Today we are touching upon a very controversial (and for some reason sensitive) topic.
Are truffles vegan? Some vegans don’t believe they are — dogs and pigs are used to forage truffles, which means they’re technically a byproduct of animal labor. However, we don’t agree — truffles themselves are completely vegan and don’t use any type of animal product. In the end, it’s up to your own vegan beliefs.
We can see how sugar being processed with animal bones aren’t vegan, but this one is a bit of a stretch in our opinion.
As our vegan friends say, if using a dog to forage food is a commodity, so is having a therapy dog or an emotional support animal to get you through the day.
In this article, we will take a more in-depth look at what truffles are and how they are foraged. Then, we’ll go into the argument (and may we add, the single argument) that is used to say that truffles shouldn’t be considered vegan.
And after that, if you haven’t guessed it by now, we’ll also give you our opinion on why this is a stretch and why truffles and truffle products are fine (from a culinary professional’s point of view) for vegans to eat.
What Are Truffles?
Unfortunately, we aren’t talking about decadent chocolate truffles today.
We are taking a look at savory umami truffles, a type of naturally growing fungus. But before we talk about whether or not they are vegan, let’s first talk about what they are, where they grow, and how they are harvested!
So first, truffles are a type of fungus that forms part of the Tuber species. There are many different kinds of truffle species. The most well-known ones include white truffles and black truffles.
Truffles are similar to mushrooms, but they aren’t technically part of the same species.
Mushrooms grow above the earth’s surface whereas truffles grow underneath the soil. These fungi are extremely popular in Italian, French, and other types of haute cuisine.
Truffles are very pungent — they have an overwhelming flavor and aroma that people either love or hate.
If you have no idea what to expect, you can think of them as having a very earthy, meaty, gamy, and musky flavor. Many people also describe them as being nutty, sweet, and oaky.
Personally, we aren’t always the biggest fan of truffles — the flavor is extremely overpowering and too savory for our liking, and should be treated with care.
That’s also why you will always see people using very tiny amounts of truffle products at a time. With this ingredient, a little goes a long way!
As we have mentioned, truffles grow underground. This makes them very difficult (if not impossible) to find on your own.
For this reason, many people have dogs or pigs (called “trufflers” — how cute is that?) that are specially trained to sniff out these savory treats. Yes, folks, you read that right! Trained pigs and dogs for fungi hunting! Crazy, right?
But you have to have a look at this truffle foraging video below from Outdoor Chef Life on YouTube. It’s a fascinating process and it’s very interesting to see how these animals track down these rare ingredients.
Why Are Truffles So Expensive?
The main reason this ingredient is so pricey is that they almost exclusively grow naturally. Truffles are very difficult to cultivate — many people have tried and failed miserably. So, just like authentic caviar, it’s a delicacy.
They also don’t grow in abundance. Fresh truffles are very scarce and have a short shelf life.
So, once harvested, you only have a few days (maybe a week or two) to use it. This means truffles sell out quickly because people use what they have almost immediately.
And finally, they don’t grow everywhere. They need very specific climates and habitats to grow.
And even when they do, because they grow underground, they are hard to find so it takes quite a while!
On top of that, you have to use a trained animal to seek out these fungi. And it’s also not as easy as getting a dog, training it, and going foraging. Most truffles come from privately owned lands.
If the owner doesn’t forage themselves, people have to pay them a commission for what they find.
Are Truffles Vegan?
So, the big question of the day: Are truffles vegan?
For something to be vegan, it has to be completely free of animal and animal-derived products. That’s exactly why some vegans don’t consider sugar as a vegan ingredient since sugar is processed using animal bones.
So what about truffles? Technically the truffles themselves are completely plant-based and vegan. They don’t contain any animal products and they aren’t processed using animal products.
The major controversy with this question comes in how the truffles are foraged.
A lot of vegans claim that even though the truffles aren’t produced or processed with animal products, using live animals to forage them should automatically exclude them from the vegan-friendly list.
But is this the general consensus amongst vegans?
Why Some Vegans Refuse To Eat Foraged Wild Truffles
Here’s where it all started:
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Group) released an article on why people shouldn’t support dog breeders. And honestly, we have nothing against this article and the points that it makes.
It is a well-known fact that there are many dog breeders out there that treat animals as a commodity and a quick money-making scheme.
It is also a known fact that many breeders aren’t responsible, qualified, or trained in any way — the treatment of these mass-produced and inbred animals has had a massive negative effect on the species and even society as a whole.
However, you don’t need a specific breed of dog for finding truffles.
Sure, some breeds are better at being trained and finding objects by smell. But again, technically any dog (or pig) can be trained to do so — and many owners do use their mixed breed rescue to do exactly that!
So, saying that truffles aren’t vegan because some people use (purebred) dogs to sniff out these fungi isn’t a fair statement, at least in our eyes.
Now, we are not vegan, so we recognize that we don’t have any real authority on this. However, none of our super-vegan family members or close friends have agreed that truffles are not vegan due to being foraged using live animals.
So, What’s The Bottom Line?
Veganism is arguably like religion in that many people believe in different things with different levels of commitment to them. The general “rules” remains the same — stay away from animal-based and animal-derived products.
Whether you follow some of these rules is entirely up to you. There are vegans who use sugar, wear fake leather, and still eat truffles, sugar, and honey. We don’t think that this makes you not vegan — only you get to decide that.
Our personal belief (as a passionate food fanatic) is that truffles are completely fine being qualified as a vegan ingredient. It used to be!
Just because some people started changing the rules based on their personal beliefs doesn’t all of a sudden disqualify it. Rules and beliefs can change, but we do think this one is a bit of a stretch.
Again, to say truffles aren’t vegan because some people forage using purebred dogs is ridiculous. Rescue dogs can be used as well as mixed breeds. People also use pigs to find truffles.
Furthermore, truffles aren’t animal products. It isn’t fertilized with animal products, and it isn’t derived from or processed using animal products.
If you can claim something isn’t vegan because a dog or pig is used to forage the fungi, it’s like claiming dogs shouldn’t be used as emotional support animals as they are seen as commodities that help people do their job and make money.
And these dogs are usually exceedingly well taken care of and groomed — better than most dogs and some people!
Is Truffle Oil Vegan?
Now, if you don’t agree with that point, then truffle oil is completely fine to use.
However, some manufacturers do dilute their truffle oil with fish oil and dairy products. So you should definitely check the label and ingredients list to ensure that the oil is actually vegan.
As you know, neither of those products is on the list of being vegan-friendly since they come from fish and cows — that’s not a point anyone is arguing about.
Can You Get Imitation Truffle Oil?
If you are looking for a completely vegan truffle-flavored oil, you are in luck. Most truffle imitation oils don’t contain any animal products and they also don’t involve animals in the production method.
These are usually a little more affordable, but keep in mind that they are synthetic — chemicals are used to recreate the flavor and smell.
Are Personally Cultivated Truffles Vegan?
This is a very hard question to give an accurate answer to. It should be, but many people use fertilizers to help promote the growth of truffles — as we’ve mentioned, it is very hard to grow truffles.
If you do buy truffles that are grown by someone, always check what they use as fertilizers or growth hormones (if any). Many of those ingredients are safe to eat, but not considered vegan.