Thursday, February 23, 2017

Wild Boars and Truffles

Our resident Truffle expert at Eckhartz Press is Brent Petersen, author of Truffle Hunt. He dropped me a line this morning to tell me about a wild truffle story happening in Europe as we speak...

This could be the craziest truffle-related story I have seen. Wild boars in parts of Europe have been found to be radioactive after eating an underground fungus called the "false truffle."

False truffles are tubers, so they are related to truffles, but many of them are toxic. They grow underground, but eventually push to the surface, allowing the top of the false truffle to be exposed. Once exposed, wild boars and other animals eat the tubers.

So where did the radiation come from? When the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant exploded in 1986 it sent a cloud of radiation into the atmosphere. Most people know that the area around Chernobyl has been evacuated for years because of deadly radiation contamination (although some residents have returned).

What people may not realize is that a radiation plume descended all over Europe with a lot of the radiation falling in the Alps. Radioactive particles, specifically Caesium 137, were absorbed into the ground.

European scientists have been studying the effects of the radiation that traveled hundreds of miles and contaminated the ground, water and plants. So far, most studies have found that the amount of radiation absorbed is low and not toxic to humans. There was even a study last year about the amount of radiation in northern and central European truffles. It also found safe levels of radiation in truffles.

Wild boars roam freely throughout Europe and while farmers consider them a nuisanse, their meat is widely enjoyed on the continent. Boars are omnivores, but much of their diet consists of roots, rhizomes and other material they dig up.

This is where the radioactive false truffles come in. False truffles are common in central and eastern Europe near the Alps. The tuber, like all plant material feeds on the soil that surrounds it. With radioactive Caesium 137 particles in the ground, the false truffle takes up the radiation which is then consumed by the wild boars.

A recent study found almost 50% of wild boars in the Czech Republic were contaminated with radiation above the legal limit. Scientists have dismissed concerns by saying you would have to eat contaminated meat daily for long periods of time to be adversely affected. And, the government is vigorously inspecting all meat before it is sold. But still, it pays to be vigilant. If you're in Prague and your goulash is glowing, I'd recommend sending it back.