A Future With Fewer Truffles

(Bloomberg) -- The black truffle is already one of the world’s scarcest foodstuffs, but climate change could drive it to the brink of extinction in its traditional home of southern Europe.

Increasingly dry, hot weather in the world’s prime truffle-producing regions of Italy, France and Spain may become so severe that the delicacy is wiped out there by the end of the century, according to a study published in the journal Science of Total Environment. Prices for the treat, already one of the world’s costliest foodstuffs, will be driven even higher, they predict.

“Every time there is a drought event, it impacts that winter’s harvest,” says Paul Thomas of the University of Stirling in Scotland, who led the study. “They grow over summer and then they mature over winter, so they need that moisture over the summer.”

A Future With Fewer Truffles

Black, or Perigord, truffles regularly fetch more than 1,000 euros ($1,135) a kilogram, but they have been known to sell for twice as much after a bad season, according to Thomas, who also heads truffle consultancy Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd. Wholesale prices tracked by Bloomberg for the black’s even rarer cousin, the Italian white truffle, doubled last year after a poor harvest.

Thomas and Ulf Buntgen, a professor at Cambridge University’s Department of Geography, analyzed 36 years of data on Mediterranean truffle yields and used climate projections to estimate a decline in southern European output by 78 to 100 percent by the end of the century. That could be hastened by events such as heatwaves and forest fires, they warn.

But fungus fans shouldn’t be down in the mouth. Truffles may have a future in cooler northern climates such as the U.K. and Ireland, where mild winters mean heavy frost won’t damage the tubers. While truffle cultivation is notoriously tricky, Thomas has carried out successful trials in the U.K.

“In 2017 we produced the Perigord truffle for the first time in Wales, and we are doing another larger scale trial,” he said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.