Growing up, my dearest mummy won't cook egusi melon soup without adding osu (truffle). The amazing taste and texture osu adds to soup is just remarkable and as such, it became an ingredient we never wanted to miss out in certain dishes especially egusi soup.
While my family and I were busy enjoying the delectable flavor and texture this priceless jewel offers, scientists and researchers were equally busy unrevealing the tremendous health benefits that are obtainable from it.
Presently, more studies are being carried out to ascertain how this hypogeous fungi can further be utilised in the treatment and prevention of several ailments. Reports have it that truffle has remained a major source of food and medicine ever since time immemorial.
Truffle is botanically known as Terfezia claveryi and belongs to the family of Terfeziaceae (desert truffles). Truffle consists of species of the genera Picoa, Terfezia, Tuber and Tirmania. This macrofungi thrives mainly in Southern Europe, Africa, Middle East and the Mediterranean region.
It is distinguished by its dark brown, oval fruiting body (ascocarp) with small pyramidal cusps. One distinguishing feature of truffle is that it tends to grow underground unlike other fungi like mushroom that grows on the ground.
It grows approximately 10 centimetres in size and its spores usually develop within an asci (cylindrical sacs) where it forms ectomycorrhizae in a symbiotic relationship with plant roots. Due to the hidden growing nature of truffle, collectors usually adopt unique expertise with the aid of certain animals (dogs, pigs) that are sensitive to truffle’s volatile compounds.
Truffles’ bodies are usually colonized by various microbes such as yeasts, viruses, bacteria and filamentous fungi. Truffles inhibit the growth of plants around them thus exhibiting a burnt (brûlé) appearance around the area. They tend to parasitize the roots of plants growing around them thereby leading to the death of the root bark.
Through oxidative stress, the volatile scent released by truffles can also suppress the growth of other plants. Truffles’ fruiting bodies grow from April to June, afterwhich they are due for harvesting between November and March.
Truffle is known by other names such as Tuber melanosporum, the Italian white truffle, French black truffle, dessert truffle, Europena truffle, summer truffle, périgord truffle, Tirmania pinoyi, black truffle, Chinese truffle and Tuber magnatum pico.
Furthermore, different parts of the world have various names for truffle for example; the Igbos call it osu, Iranians refer to it as Dombal or Donbalan, Egyptians refer to it as terfas, Batswana refer to it as mahupu, Turkish people call it Domalan, libyan people call it terfase, Algerians call it terfez, Syrians refer to it as kamaa, Spanish people refer to it as criadillas or turmas, Saudi Arabians refer to it as zubaidi or khalasi, Nama-Damara people call it Kalahari truffle or !Nabas, Iraqis call it kima, chima or kamaa, the Hebrew people refer to it as kmehin, the Canary Islands refer to it papas crias while the Kuwaitis refer to it as fagga.
Biochemical Components of Truffle
Truffle is known for its high biochemical components such as oligosaccharide, steroids, anthocyanine, pheromones, carotenoide and flavonoide. It also comprises volatile organic compounds such as butanedione, methylthiomethane, hexenone, butyrate, dimethyl-sulfide and -bisulfide, ethyl-,methyl- and propylphenole.
Nutritional Compositions of Truffle
Truffle is an excellent source of essential nutrients and vitamins such as magnesium, potassium, carbohydrate, dietary fiber, protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B-6, amino acids, terpenoids and sterols.
9 Top-notch Benefits of Truffle
Truffle can be eaten either raw or cooked. It is a powerful ingredient for cooking, garnishing and flavoring several dishes such as egusi melon soup, soup, salad. It can also be blended and used as a soup thickener.
The volatile compounds that are responsible for the flavour of truffle are; isoamyl alcohol, 3-methylbutyraldehyde, 2-methylbutyraldehyde, 2-methyl-1-butanol and traces of sulfur compounds.
Medicinal Uses of Black Truffle
According Gajos et al., (2014), truffle is notable for its several medicinal benefits such as; blood lipids reduction, anti-cancer properties, energy booster, treatment of cardiovascular diseases and immunological resistance.
Other medicinal benefits of truffle include; alleviation of milk intolerance symptoms (e.g. diarrhoea, bloating), tackling of sleep disorders, alleviation of premenopausal symptoms, high calcium absorption from milk, alleviates rheumatic pain, prevents and treats senile cataract, sedative effects, prevention of women hormone imbalance, prevention of prostate disorder and senile urethritis.
