Italy Faces Foreign Truffle Invasion

Italian Black truffles

Italian researchers nosing around have discovered traces of DNA from Chinese truffles mingled with prestigious, costly local black truffles.

The trouble with truffle intermingling? Scientists say it is one reason, along with environmental changes, that the prized tuber has become even more scarce in recent seasons.

Truffle cousins from Asia sprung up in European markets in the 1990s. Among them is the Tuber indicum from China, a close relation of the Italian black truffle, Tuber melanosporum. The two mushrooms share genes and have a similar structure and shape. Truffle conossieurs, willing to pay between €200 and 600 per kilogram (USD$130–$380 per pound) for this black gold, say the Asian variety lacks the taste and fragrance of Italian truffles.

During an inspection of a black truffle farm near Turin, where a dozen years ago T. melanosporum truffles were planted, researchers of the Institute for Plant Protection (IPP) of the National Science Council identified DNA of T. indicum in the soil and roots.

“It’s the first time that this Chinese species has been identified in an Italian ecosystem, ” said Paola Bonfante, IPP research coordinator. “It shows how this species has been used, intentionally or accidentally, to encourage these plants on Italian soil.

Bonfante says the finding is cause for alarm, clarifying that studies have shown that “in vitro T. indicum is more competitive than T. melanosporum and may take the upper hand. In addition, the two species are genetically very close and could be capable of hybrids. “

In Italy it’s illegal to import or sell the Tuber indicum, but that barrier may already be broken down.

Bonfante says they do not know how widespread the Chinese truffle is yet on Italian territory but hopes more extensive research will be carried out before black Italian truffles are but a pungent memory.
Photo Via Magna at Flickr