Moroccan desert truffle, commonly known as Terfez, criadilha or criadilla de tierra is an ectomycorrhizal fungus that establishes symbiotic associations (mycorrhiza) with the roots of various plant species, mainly Cistaceae, in arid and semi-arid areas around the Mediterranean basin.
Terfezia arenaria is probably the most widely known and collected desert truffle, being eaten and sold as food in southern Europe, many parts of North Africa and southwestern Asia. Moroccan desert truffle culinary use dates back to 2300 years and its fruitbodies are still nowadays highly prized for their culinary qualities. T. arenaria also possess medicinal properties and its use for treatment of conjunctivitis is known for several thousand years.
The most distinctive characters of Terfezia arenaria fruitbodies are their big size, whitish pink color with black spots and distinct spores, which are ornamented with prominent, truncated warts, looking like a cogwheel.
Quercus suber and Q. ilex stand, Portugal, 2016, ©Rogério Louro
Moroccan desert truffle develops underground, but can be partially emerging when maturation occurs. the fruitbodies are more or less round shaped, smooth or sometimes cracked, reaching up to 15 cm in diameter, whitish pink colored with black spots on the outside and whitish to reddish colored on the inside.
Terfezia arenaria establishes symbiotic associations (mycorrhiza) with the roots of various plant species, including different annual and perennial species of Helianthemum spp. and Cistus spp., and also with members of the Fagaceae and Pinaceae. Its fruitbodies are most often found associated with Helianthemum guttatum in sandy, acid soils, from March to the end of May.
Levels of trade are not known, but are clearly large and growing. Substantial quantities are marketed in southern Europe, parts of North Africa, and other countries bordering the Mediterranean.
- Kagan-Zur, V., Roth-Bejerano, N., Sitrit, Y., Morte, A., Desert Truffles: Phylogeny, Physiology, Distribution and Domestication, Soil Biology, Vol 38, 2014, p.391.