Since ancient times, the harvest and use of truffles in all of Africa and the Middle East is well documented. The nomadic populations of the Kalahari Desert, for example, have probably used desert truffles (mostly the species Kalaharituber pfeilii) for thousands of years, distinguishing between the different edible species in the Pezizaceae family. Among the Khoisan of the Kalahari Desert, truffles are known as kuutse, mahupu or n’xaba. Khoikhoi mythology refers to truffles by comparing them to eggs of the “lightning bird” that appear after a storm. In fact, truffles only grow after there has been a sufficient amount of rain (but not when there is too much), which occurs between January and April. They are picked between April and June and, after the first frost, they disappear. To harvest them you do not need help from a pig or dog; they can be identified by an expert eye from small cracks in the terrain in conjunction with tufa or specific plants or herbs of the desert, such as Acacia hebeclada, Aristida, and Eragrostis. Some types of animals even dig to search for truffles: People follow hyenas and desert foxes in order to find them. Because the conditions required for growth are heavily dependent on atmospheric events, the truffles grow sporadically, usually every 4 years.
They can be eaten raw or cooked. Peeled truffles can be boiled in salted water. They can also be buried in the hot ashes left after a fire, or in hot sand. They are sometimes fried. The flavor is not as strong as that of the European truffle, and the consistency is similar to crumbly cheese.
Desert truffles are high in nutrients and contain an optimal amount of fats, proteins, fiber, and vitamin B. They are the second most caloric local food after cooked corn.
In North Africa, Bedouins use desert truffles to remedy intestinal problems or eye infections. Today, modern medicine is exploring the truffles’ antibacterial and antiviral properties.
The presence of this truffle is diminishing. Local peoples in the Kalahari still value truffles, but there are no longer the same weather conditions that there were in the past: It doesn’t rain as regularly and the season are no longer well defined. The introduction of livestock erodes the soil and makes the harvest and growth of truffles more difficult.