Chinese truffles are usually called Tuber Indicum as its botanical name. We've been wondering why it's called Tuber Indicum - indicum implies it originates in India which is on the other side of Mt. Himalaya, the highest mountain on earth. On one hand, we know India doesn't harvest or export any truffles. On the other hand, in the southeast part of Tibet bordering Yunnan and Sichuan, abundant truffles are found and they resemble French black truffles. So, the logical question is: why are the truffles found in Yunnan and Sichuan called Tuber indicum, not geographically and biologically closer Tuber Himalayensis? Truffles in Sichuan and Yunnan grow in red-soil plateau areas and the skin is brown, different from black-skin tuber himalayensis. Then, why not give them a more straightfoward name like tuber yunnanese or tuber sichuanese? Several years ago, some called them tuber sinensis which got beaten by tuber indicum and then obsolete quickly. Tuber indicum sounds better than tuber sinensis? we don't get it. Please see the map below and you'll get what we mean. However, Tuber himalayensis does sound rare, adventurous, exotic and so higher-end.
Whatever they are called, scientific research has shown that chinese and french truffles resemble a lot not only by exterior appearance, but also genetically and mycorrhizas. Some even say that they have the same ancestor - which many disagree. As the businessmen who have been in this business for more than 14 years, despite of all the scientific discussions, we think it's safe for us to arrive at two conclusions: 1) Chinese truffles are not fake truffles, they deserve the "Tuber". 2) Chinese truffles are as edible as French and Italian ones and contain not less nutrients than French and Italian ones.
Chinese truffles or tuber indicum are found and harvested in Yunnan and Sichuan Province. Besides Tuber indicum, there are other types of Chinese truffles and based on the quantity harvested and the demands from overseas, two types of Chinese truffles are also worth mentioning: one is black so-called Tuber Himalayensis, the other is white so-called "female truffles".
Among the three types, Tuber Indicum is the most common one. They have brown and smooth skin, white inside from Aug. to Oct., and black inside from the middle of Nov. to next Feb.. The black Tuber Indicum has stronger smell than white tuber indicum. Some think white tuber indicum is premature truffle, but most of white tuber indicum are already very big in Sep. and Oct. and the pigs do sniff them out.
Tuber Himalayensis is harvested from the regions that are near the Himalaya Mountains, mainly Northwestern moutainous areas in Yunnan and Sichuan adjacent to Tibet. They have very black, hard and grained shell. And, the smell is different from tuber indicum - tuber indicum smells a litle ginger while tuber himalayensis smells chocolate. Unlike tuber indicum, there is no white version of tuber himalayensis. Tuber Himalayensis is all and always black inside and is availalbe only from the end of Nov. to next Jan.
Here are the comparisons of three types of Chinese truffles:
In term of harvest quantity, Tuber indicum is much more than other two. Typically, in 100 kgs, there are 95% tuber indicumm, 3% tuber himalayensis,and 2% female truffles.
In term of size, Tuber Indicum is much bigger than other two, and the female truffles are the smallest.
In term of aroma, Tuber himalayensis is the best, black tuber indicum has stronger and more lasting smell than white indicum, the female truffle has the weakest smell.
In term of price, Tuber himalayensis is the most expensive, black tuber indicum is higher than the female truffle, and white tuber indicum is the least expensive one.
In term of availability, due to much bigger quantity and size, black and white tuber indicum are usually available in all sizes (big >4cm, medium 3-4 cm and small 2-3 cm). Because of the limited quantity, it could be difficult to supply only the big or medium size of tuber himalayensis and female truffles. So, if you want tuber himalayensis and female truffles and have specific requirements on the size, you need to contact us well in advance to see if it's possible.
Just for the purpose of having a better understanding of Chinese truffles, here are the comparisons in exterior similarities with the western truffles found in France annd Italy:
Some of tuber indicum have darker (rather than brown) skin and in the end of Oct., some of them are light brown inside and they look similar to tuber aestivum.
Tuber himalayensis looks similar to tuber melanosporum.
Female truffle looks similar to tuber borchii.