Truffles Are Divine But Not Worth the Bad Karma

trufflesThey're called "black diamonds," but it's almost more like they're the new drug out on the market: black truffles from France (the fungi, not the chocolates) are one of the most expensive foods in the world, second only to white truffles from Italy, which can cost up to $3,600 a pound. Both have been on chefs' menus for centuries, but in the past few years climate change has made them increasingly rare and hideously expensive.

These conditions have caused the fungi to become a hot commodity for organized crime. Lesley Stahl investigated the truffle black market on 60 Minutes last night, and suddenly selling heroin is looking relatively safe.

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And now cheaper, low-quality truffles from China are infiltrating the market. They're being sold in batches with high-quality truffles at French and Italian prices -- basically the fungi equivalent of cutting cocaine with flour! And if you talk too much about what's going on... one French chef draws a finger across his throat to show what could happen to you.

Not that I would know the difference between a French and a Chinese truffle. The closest I've ever come is that cheap truffle oil from Trader Joe's -- made from who knows what. But imagine if you're out for dinner someplace fancy and you order the perch with shaved truffles. How would an inexperienced eater know the difference? And how would you feel if you knew your dinner was made possible through some violence?

That's right, truffle farming can be bad for your health, so to speak. Truffle thieves have been known to kidnap truffle-sniffing dogs, car-jack farmers, and even beat people for the pricey fungi! Unless you eat a truffle on the farm where it was grown, you really can't know for sure the store behind your dinner. At truffle markets middle men sell the black diamonds from the backs of vans -- and sometimes literally in back alleys.

Wow, who knew dinner could be this glamorous risky? Where is our 007 truffle movie? Can't you see Daniel Craig chasing down some thug with his pockets laden with smelly 'shrooms? Why is the latest Mission Impossible movie all about nuclear weaponry instead of fungi? Clearly this is where all the illegal drama is! But man, whatever fantasies I've harbored of trying the real thing have just flown out the window. Truffles? Not worth the bad karma, thanks!

 

Did you know the truffle trade could be so dangerous?

 

Image via 60 Minutes

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