It all started with love at first sight from Zeus
The history of the truffle is a story of folklore and intrigue, and very few people know of its connection to the ancient Greek god Zeus. Expensive mushrooms have played a prominent role in Greece for their nutritional value, aphrodisiac properties and delicious taste.
Dating as far back as the 1st century AD, truffles have been the subject of great discussion among ancient thinkers.
Many ancient Greek philosophers were absolutely intrigued by the fungus, which is found underground. Philosophers of the ancient world actually debated fiercely the origins of the delicious truffle.
Do truffles come from Zeus?
The Greek philosopher Plutarch believed that truffles were the result of a complicated combination of natural and spiritual processes.
According to Plutarch, “the hydnon”, or truffles, came into being after Zeus hurled one of his mighty lightning bolts on earth. The heat from the lightning, combined with the natural moisture found in the soil, created the underground fungus near an oak tree.
Although it seems a bit far-fetched to the contemporary reader, Plutarch’s theory has some basis in truth. Truffles, and other such fungi, form a symbiotic relationship with plant life, meaning the prized delicacy usually grows near tree roots.
Likewise, the ancient Roman thinker JuvÃ©nal claimed that truffles were made up of thunder and rain. Cicero, a statesman and Roman writer, believed that mushrooms were born from the earth itself.
If that’s not exciting enough, truffles have been considered to have aphrodisiac properties since ancient times. The ancient Greek physician Galen praised the mushroom, writing that not only was it a delicious treat, but that “the truffle is very nourishing and can direct the pleasure”.
Mushroom is a favorite ingredient in many dishes
It seems that although popular in ancient times, truffles fell out of favor in medieval Europe, as truffles were rarely mentioned in writing during this time.
However, during the Renaissance, Caterina de ‘Medici and Lucrezia Borgia made mention of mushrooms at prestigious banquets all over Europe in exquisite dishes.
King Francis I of France particularly liked this ingredient and truffles were frequently used to flavor the dishes of his royal banquets.
While the mushroom was widely consumed by peasants in areas where it was found in abundance, the rise in popularity during the Renaissance skyrocketed the price of the ingredient and limited its availability to members of the royal family and to members of the upper classes.
The legend continues from there as underground mushrooms found their place in modern history as an expensive ingredient in sumptuous dishes.
Nowadays, the Greeks used truffles, often in the form of truffle oil, in a number of dishes such as meat, pasta, rice, chickpeas, and soups.