In an attempt to test the antimicrobial activity against three microorganisms; a Gram-negative bacterium (Escherichia coli ATCC 8739) and two Gram-positive bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus ATCC 6538P and Staphylococcus epidermidis ATCC 12228), Casarica et al., (2016) obtained a purified aqueous extract of Terfezia claveryi Chatin brown truffles.
This extract was obtained through water extraction, concentration and purification by ultrafiltration. These researchers tested the concentrated extract using the agar diffusion method and it exhibited a remarkable activity in all the three cases. Growth inhibition zones of 20.5 mm, 21 mm and 26.5 mm were recorded respectively.
The brown truffle extract exhibited an antimicrobial activity compared to that of 300 - 400 µg/mL and 25 µg/mL gentamicin sulphate that was used as the reference.
Control of Corneal Infections
Aldebasi et al., (2013) examined Terfizia claveryi for an in vitro antibacterial activity using the disc diffusion, well diffusion method, minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) and minimum bactericidal concentration (MBC).
The T. claveryi showed an excellent antibacterial effects against all clinical isolates of corneal ulcer tested especially against Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The researchers showed that the active compound in truffle is effective for use in controlling corneal infections.
Due to the high antioxidant properties and high phenolic components of truffle, this macrofungi exhibits protective effects against body scavengers. Murcia et al., (2002) tested the antioxidant properties of 2 raw truffles (Terfezia claveryi Chatin and Picoa juniperi Vittadini) and 5 raw mushrooms (Lepista nuda, Lentinus edodes, Agrocybe cylindracea, Cantharellus lutescens, and Hydnum repandum) by subjecting them to various industrial processes (freezing and canning) afterwhich they were compared with common food antioxidants (α-tocopherol [ E-307 ], BHA [ E-320 Α, BHT E-321 ], and propyl gallate [ E-310 ]).
This was based on their ability to inhibit lipid oxidation. The assays, which were based on lipid peroxidation (LOO), deoxyribose (OH), and peroxidase (H2O2) showed that all the truffles and mushrooms examined exhibited higher percentages of oxidation inhibition than the food antioxidants. However, frozen samples showed a minimal reduction in free radical scavenger activity, however, there was no significant difference (P < 0.05) with respect to the raw samples.
Meanwhile, the canned truffles and mushrooms lost some antioxidant activity due to the effect of industrial processing. The entire raw/frozen truffles and mushrooms apart from the frozen Cantharellus boosted the stability of oil against oxidation (100°C Rancimat), however, the canned samples increased the oil degradation. They measured the antioxidant activity during the 30 days of storage using linoleic acid assay.
All the samples except canned Terfezia, Picoa, and Hydnum exhibited high or medium antioxidant activity. Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity assay was used as a benchmark ranking order of antioxidant activity as measured against that of Trolox (standard solution for evaluating equivalent antioxidant capacity). The study supports that truffle contains antioxidant properties.
Janakat and Nassar (2010) evaluated the hepatoprotective activity of Terfezia claveryi aqueous, methanolic and petroleum ether extracts using a potent hepatotoxin carbon tetrachloride (CCl4). This was compared with the hepatoprotective activity of the Nigella sativa plant.
The extracts were administered to the study animals through gavage 3 days before CCl4 intoxication and this was followed by 2 more doses 1 hour and 4 hours after the CCl4 injection was given. Blood samples were collected and serum bilirubin concentration, Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT) and Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST) activities were measured 24 hours after intoxication. The body weight was measured while the livers were weighed.
The aqueous, methanolic and petroleum ether extracts of truffle and N. sativa significantly reduced all the liver function tests. But the aqueous extract of truffle nearly normalized the effect of CCl4 and was comparably effective as the petroleum ether extract of the reference N. sativa plant. The results showed that aqueous extract of truffle exhibits a strong hepatoprotective activity against carbon tetrachloride (CCl4).
Treatment of Trachoma
Trachoma remains a challenging eye problem that has raised many concerns over the years. Mohammed et al., (2016) carried out an experiment to establish if the application of natural drops of truffle (Terfezia claveryi) to trachoma patients can cure the disease as well as inhibit the chlamydial bacteria. The motive behind this study is to ascertain the possibility of developing new treatment that is comparable to the existing antibiotics in use.
The results showed that truffle juice is so effective against trachoma in the third phase of the disease. A significant reduction of symptoms in patients with cortisone compounds in the form of drops plus truffle juice drops was observed. Total healing of the conjunctiva and the keratitis were also observed. Meanwhile, partial healing was observed when cortisone and the cream of chloramphenicol was added and there wasn’t any change of fibrosis in the conjunctiva.
