What are Truffles Worth?

It can be fairly difficult to understand why truffles are so expensive. After all, a truffle is just a fungus, right?

A truffle may be a fungus, but it is not “just” anything. People who try truffles are instantly captivated by their singular flavor and are often at a loss to describe why they are so good, often saying simply, “There is nothing else like them in the world.” Just as people are willing to pay top dollar for fine wines, their flavor alone ensures that truffles would be listed at a high price.

However, truffles are also quite rare, and supply cannot keep up with demand. Due primarily to climate change, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find truffles in the wild, and it is notoriously difficult to cultivate them. The French black truffle is the only one that has been cultivated, and that with limited success [link to internal The Trouble with Truffles]; the more desirable Italian white truffle has not been successfully cultivated.

Because black truffles are somewhat easier to find and are not as highly sought as white truffles, they are less expensive. Italian black truffles currently cost around $100 per ounce. In contrast, the white truffle
currently fetches $200-400 per ounce. Truffles now are nearly ten times as expensive as they were just over a decade ago.

However, those prices pale in comparison to the exorbitant prices that have been paid for truffles at auctions. In 2006, Sir Gordon Wu paid nearly $161,000 for a white truffle weighing 3.3 lbs. In 2007, that record was broken by Stanley Ho, who paid $330,000 for an Italian white truffle of the same weight. In 2010, Stanley Ho again paid $330,000, this time for two white truffles whose combined weight was just under 3 lbs.

While it seems unlikely that retail prices will ever be as high as the prices that people are willing to pay at auctions, it is likely that unless truffles become easier to find or cultivate, they will continue to be ranked among the world’s most
expensive foods.