Truffle hunting: Seeking Saudi Arabia’s ‘Diamonds in the dirt’

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Ali Al-Hazmi always hopes to find the zubaidi type of truffle as it is the tastiest. (Photo/Supplied)
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The highly priced fungi is extremely nutritious as it is known to be full of minerals and vitamins. It is also high in carbs, protein and fiber. (Shutterstock)
Updated 23 January 2019
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Truffle hunting: Seeking Saudi Arabia’s ‘Diamonds in the dirt’

  • The underground fungus has been used as traditional medicine in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East
  • Truffle prices in Qatif range from SR120 ($32) to SR400 for a kilo. Prices in other parts of the Kingdom vary from SR450 to SR1,200 depending on the type of fungus and its weight

JEDDAH: During the wet winter months Saudis flock to the desert to look for truffles, the pungent yet highly prized culinary ingredient.
The edible fungus, known locally as fage’a, grows mostly in Riyadh’s Al-Thumama desert. Southern and eastern regions in the Kingdom are popular with families for winter camping — and they are also where Saudis go hunting for the delicacy dubbed “diamonds in the dirt.”
Ali Al-Hazmi, from the eastern city of Qatif, has posted photos of his truffle quest on Instagram. “Truffles can be found in clean spaces of the desert where there are no humans or cars, 10 days to a month after rainy days,” he told Arab News.
“I usually go to look for truffles with my friend and I always hope to find the zubaidi type as it is the tastiest, largest and most expensive.”
He said there were four main types of truffle — zubaidi, hobar, khalasi and jaba’a. Zubaidi was the most famous of these, he said. It is large, white and has a distinctive smell. Hobar is small and black. Khalasi is solid and jaba’a is one of the worst, he explained, because it is crumbly.
Truffle prices in Qatif range from SR120 ($32) to SR400 for a kilo. Prices in other parts of the Kingdom vary from SR450 to SR1,200 depending on the type of fungus and its weight, according to Al-Hazmi. Prices tend to be higher at the start of the season because of the process of collecting truffles, which requires effort and luck as they do not have seeds or leaves and are hard to spot. Also, there are no rules when it comes to who can collect truffles or how.
Some Saudi traders import truffles from other countries in the Middle East, including Morocco, Syria and Egypt.


Salim Al-Salhi, from Al-Qassim region, said he enjoyed searching for truffles by walking long distances until he found cracked parts on the ground’s surface. It was one of the signs there could be truffles in the area, he said.
“It also grows in lowlands and plains characterized by sandy clay,” he told Arab News. “Another sign is the growth of two green plants, known in the Saudi desert as Al-Ragog and Al-Jarid, around the cracked hole. However, these signs are not definite.
‘’We often use a small farming stick or a slingshot to take out the truffle from the ground,” he said, adding that truffles could be cooked with traditional Saudi dishes such as kabsa and margoog.
“The zubaidi type tastes pretty much like a mixture of mushrooms and potatoes and it is the best,” Al-Salhi added.
Oprah Winfrey fell in love with truffles 11 years ago according to her blog. In 2008, Lisa Marie Presley sent her a gift basket full of food items that included truffle salt, prompting the billionaire TV host’s years-long love affair with the fungus.
Last December she posted a video on Instagram that showed her unboxing a fancy pack of truffles gifted to her by Sabatino Tartufi as a Christmas treat. The Balestra family, which runs the firm, even invited her to a truffle hunt in Umbria, Italy, in 2015.
Rumor has it that she loves the foodstuff so much that she even keeps truffle zest in her purse. She has eight truffle recipes in her cookbook, “Food Health and Happiness,” that was published in 2017.
Truffles are prized for their nutritional value. They are packed with minerals and vitamins, and are also high in carbohydrates, protein and fiber.
Vivian Wahbi, a nutritionist and dietitian from Jeddah, said it was important that truffles were cleaned and cooked thoroughly.
“This type of fungi is rich in antioxidants and vitamin B, which makes it a treatment for cracked skin and works as a good moisturizer. Its richness in vegetable protein makes it an important nutrition source for vegetarians,” she told Arab News.


Saudi naval forces rescue sick French sailor

Updated 16 February 2019
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Saudi naval forces rescue sick French sailor

  • The sailor was suffering from internal bleeding and was 112 kilometers east of the Farasan Islands, a group of 84 coral islands that form an archipelago in the Red Sea
  • Maritime units were deployed to provide medical assistance and coordinate the rescue effort

JEDDAH: Royal Saudi Naval Forces and the Saudi Arabian Border Guards rescued a 72-year-old French sailor after he fell ill while on a yacht in international waters.
A Border Guards spokesman, Lt. Musfer Al-Quraini, said the search and rescue coordination center in Jeddah (JMRCC) had been contacted by the French Gris-Nez Maritime Rescue Coordination Center to report that a crew member on the yacht had experienced a severe medical condition requiring evacuation.
He was suffering from internal bleeding and was 112 kilometers east of the Farasan Islands, a group of 84 coral islands that form an archipelago in the Red Sea.
The JMRCC located the boat, contacted its captain and liaised with a doctor at Jeddah’s King Fahd Hospital to provide medical guidance until the evacuation could be carried out.
Maritime units were deployed to provide medical assistance and coordinate the rescue effort.
The patient was evacuated by helicopter and moved to Prince Mohammed bin Nasser Hospital in the southwestern port city of Jazan, where he received medical treatment. He is in a stable condition.
The yacht was accompanied to Jazan, following coordination with the port’s administration.
The French Gris-Nez Maritime Rescue Coordination Center thanked the JMRCC for rescuing the sailor.