In the treatment of trachoma with cortisone drops and cream plus truffle juice, complete healing was observed however, there was a continued swelling of the capillaries without any fibrosis (scarring and thickening of a connective tissue especially as a result of injury).
There was a clear observation that out of all the treatments, a significant reduction in fibrosis of the affected site in the eye occurred. Therefore the researcher agreed that truffle juice is effective for preventing fibrosis of trachoma to a large extent.
But it is worthy to note that other chemical antibiotic including cortisone-based compounds used during the experiment introduced several side effects. Notwithstanding that these chemicals reduced the trachoma toxins and the enlargement of the cells, yet truffle juice is a prefered option for tackling all stages of trachoma.
Neggaz and Fortas (2013) studied the antimicrobial activity of the ethyl acetate extract from the fruiting bodies of Tirmania pinoyi. This was obtained through the Soxhlet extraction and 6 fractions were separated from the extract via two chromatographic methods. The 4 bacteria are Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecalis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli and one pathogenic fungus Candida albicans.
The in vitro antimicrobial activity was carried out using the agar disc diffusion method. The fractions with the highest antimicrobial activity (fractions 02 and 06) inhibited the growth of both the Gram negative and Gram positive bacteria. These fractions also showed significant antifungal activity against Candida albicans. Therefore these researchers validated the traditional use of boiled truffle water-extract for tackling fungal and bacterial infections.
Fratianni et al., (2007) carried out a preliminary study on a fresh and irradiated Tuber aestivum black truffles to determine the presence of mutagenic and antimutagenic activities in the fresh product. They also examined the potential effects of gamma rays treatment.
The study was carried out on two Salmonella typhimurium His− strains, TA 98 and TA100 using the aqueous and ethanolic extracts from truffles, untreated or irradiated with a final dose of 1.5 kGy. The results showed that black truffles contain compounds with inhibitory effects against direct and indirect mutagenic compounds. The level of antimutagenic activity was slightly reduced after the treatment while the irradiation never lead to the formation of any mutagenic compounds.
Where to Buy Truffles!!!
This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnostic and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.
1] Aldebasi, Y. H., Aly, S. M., Qureshi, M. A. and Khadri, H. (2013), Novel antibacterial activity of Terfizia claveryi aqueous extract against clinical isolates of corneal ulcer, African Journal of Biotechnology, Vol. 12(44), pp. 6340-6346.
2] Casarica et al., (2016), A purified extract from brown truffles of the species Terfezia claveryl chatin and its antimicrobial activity, Farmacia, vol. 64, 2, pp. 298-300.
3] Fratianni, F., Di Lucciab, A., Coppolac, R. and Nazzaroa, F. (2007), Mutagenic and antimutagenic properties of aqueous and ethanolic extracts from fresh and irradiated Tuber aestivum black truffle: A preliminary study, Food Chemistry, Volume 102, Issue 2, pp. 471–474.
4] Gajos, M., Ryszka, F. and Geistlinger, J. (2014), The therapeutic potential of truffle fungi: a patent survey, Acta Mycol 49(2):305–318.
5] Hesham El Enshasy, Elsayed A. Elsayed, Ramlan Aziz, and Mohamad A. Wadaan, (2013) “Mushrooms and Truffles: Historical Biofactories for Complementary Medicine in Africa and in the Middle East,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2013, Article ID 620451, 10 pages. doi:10.1155/2013/620451
6] Janakat S. and Nassar M. (2010), Hepatoprotective Activity of Desert Truffle (Terfezia claveryi) in Comparison with the Effect of Nigella sativa in the Rat, Pakistan Journal of Nutrition, Volume: 9 | Issue: 1, pp.52-56.
7] Mohammed S. Alhussaini, A.M. Saadabi, Kamal Hashim and Abdullah A. Al- Ghanayem, 2016. Efficacy of the Desert Truffle Terfezia claveryi to Cure Trachoma Disease with Special Emphasis on its Antibacterial Bioactivity. Trends in Medical Research, 11: 28-34.
8] Murcia M. A., Martinez-Tomé M., Jiménez A. M., Vera A. M., Honrubia M. and Parras P. (2002) Antioxidant activity of edible fungi (truffles and mushrooms): losses during industrial processing. Journal of Food Protection, 65(10), pp.1614 1622.
9] Neggaz, S. and Fortas, Z. (2013), Tests of Antibiotic Properties of Algerian Desert Truffle against Bacteria and Fungi, Journal of Life Sciences, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 259-266.
10] Pixabay (2017), Images from pixabay.