Hi, my name is Andrew Eichenbaum, and I am a Foodie... I am also the "Mad Scientist"/Analytics Engineer here at Yummly. In a nutshell, I deal with anything on Yummly that is data-driven either directly or in an advisory position, e.g.: recipe suggestions, taste matching, data quality. etc. This means most of my life behind the keyboard is spent trying to turn everything food into something a computer can understand. This gives me a unique position in that almost every day I am able to find out some new tidbits of knowledge buried in our data. Those tidbits are what we turn into the algorithms that help power Yummly. "Defining Delicious" will be a series of posts that bring out specific points or objects of note that I have found in the data.
So, let start with Truffles... Truffles are one of the most prized ingredients for their smoky, savory, and earthy taste. But, at $600 to $700 dollars a pound, it is not an ingredient that many of us can use in much quantity.
This brings us to truffle oil. Most of us use an olive oil-based truffle oil when we want to add the truffle flavor. Yet, most, if not all, of the flavor from truffle oil comes from a derived organic compound, 2,4-Dithiapentane. So, since we are already using a substitute for truffles in our "truffle oil", why bother spending $20 on a 2 ounce bottle.
Something I came across in my work is that cloves and Worcestershire sauce were used in similar situations as truffles and truffle oil. It lead me to believe that you could substitute one of these for truffles. Being a bit of a skeptic of my own work, I decided to test out my theory by setting up an experiment. I used truffle oil as a control, comparing it to olive oil I had infused with whole cloves, and olive oil with a bit of Worcestershire sauce added.
The results were astounding, in that the clove infused oil had initial taste of truffle oil, while the Worcestershire sauce/oil mixture had the ending taste of truffle oil. And, when we compared an even mixture of the clove and Worcestershire sauce oils, we had something that tasted very much like the truffle oil. Now I won't claim that this is a perfect substitution that will fool anybody, but the same taste was there, at a fraction of the cost.
You might want to try finding something on Yummly with truffles and playing around.