Israeli researchers have just harvested their first crop of exotic mushrooms known as desert truffles – which sell for as much as $250 a kilo. The mushrooms grow wild, in the presence of other plants, but had proven difficult to domesticate. That job fell to the Ramat Hanegev Agricultural Research Center, where researchers said they had hit upon the formula for growing the subterranean truffle.
This is the first time any group has succeeded in raising the mushrooms under controlled conditions. The truffles are popular throughout the Mediterranean region and in Arab countries, and although they can be plentiful under the right conditions, finding them – because they grow underground – is extremely difficult. They are also popular in Israel, but because they are difficult to find, most are imported from Morocco, in tin cans, which reduces their freshness and quality.
The researchers are now trying to grow a second crop of the mushrooms – and if they are successful, they will transfer the method to farmers in the Negev, in order to enable them to take advantage of the lucrative market. “We hope that with our efforts we will be able to reach yields of dozens of kilos of mushrooms,” said Ofer Guy, who heads the project, which is sponsored by the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, Ben Gurion University, and the Volcani Agricultural Research Center. “If we succeed, we will essentially be creating a new and lucrative export market for Negev farmers.”
Ramat Hanegev Regional Council head Eran Doron said “we are constantly discovering new treasures that this region is blessed with, and the amazing potential here. The Negev is where the residential and economic future of Israel is to be found. With vision and efforts we will make the Negev a strong force in technology, in the economy, and in the world of culinary arts.”