Truffles are one of the most amazing foods on earth. They’re spectacularly expensive, the height of opulence, and while they don’t actually have much of a flavor their aroma is rich, earthy, and intoxicating. There’s really nothing else on earth that’s quite like a truffle, including (and especially) truffle oil. In fact, truffle oil is an abomination and you should never, ever put it on anything.[related]
“But why?” you may be asking. “It’s just the oil of a truffle, and it makes everything it’s added to taste like it has truffles shaved onto it!” Wrong, wrong, wrong. First of all, it’s not the oil of a truffle, because if you could actually squeeze a truffle and extract oil from it the resulting product would be more expensive than the truffle itself. In reality, truffle oil is just grapeseed oil that’s been mixed with a chemical compound called 2,4-dithiapentane, which only sort of smells like truffles. Truffle oil does not contain anything even remotely approaching real truffle.
Second, adding truffle oil to something does not make it taste like it has truffles shaved onto it, and anyone who’s ever eaten a bowl of pasta with truffles lovingly shaved atop it will tell you that. Truffle oil hits you in the face like a ton of bricks, and assaults the senses. If you’re eating something with truffle oil poured onto it, odds are you’re only tasting (and smelling) the truffle oil, and nothing else. Real truffles are delicate and nuanced, and require you to tap into all your senses to properly enjoy them.
If I sound like a snob, it’s with good reason. “Truffle oil tastes good, so what’s the harm in using it occasionally, like on fries?” you might be thinking. Well, here’s the thing. Truffle oil is changing your understanding of what real truffle tastes like. If you go your whole life having never eaten a dish that’s been adorned with truffles, thinking that it’s an experience that can be replicated by just using truffle oil instead, you’re bound to be set up for disappointment. As mentioned, truffles have little to no flavor on their own, and their smell is what you’re really tasting, in an obviously subtle way. That smell is one of the culinary world’s finest, and truffle oil poorly approximates it and magnifies it by about 100-fold. So put away the truffle oil and experience truffles as they were meant to be: shaved over a plate of pasta lightly tossed with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano, or beef carpaccio. You’ll be glad you did.