What is a Chocolate Truffle Really?

If you haven't enjoyed a chocolate truffle because you can't abide the idea of a chocolate-covered fungus, you're depriving yourself of a real taste treat -- and here's why

It would seem logical to consider a chocolate truffle something like a mushroom dipped in chocolate, since most of us realize that true truffles are, in fact, a kind of underground fungus that's traditionally dug out of European soil using specially trained pigs. But in this case, the term "truffle" is a most often a misnomer.

As a matter of fact, with most of these truffles -- as with some other fine foods -- the food in question contains not a trace of its expected prime ingredient. In other words, with rare exceptions, there are no fungi in the chocolate version of truffles. Let us explain, if we can.

The truth is out there

When is a fungus not a fungus? When it's a chocolate truffle -- well, usually. While the chocolate industry really has tried chocolate-covered mushrooms (a subject we'll get back to in a minute), it's not the sort of thing to appeal to most people, even those select few who are X-Choc fans.

Generally the chocolate sort of truffle is named only for its resemblance to a real truffle, not because it contains truffles. They tend to be lumpy and generally spherical, in other words, and while not necessarily appetizing at first glance, they taste great.

What's in a chocolate truffle?

A classic chocolate truffle usually consists of a ganache -- a heavenly mixture of chocolate and cream, variously attributed to either the Swiss or French circa 1850 -- coated in either chocolate or cocoa powder. In the intervening century and a half, candy truffles have evolved into a variety of regional types.

Sometimes the ganache is replaced by creams, caramel, nougat, fudge, mint, toffee, marshmallows, liqueurs, or other substances. American truffles, for example, may contain a high level of butterfat and coconut oil, while Canadian truffles include peanut butter and graham cracker crumbs.

A truffle is a truffle is a truffle

Like good art, a chocolate truffle can be difficult to define, but you know one when you see one. It's enough to say that as long as a truffle is generally ovoid and has a gooey center, it's a truffle no matter how it's made.

That's not to say that they're easy to make, and in fact, most chocolatiers ask a pretty penny for their versions. While Hershey's Truffle Kisses may cost only a buck or so each (assuming you can find some -- good luck), you can pay a ridiculously high price for choco-truffles if you care to.

If you're having a bad day and can afford $250 for a chocolate truffle pick-me-up, then reach for the world's most indulgent one, the La Madeline au truffle. Weighing in at 1.9 ounces, it actually consists of dark chocolate doped with truffle oil, surrounding a real French Perigord truffle. A chocolate truffle this expensive certainly sounds extreme to me!