Climate Change Is Threatening Europe’s Black Truffle Harvest

First it was chocolate, then coffee and maple syrup – and now, it’s yet another treasured luxury food ingredient threatened by climate change: Tuber melanosporum, otherwise known as the black or Périgord truffle.

According to research published in “Science of the Total Environment,“ the European truffle harvest could be nonexistent by the end of the century. That’s crushing news for foodies, but it’s actually just the tip of a bad news iceberg.

Truffles are a love it or hate it food. Some people enjoy the earthy, tangy, almost indescribable taste of this fungus, which has been hunted for centuries — working dogs and pigs with sensitive noses have been ferreting through the forests of Europe in search of this delicacy for a very long time.

A high quality truffle can sell for hundreds of dollars a pound, and they appear in a wide variety of foods as a flavoring or novelty ingredient. For Europeans, the truffle harvest is an important part of their culinary heritage — but it’s also big money.

Such big money, in fact, that people are learning how to cultivate truffles, rather than having to rely on foraged fungi — but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Researchers Paul Thomas and Ulf Büntgen looked at historical data on truffle harvests and started plugging what they knew about truffles into climate models. These fungi need the right temperature and rainfall levels to thrive; disruptions in weather can undermine the harvest come wintertime. Because Europe’s summers are getting drier and warmer, the scientists estimate that the harvest could decline by 78 to 100 percent by 2100.

And these aren’t the only factors at work. Heat and dryness can contribute to forest fires, which don’t just disturb truffles: They can upend the ecosystem, as well as communities in forested areas.

And climate change is leading to increased pest activity, which attacks the entire landscape, as well as the truffles themselves. In this sense, truffles are a sort of harbinger of climate doom. Even if people are indifferent to the fate of this particular ingredient, they should be worried about the implications for Europe’s forests.

The weather-induced ebb and flow of truffle fortunes is on display right now with the related white truffle. Italy is seeing a bumper crop after unusually high rainfall. Comparatively, in 2017 the crop was much smaller, creating shortages that drove up the price.

So does this study mean that truffles will be “gone forever,” as some headlines threaten? Well, not exactly.

Farmers in Europe today are cultivating truffles to keep the harvest more stable and predictable — and they’re constantly learning more about how these fungi grow and reproduce. Truffle cultivation is also being exported to other regions with climates that are more hospitable to these delicacies — at least for the moment. The cost of these cultivated truffles, of course, may be another story — and losing the cultural tradition of truffles and caring for the forests where they grow will be a blow to Europeans.

Those intent on preserving truffles, in other words, might want to focus more on mitigating the impacts of climate change than opening up truffle farms in far-flung locations to cash in on the hunger for a famous culinary treat.

Photo credit: Elena Regina/Flickr

76 comments

Vincent T
Vincent T2 months ago

tyfs

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Ingrid A
Past Member 2 months ago

thank you

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

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Tabot T
Tabot T3 months ago

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Barbara S
Barbara S3 months ago

Thanks

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Richard B
Past Member 3 months ago

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Chad A
Chad Anderson3 months ago

Thank you.

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Janis K
Janis K3 months ago

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Sophie A
Sophie A3 months ago

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Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill3 months ago

thank you

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