Are Truffles Vegan? The Fungi Some Vegans Refuse to Eat

Not to be confused with chocolate truffles, the truffles I’m writing about in this blog post is a type of fungi that grows around trees and is available in different varieties, including black, white, Chinese, summer, and winter truffles.

Like mushrooms, truffles are technically vegan because they’re fungi. But since truffles often grow below the soil, truffle hunters must use pigs or dogs to locate them. Therefore, you have vegans that object to these methods and refrain from eating truffles.  

In this article, I’ll go into detail about what truffles are, how they are grown, why they’re so expensive, and I’ll explain the two divergent viewpoints that divide vegans in their opinions about this particular ingredient.

What are Truffles?

Truffles are subterranean fungi grown in calcareous soils near the roots of trees such as oak and hazelnut.

They are produced in concentrated areas in countries like France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, China, North Africa, The Middle East, and the Pacific Northwest.

While they are fungus just like mushrooms, there are important differences between the two.

Truffles, unlike mushrooms, grow underground while mushrooms grow above the ground. Plus, even though they both have a hint of earth-like flavor, truffles don’t taste like traditional mushrooms.

are truffles vegan

Both truffles and mushrooms are fungi with a fruiting body, which is a reproductive organ.

Truffles have their fruiting body below ground, while mushrooms have their fruiting body above the ground, and these are both parts of the fungi that we, humans, eat.

Truffles form a symbiotic relationship with tree roots by forming a network called mycelium that allows truffles and trees to exchange nutrients that benefit one another.

How Are Truffles Grown?

Growing truffles can take anywhere from three to four years on average, and the yield rate is usually disappointing, hence why they’re so expensive. (Too much demand, limited supply)

The first step is to inject special fungi spores into oak or hazelnut trees when the trees are just seedlings, and the trees must have a good distance between them.

As the trees grow, so do the truffles as they establish a symbiotic relationship with the trees, during which the trees help the truffles obtain essential nutrients for their growth and vice-versa.

Once the time to harvest comes up, farmers use specially trained animals with a refined sense of smell to sniff out the distinct truffle aromas. Studies in 1990 reveal that the compound that is recognized by both truffle-sniffing dogs and pigs is dimethyl sulfide.

Despite that, relying on these animals does not guarantee a successful harvest, since many truffle-hunters do fail because of factors like climate, soil, and bad luck. 

European white truffles sell for as much as $3,600 a pound, making them and other varieties of truffles one of the most expensive foods in the world, which isn’t surprising considering the low yield rate.

However, because they’re such prized and expensive fungi, organized crime has made its way into truffle trading, creating a black market that gave rise to the theft of both truffles and highly-valued truffle-sniffing dogs. 

Truffle Hunting Animals

Since animals are used to track truffles, it’s hard to determine whether or not truffles are vegan, even though they’re technically not derived from animals.

truffle-hunting pigs

In some countries (i.e: Italy), the use of pigs to hunt truffles has been prohibited since 1985 because of the damage they caused to the truffle mycelia during the digging which dropped the production rate down. Experts attribute this to pigs’ desire to eat truffles, which is why dogs are more common nowadays.

And while these are partly good news, it also means that dogs are automatically considered more valuable, and a necessity to breed dogs for that purpose arises.

The breeding of truffle dogs involves creating positive scent associations with truffles (or truffle oil), which eventually develops into activities where the dog actively seeks truffles put into containers.

According to the dog trainers, the dogs are having fun and are happy to search for truffles because it’s a fun, game-like activity.

Animal-Rights Organizations Don’t Agree

PETA wrote an article called “Why Should No One Ever Support a Dog Breeder”, which points out the fundamental problem with dog breeding — which is taking advantage of dogs’ reproduction system to make a profit, an idea that also goes against the definition of veganism.

By turning a living being into a commodity, a process becomes inherently unethical. Not to mention the fact breeders are essentially exacerbating the overpopulation of dogs when we have 6 million animals that end up homeless every year, and half of them are euthanized because there are not enough homes for all.

Additionally, PETA has also conducted several investigations that exposed puppy mill breeders who keep dogs confined to dirty and small cages, causing them extreme suffering and distress.

I’m not suggesting that’s exactly what happens with those that breed truffle-hunting dogs, but dog breeding is probably not considered vegan because the dogs are treated as commodities, and in some scenarios, are treated very unfairly. 

Summary

Technically, truffles are fungi, which very much like mushrooms, are suitable for vegans.

However, unlike mushrooms, truffles are found using truffle-hunting dogs, a type of dog that is bred specifically for that purpose. This leads to some questionably unethical dilemmas.

On one hand, by breeding dogs you’re essentially turning dogs into commodities because someone is actually making a profit by breeding and training these dogs. Secondly, you’re essentially using the dogs to track truffles, which are then sold to make a profit, meaning that the dog is being used as a tool.

It can be argued that these dogs are treated ethically and that they’re happy and having fun while searching for truffles, but that doesn’t change the fact these dogs are seen as commodities.

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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