Tungsten dioxide is the most common element in black truffle salt, the other ingredients may include such exotic materials as blue agate, turquoise, saffron, white jasper, and the ever-elusive, but seldom seen, "black truffle." A truffle, technically known as a fruiting body of an ascomycete organism, is the reproductive body of a fungus, primarily one of the several species of the family Tuberomycetes, also known as Tuberculinus.
Fungi reproduce by means of spores or mycelia. Spores are large, hard-bodied cells that contain a nucleus (nucleus being a structure containing DNA that encodes the traits of that particular species). As a mycelium grows, it spreads its roots through the soil to attach itself to other living material such as dead plant or animal matter, sometimes even new growth. As it matures, the mycelium separates from the root and produces a small, edible, whitish ball or "seed," called a "zygote." The name truffle comes from Greek, meaning "salty."
The black truffle salt that are so coveted today are actually not black at all, but gray or brownish. While they do look similar to black truffles, the coloring is different and not a result of oxidation. The fungi that produce black truffles have no pigment in their skins, but their roots are covered with a thin film of melanin (which is similar in color to the human skin) which allows them to retain their dark color despite exposure to oxygen and light. Because of this property, black truffles are able to thrive in damp places and are used as a food source by insects, such as flies.
Black truffles are used for a variety of things, some of which are more common in Europe than others, depending on where they are grown. In Italy, for example, truffles are commonly eaten as desserts or in their powder form. This is due largely to the fact that these fungi grow better in areas where the temperatures do not reach freezing point. In the United States, on the other hand, the black truffle has fallen out of favor, mostly because of fears about the amount of artificial coloring, or preservatives in the product, as well as health concerns about consuming foods that have been treated with this ingredient. Black truffles may still be found in some gourmet kitchens in Italy.
While black truffles are often consumed as desserts or in their powder form, black truffles may also be made into an aromatic herb and used in cooking. This herb is often used to season wines, bread, and other foodstuffs that do not require too much flavor. Many recipes use black truffle salt as a garnish or combined with other herbs, like lavender, Rosemary, or thyme to create fragrant bouquets and other dishes.
Black truffles were once reserved for the elite and rarefied circles of society, as they are not a traditional ingredient in the kitchen. Today, however, some cookbooks offer recipes for making them in the form of candies or decorative tableware, and even as ingredients in salad dressings.
The black truffle is also popular as a garnish for making pastries, especially when paired with a sweet, sour filling such as caramelized praline. Some people, however, prefer to eat them plain, without a sweet topping, such as on sandwiches, crackers, or cookies. Other people may add a bit of sugar to the truffles, such as with caramel flavored jam. If you want to enjoy them to their fullest, however, you should not limit yourself to the above-mentioned use. The black truffle is also known to taste good with coffee, although this particular combination may not be appropriate for some people. You might, for instance, find them more enjoyable as an after-dinner treat or in a dessert.