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Aphrodisiac or super brand: why do we find truffles so irresistible?

Truffle with apple
Truffle as a brand?

Welcome to this week’s truffle exploration! In this truffle blog post, we set out on a quest to uncover the secrets behind truffles' irresistible appeal to humanity. Our journey begins with a tantalizing question: Do truffles have aphrodisiac properties? Exploring this tantalising possibility could just unlock the mystery of their deep allure.

But that's just the beginning. We'll also delve into the psychological factors at play, peeling back the layers of human desire to reveal what truly makes truffles so sought after. As we navigate this intriguing terrain, it becomes clear that truffles are more than just a culinary delight—they're a phenomenon deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness.

Indeed, few brands have left such an indelible mark on the human psyche, enduring through the ages with a timeless allure. So, before we dive into the depths of truffle mystique, let's first unravel the enigma of aphrodisiacs. Ready to embark on this aromatic odyssey? Let's dive in!


The Oxford dictionary defines an aphrodisiac as a food or drug that is said to give people a strong desire to have sex. When you do an Internet search on the word and find those sites selling you a range of special substances for that flagging libido, they are at pains to remind you that not all of these substances however work in the same way: some might lower your cortisol (a stress hormone), some will increase your level of testosterone (a hormone that increases sex drive), and some others still aim to simply make you feel happy and relaxed. We will come back to this last point later on but for now let’s look at some truffle history.

The history of truffle as an Aphrodisiac.

The notion of truffles as aphrodisiacs has been whispered through the ages, a tantalising thread woven into the tapestry of human history. Legend has it that the ancient Romans and Greeks revered truffles as gifts from the gods, attributing their origins to divine intervention. One fabled account suggests a peculiar correlation between truffles and lightning-struck terrain, sparking beliefs in their mystical properties.

In a more contemporary vein, another tale emerges, shedding light on the intriguing connection between truffles and pheromones. Yes, it's true—truffles emit androstenone, a potent steroidal pheromone also found in boar's saliva and celery cytoplasm. This curious compound has even been linked to tales of historical romance, with anecdotes suggesting its role in Napoleon and Josephine's intimate encounters. However, before you cringe at the thought of armpits and arousal, let's set the record straight.

In our interview with Dr. Gary Lee last year, the myth of truffle-induced passion was firmly debunked. Despite the allure of such stories, scientific evidence suggests that truffle pheromones may not hold the key to amorous pursuits. For those curious to delve deeper into the science behind the sensation, Dr. Lee's insights are timestamped at around the 48-minute mark. Feel free to give it a listen here.

Truffle as a super brand

From the brand education website, we understand a brand as the culmination of impressions, emotions, and associations evoked by an object. It transcends mere physical attributes, delving into intangible realms such as values, personality, and the implicit promises it extends to its audience. Consider iconic modern brands like Apple, Google, and Louis Vuitton — each exudes a distinct aura, conveying not just a product but an entire experience. They speak volumes about quality, credibility, and the assurance of satisfaction.

In this vein, let's turn our attention to truffles. Enduring through millennia, they stand as more than just a culinary delight; they embody a legacy unparalleled in the annals of human history. With over two millennia of allure, truffles defy the confines of mere super brands; they emerge as veritable mega-super brands, a rare breed that has stood the test of time. But what is it exactly about truffles that commands such enduring fascination? Is it possible that instead of a physical aphrodisiac they can be said to have psychological aphrodisiac properties?

The enduring desirability of truffle.

Exploring the enduring allure of truffles, lets turn to Robert Cialdini's seminal work, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," where he outlines six principles of persuasion (now seven). Remarkably, almost half of these principles shed light on the mystique surrounding truffles.

Social Proof

Everyone loves truffles! At our market stall, it's a common occurrence for curious passersby to approach, exclaiming, "I've never seen truffles before! Can I snap a selfie with them?" This phenomenon underscores humans' innate tendency to observe and mimic the behaviours and preferences of others. It's why we opt for the bustling cafe over the deserted one, despite the inevitable wait for service.

In essence, social proof serves as a powerful influencer, shaping our perceptions and decisions based on the actions and opinions of those around us. And when it comes to truffles, the collective adoration they inspire only serves to heighten their desirability, making them a coveted indulgence among gastronomes worldwide.

Authority, or status

The very mention of these delicacies conjures images of opulence and exclusivity. Often referred to as "black diamonds" or "black gold," truffles exude an aura of luxury and sophistication. Just envision the sleek, chic allure of those European truffle websites, where every detail screams elegance.

The status associated with a brand plays a pivotal role in shaping our perceptions and desires. Take, for instance, the groundbreaking experiment by psychologist Stanley Milgram, which showcased the profound influence of status and authority figures. Subjects demonstrated a startling deference to people in lab coats, even to the extent of administering electric shocks to unseen individuals.

In a similar vein, the aura of status surrounding truffles contributes to their irresistible allure. Whether it's the prestigious reputation they command or the esteemed connoisseurs who vouch for their unparalleled qualities, truffles embody the pinnacle of culinary excellence. It's this sense of authority that elevates them from mere ingredients to coveted treasures, coveted by epicureans and aficionados alike.


Truffles are rare, and consequently they are expensive. Did you know that truffle production at the turn of the 20th century was significantly higher than it is today. The bombing of Europe from both world wars destroyed large swathes of their natural range.

The scarcity of truffles plays a significant role in their allure. As humans, we're naturally drawn to what's limited in supply. Think about the rush of excitement when faced with phrases like "Only five left!" or "Offer expires at midnight!" This phenomenon is also captured perfectly by the modern term FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out—an emotion we've all experienced.

The scarcity of truffles, coupled with their exquisite flavour and aroma, elevates them to a status beyond mere food. They become symbols of exclusivity, sought after by those who crave the extraordinary. This inherent rarity not only drives up their price but also enhances their allure, making them a coveted culinary indulgence for those who ‘appreciate life's finer pleasures’.

The truffle encounter

Amidst all this psychological analysis, it's easy to overlook the simple truth behind our collective adoration for truffles. It's their aroma, a scent that transcends culinary boundaries. There's an unmistakable magic they bring to the plate, unlike any other ingredient. It amazing, it really is all in their aroma, you actually don't eat truffles. What never fails to captivate me is witnessing people's reactions to that aroma, especially if it’s the person’s first time. It's in their eyes—their expression a beautiful fusion of surprise and fascination, a testament to the truffle's enchantment.

Then comes the intricate interplay with other ingredients on the plate. The complexity of truffles, influenced by the unique terroir of the farm they hail from, the prevailing climatic conditions, and even the specific tree under which they sprouted, transforms each culinary endeavour into a symphony of flavours. It's a culinary challenge to coax them into performing that familiar aria we all anticipate, but when they do, it's nothing short of magnificent.

So, there you have it – a bisection of how we have come to be so hypnotised by these humble fungi. Next week we are going to take our explorations to the next level and ask if the ‘truffle edifice’ sometimes can get in the way of simply enjoying the truffle experience?

If you liked this post, please go ahead and share it with your friends and fellow truffle enthusiasts. If you've got any truffle stories or questions, we're all ears.

Until next time, happy truffling, friends!

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