truffle hunters across Europe. Asian black truffles are strikingly similar in appearance to the famous European black truffles, but lack the characteristic aroma and flavour. Counterfeiters mix Asian black truffles with real Perigord truffles to compensate for the lack of scent, allowing the Asian black truffles to absorb the distinctive scent to make the truffles nearly indistinguishable. Nowadays, there is still a heated dispute over the quality of Asian black truffles compared to European truffles, and truffles must be purchased through reputable sources.
Asian black truffles provide vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, increase collagen production and reduce inflammation. Truffles are also a source of antioxidants to protect the body from free radical damage and contain minor amounts of zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium, fiber, manganese and phosphorus. In traditional Chinese medicine, black truffles have been used medicinally to restore appetite, rejuvenate and detoxify organs, and balance the body.
Asian black truffles are best used sparingly in raw or lightly heated applications, typically shaved, grated, flaked or thinly sliced. The delicate, musky, earthy flavor of truffles complements dishes with rich, fatty elements, wine or cream-based sauces, oils, and neutral ingredients such as potatoes, rice, and pasta. Truffles must be cleaned before use and brushing or scrubbing the surface is recommended rather than rinsing under water as moisture will cause the fungus to rot. Once cleaned, the Asian black truffles can be minced fresh as a final condiment on pasta, roasted meats, risottos, soups and eggs. In China, Asian black truffles are becoming increasingly popular among the upper class, and truffles are being incorporated into sushi, soups, sausages, and truffle dumplings. Chefs are also infusing Asian black truffles into cookies, liqueurs and mooncakes. All over the world, Asian black truffles are made into butter, infused into oils and honey, or grated into sauces. Asian black truffles pair well with meats such as lamb, poultry, venison and beef, seafood, foie gras, cheeses such as goat, Parmesan, fontina, chevre and gouda, and herbs such as tarragon, basil and arugula. Fresh Asian black truffles will keep up to a week when wrapped in a paper towel or moisture-absorbent cloth and stored in a sealed container in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. It's important to note that the truffle should stay dry for the best quality and flavor. If storing for more than a couple of days, replace the paper towels regularly to avoid moisture buildup as the fungus will naturally release moisture during storage. Asian black truffles can also be wrapped in foil, placed in a freezer bag, and frozen for 1-3 months.
Asian black truffles are mainly harvested in the Chinese province of Yunnan. Historically, the small black truffles were not eaten by local villagers and were given to pigs as animal feed. In the early 90s, truffle companies arrived in Yunnan and began sourcing Asian black truffles for export to Europe to compete with the burgeoning Perigord truffle market. As the demand for truffles increased, farmers in Yunnan quickly began harvesting truffles from the surrounding forests. Asian black truffles grow naturally at the base of trees and the original truffle harvests were plentiful in Yunnan, creating a quick and efficient source of income for families. Farmers in Yunnan commented that harvesting truffles has doubled their annual income, and the process requires little to no upfront costs, as truffles grow naturally without human assistance. Despite the prosperous business for the villagers, unlike in Europe where truffle picking is strictly regulated, much of the truffle harvest is unregulated in China, resulting in widespread over-harvesting. Chinese truffle hunters use toothed rakes and hoes to dig about a foot into the earth around the base of the trees to discover the truffles. This process disrupts the composition of the soil surrounding the trees and exposes the tree roots to air, which can damage the symbiotic connection between the fungi and the tree. Without this connection, new truffles will cease to grow for future harvests. Experts fear that China's over-harvesting of Asian black truffles is setting the country up for failure in the future, as many forests that once held truffles are now barren and no longer producing mushrooms due to habitat destruction. Many Asian black truffles are also harvested on state land, leading hunters to scramble and harvest the truffles before other hunters can take the truffles. This has led to an influx of immature truffles being sold in markets with less flavor and chewy texture.
Asian black truffles have grown naturally near and under pines and other conifers throughout Asia since ancient times. Winter truffles can be found in regions of India, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, China and Japan, and truffles generally start fruiting when the host plants are at least ten years old. Asian black truffles weren't widely harvested until the early 90s when farmers began exporting the truffles to Europe. Since the 90s, the Asian black truffle harvest has continued to grow, increasing the number of truffle hunters across Asia. In China, Asian black truffles are mainly harvested from the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan, with Yunnan producing more than seventy percent of the black truffles sold domestically and internationally. Asian black truffles are also found in smaller quantities in Liaoning, Hebei and Heilongjiang provinces, and select farms are attempting to grow Asian black truffles for commercial use. Today, Asian black truffles are shipped internationally to Europe and North America. The truffles are also used nationwide and are mostly shipped to high-end restaurants in larger cities, including Guangzhou and Shanghai.