Just tasted my first Terfez (Terfezia sps)

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at ipns.com
Mon Mar 25 04:27:16 EST 2002

Moselio Schaechter <mschaech at sunstroke.sdsu.edu> wrote in message news:<B8BF3E8B.27CB%mschaech at sunstroke.sdsu.edu>...
> Daniel,
> May I be so bold as to quote from my book:
> "In North Africa and the Middle East, places not known for mushrooms, there
> are yet other kinds of highly edible truffles whose widespread use is not
> often recognized elsewhere. The most widely collected one is the 3desert
> truffle,2 or terfez (Terfezia leonis and others), which grows abundantly in
> sandy soils and is frequently sold in local markets throughout the Golden
> Crescent, from Morocco to Iraq. I had the opportunity to try desert truffles
> on a trip to Israel. My hosts were of Moroccan origin, but I didn1t know at
> the time if these mushrooms are found as far west as Morocco. I took a
> chance and asked if they knew desert truffles, to which they
> enthusiastically replied, 3Ah, terfez!2 Not only that, they took from the
> freezer a pot containing two or three pounds of what in color and texture
> looked very much like quartered, medium-sized potatoes. In a dish prepared
> with a light tomato sauce, the distinctively aromatic flavor of the terfez
> stood out. The taste was delicate, not pungent like that of the French or
> Italian truffles, but I found it most pleasant nonetheless.
>     I had previously read that people in Iraq used to look for terfez by
> rubbing their big toe over the dry ground to find areas that felt harder
> than the rest. What makes this digital exploration possible is that terfez
> grow near the surface of the ground and not at the depths of the 3classic,2
> forest-dwelling truffles. As my Israeli hosts told me, the technique is used
> in Morocco as well. Unlike the French or Italian truffles, terfez are
> collected and eaten in large amounts over a vast region. It seems unfair
> that this important food source gets little play in most western books and
> articles about edible mushrooms."
Thank you Elio! I do remember reading that section.

I'm not positive of the species yet, but it seems unlikely from other
photographs I've seen of T. leonis that this is the same species. And
a researcher from Spain kindly sent me several jpegs of Terfezia
collected in Spain as well.

I have received commercial inquiries from people willing to supply
what they identified as Terfezias from Botswana, Egypt, and the
sub-Saharan region. Apparently there are a great many more species
than currently can be readily found, probably over 50 separate species
at least. Some are eagerly sought after, especially by Kuwaiti and
Saudi families, the their esteem is widely known in many Arab

While there are apparently many grades and species involved, this is
the first I've had the pleasure of sampling. And I must admit I am
very favorably impressed with the quality, taste and flavor.
Apparently a white variety is considered the best eating. But I'm
still trying to get a handle on the genus as a whole. Trappe has
indicated the spores are often embedded in a gelatinous context, but I
find no such jelly in the specimens sent to me. They look rather
remarkably similar to Tuber species, in fact. And the aroma is quite
similar to Tuber gibbosum, but more complex: with elements of wine,
garlic, and pistachios to my nose. And there is a sweet taste to the
truffle which I have not experienced with other Tuber species.

Daniel B. Wheeler

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