Did you think that truffles were only found in Italy and France? Think again! In Qatar, researchers are seeking for ideal locations to cultivate truffles in the desert.
Desert truffles of the Terfezia and Tirmania variety, which grows on the roots of the desert sunflower, are found across the Middle East and North Africa and have been used in the region for food and medicine for a very long time. Al-Fagaa, the desert truffles local name, is high in demand and has sold for EUR 200/kg in recent years. The truffles usually appear in deserts after the rainy season, between January and March.
In 2011, a research partnership was formed between Aquamed Research and Education in Doha and the Juva Truffle Center at Aalto University in Finland, where Dr. Salem Shamekh has shown that it is possible to cultivate and farm European truffles despite the harsh winters. Applying the Finish methods to the deserts of the Gulf, the aim is to increase the crop of Qatari desert truffles in their natural habitats and also investigate the possibility of cultivating the European white truffle, which often has a market price of more than EUR 3000 per kilo.
In search of the ideal Qatari location, Dr Asmaa Al Qaradawi of Aquamed Research and Education turned to Khamis bin Mohammed Al Sulaiti, who has been cultivating desert truffles at the Al Khamis farm for the past 14 years.
“My father has been working on his experiments for 14 years,” his daughter, Maha Khamis Al Sulaiti, said. “And in 2010, Dr Al Qaradawi approached him about the possibility of conducting her own research on our farm…Dr Al Qaradawi and her team took samples from the farm’s soil and other areas in Qatar.”
The project is still ongoing and the long-term aim is to develop a number of sites for truffle orchards, establishing a viable truffles industry in the country.