The 6 Most Common Types of False Truffles

The 6 Most Common Types Of False Truffles
Many people are thrilled when they find expensive truffles on their foraging adventures. Or, so they think. Most of the time, these truffles are false truffles, including the yellow false truffle, Melanogaster tuberiformis, star earthball, dead man's foot, Choiromyces meandriformis and Choiromyces magnusii.

What are False Truffles?

A hymenogastrale, otherwise known by its common name false truffle, is any species of fungus with underground fruiting bodies. These fruiting bodies produce basidiocarps that look like the true truffles of the Tuber genus.

But most often, these ‘truffles’ are superficial or partially buried. Whereas they may be true truffles on the odd occasion, they are most likely to be false truffles.

Are False Truffles Poisonous?

Although there are no known poisonous species of false truffles, in general, false truffles are inedible to humans. This unfortunate fact means that only a few truffles are foraged for food.

But it’s good news for the rodents like squirrels, who often use many species of false truffles as a food source.

6 Types of Truffle Lookalikes

Deceptive, lookalike false truffles resemble these expensive and tasty fungi. They often include tubers, plant galls, or earth balls.

There are several kinds of these false. Some of the most notorious culprits include:

1. Rhizopogon luteolus (Yellow false Truffle)

Common in Australia and Europe.

Edibility: disputed, unclear.

Also known by its more common name, yellow false truffle. Although novice foragers often confuse the two species, the yellow false truffle is easy to spot from the true truffle.

It’s an easy mistake because the Rhizopogon luteolus and all close relatives often push their way up past the ground’s surface as the fruit bodies expand.

Unlike real truffles, you don’t need some expensive dog or pig to root them out.

Yellow false truffle
Yellow false truffle

2. Melanogaster tuberiformis

Common in the Pacific Northwest.

Edibility: edible.

The peridium of this fungus is dark brown; it becomes blackish brown at full maturity, resembling the black truffle.

The odor associated with these mushrooms is often metallic and garlicky.

Melanogaster tuberiformis_17757
Melanogaster tuberiformis, image Number 17757 at Mushroom Observer

3. Scleroderma Polyrhizum (Star Earthball)

Common in Asia, Europe and North America.

Edibility: inedible.

Like true truffles, it grows underground but gradually emerges from the soil in an open star shape. This truffle species is also known as star earthball or dead man’s hand and is widespread and most often found in Europe and North America.

To determine if you have a Scleroderma polyrhizum false truffle, cut it in half before it splits. Truffles would not have thick, hard, brown skin like this false truffle.

Scleroderma polyrhizum
Scleroderma polyrhizum, image Number 56495 at Mushroom Observer

4. Pisolithus arhizus (dead man’s foot)

Common in the south of Europe and the USA.

Edibility: inedible.

Known as dead man’s foot or dyeball, this is another fungus often misidentified as a true truffle due to its initial underground growth. Again, simply cut this form of fungus in half to see the gleba (inside).

In contrast to the true truffle, notice several small chambers sporting pea-sized spore packages, call pseudoperidioles, which change in appearance and color as they ripen.

Pisolithus arhizus
Pisolithus arhizus, author: Dušan Vučić

5. Choiromyces meandriformis

More widespread in Europe and possibly also occurring in Asia.

Edibility: unclear.

It’s one of Northern Europe’s delicacies, also known as Choriomyces venosus.

But, in contrast, those in Southern Europe consider this false truffle toxic as a gastrointestinal irritant.

It’s easy to spot this false truffle because it pokes out from the soil’s surface in summer and fall, reaching an impressive size.

Its large size, whitish color, and resemblance to the Tuber magnatum means that the Choiromyces meandriformis is sometimes fraudulently sold as ‘white truffle.’

Choiromyces meandriformis
Choiromyces meandriformis, author: Holger Krisp

6. Choiromyces magnusii

Common in Europe.

Edibility: edible.

One of Spain’s delicacies, it is also known as ‘Criadilla jarera.’

Despite its hypogeous nature, you can spot this false truffle through the cracks that form in the soil as they grow.

Again, these false truffles are whitish to light brown with an irregular shape and a faint but distinctive odor.

Choiromyces magnusii
Choiromyces magnusii, source: fichasmicologicas.com

How Can You Tell if it’s a Truffle or a False Truffle?

Although the most common false truffles are listed above, you may find it hard to learn and remember the appearance of all false truffles.

The easiest way to identify false truffles from true truffles is to learn what true truffles look like, what they smell like, and where they live.  

What Does a Real Truffle Look Like?

Truffles grow underground, mostly on calcareous soil in broadleaved woodlands.

You’ll know you’ve stumbled upon a real truffle because they look similar to lumpy, rough-skinned potatoes.

They have a firm, sponge-like texture and an aroma that is both earthy and sweet.

Do False Truffles Smell Like Truffles?

False truffles often have a disagreeable odor rather than an earthy mushroomy odor.

Because there are so many species of truffle, it’s difficult to categorize the smell in one sentence.

But, in general, real truffles have the earthy, meaty, musky smell and flavor you usually find with mushrooms that grow above ground.

Real, black truffles are relatively easy to identify because of their cooked cabbage-esque and sulfurous oniony scent.

True truffles also come with roasted notes that produce an almost fruity, chocolate-like aroma.

In general, people seem to think that truffles smell:

  • Oaky
  • Nutty
  • Earthy
  • Sweet
  • Juicy
  • Some black olive-like notes

Truffle Foraging Tips

Because true truffles are rare but incredibly treasured, knowing a few foraging tips is the best way for you to find real truffles.

These include:

  • Know where to look; the Pacific Northwest, western Europe, and North America are some of the best locations for true truffle foraging. If you’re based in Italy, France, Washington, or Oregon, you should look in forests.
  • Because true truffles thrive in moist soil, you should be looking for truffles where the ground is damp or where it has just been raining.
  • Truffles form ectomycorrhizal relationships with fungi in their surroundings, such as beech, fir, and oak trees. Therefore those trees must be present for truffles to grow. Look at the roots; the truffles will grow and attach to tree roots.
  • There’s a reason pigs and dogs use their nose to find truffles, and you should use it too. Learn the typical truffle aroma and employ this knowledge when searching for true truffles.

Sarah

Getting into the great, wet outdoors in search of edible plants, herbs, fruits and fungi is one of Sarah’s favorite outdoor pursuits. She thinks there’s nothing better than combining her passion for hiking with the start of the foraging season. Sarah’s definitely not afraid of a little rain and dirt, it’s all part of the fun.

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