10 of the World’s Most Expensive Ingredients

Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images
Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

Gourmands around the world delight in sampling some of the most exclusive and expensive ingredients. With this list, you can too—if you have thousands of dollars and many hours to spare tracking down specialist suppliers, that is.

1. SAFFRON

Pound for pound, saffron is more expensive than gold, mainly because the harvesting process is so labor-intensive. Saffron is the dried stamen of the crocus plant: Each crocus produces just three stamens, and each of these must be hand-picked and air-dried. It takes about a football field’s worth of flowers to produce one pound of dry saffron, and about 40 hours of labor to pick all those flowers. However, saffron is usually sold in small portions, because a little of the spice goes a long way in flavoring dishes. The top saffron is Spanish coupe grade, which retails at about $20 for 2 grams.

2. HAWAIIAN KONA NIGARI WATER

The world’s most expensive water comes from 2000 feet under the ocean in Hawaii. Because the water is taken from such a great depth, it is supposedly free from contamination by pollution and is said to help with weight loss and improve skin condition. The desalinated water is a seawater mineral concentrate and should be mixed with normal water before drinking. Hugely popular in Japan, it costs $402 per 750ml (about 25 fluid ounces).

3. ALBA WHITE ITALIAN TRUFFLES

white truffles
Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

White truffles are expensive because they are so rare. Only available for a few months of the year in one small part of Italy (the Piedmont area) they must be foraged by specially trained truffle-pigs (or, in some cases, truffle-dogs). The truffle harvest fluctuates depending on how favorable the growing conditions have been that year. They’ve been known to go for $2000 a pound.

4. WAGYU BEEF

The Champagne of beef, Wagyu beef comes from Japanese cows famed for their high level of fat marbling. It is this marbling that lends the beef such an amazing flavor—the fat has a low melting point, so it melts into the meat when cooked, resulting in a juicy taste. Wagyu beef goes for about $100 a pound.

The best Wagyu is said to come from Kobe. With only about 3000 cows certified as Kobe annually, and even fewer of these destined for export, Kobe beef is one of the most exclusive foods in the world—priced at around $300 a pound.

5. ACETO BALSAMICO TRADIZIONALE

True traditional balsamic vinegar takes at least 12 years to produce and is protected under the European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system. Trebbiano grapes grown in the Emilia Romagna area of Italy are harvested and the grape must (the pressed juice, skin, seeds and stems of the grape) is then boiled over an open fire before being stored in wooden casks for up to 25 years. 100ml of this specialty vinegar (about 3.4 fluid ounces) can go for $180.

6. YUBARI KING MELONS

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Yubari King melons are a cross between two cantaloupe varieties and are cultivated in greenhouses in the Yubari region of Japan. These melons are traditionally given as gifts, frequently in perfectly matched pairs, and the most sought-after are exceptionally round with a smooth rind. The most exclusive pairs of melons are sold at auction and can cost as much as $12,400.

7. JAMON IBERICO DE BELLOTA

 slice of dry-cured Jamon Iberico de bellota
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Produced from black Iberian pigs in the west of Spain, the special taste of this pork product is said to derive from the sweet acorns (bellota) that these pigs forage from the forest floor. The production of the jamon (Spanish dry-cured ham) is strictly regulated by Denomination of Origin (DO), a Spanish system meant to ensure quality and geographical origin of traditional foodstuffs. These rules specify that there can be no more than two pigs per hectare of land, to ensure the porkers can forage the 11 or so pounds of acorns a day needed to reach the required weight of about 350 pounds by the end of the acorn season.

After slaughter the hams are hung up to dry, a process that can take up to three years. DO inspectors are sent out to sniff the ham to ensure it is of the correct quality to be classified as Jamon Iberico de Bellota (only about eight people have sufficiently well-trained noses to hold the jamon-inspector post). Hand-sliced Jamon Iberico de Belotta can cost around $220 a pound.

8. HOP SHOOTS

The latest vegetable fad is the hop shoot (or hop asparagus), a by-product of the brewing industry—hops shoots are the green tips of the hop plant, which won’t go on to produce the flowers used in making beer. The vegetable is costly because harvesting the tiny tendrils is back-breaking work, since each shoot must be found amidst a sprawling plant and gently picked by hand. In some parts of Europe, the hop shoots can go for $128 a pound.

9. MOOSE HOUSE CHEESE

There are many expensive cheeses out there to choose from, but Moose House cheese has to be one of the most exclusive. A 59-acre farm in Bjurholm, Sweden, is a small moose farm with just three moose (named Gullan, Haelga, and Juna), who are only milked between about May and September. The moose produce enough milk for about 660 pounds of cheese each season, and Mouse House makes three types of cheese from the milk—rind, blue, and a feta-type cheese. The cheese sells for about $400 or $500 a pound.

10. ALMAS CAVIAR

A technician fills boxes with caviar
Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

Caviar has always been a byword for luxury, but in recent years the most expensive beluga caviar has become even more expensive because the sturgeon it comes from is now an endangered species.

The world’s most expensive caviar is the very rare Iranian Almas caviar, a pale-colored beluga caviar that comes from 100-year-old albino sturgeons from the Caspian Sea. To be an albino sturgeon is rare, but to be an albino sturgeon aged over 100 years? That’s really rare. Naturally, Almas caviar is sold in gold-plated presentation boxes and retails at about $25,000 for 2.2 pounds.

 

10 Delicious Hot Chocolate Mix-Ins

Lilechka75/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Lilechka75/iStock via Getty Images Plus

It's hot chocolate season—and while there's nothing wrong with plopping in a few marshmallows into your hot cocoa, there are many other ways to spice it up. Whether you're bored or just looking to try something new, these 10 ingredients will take your hot chocolate to the next level.

1. Peanut Butter

A jar of peanut butter in a white bowl with peanuts on a blue table.
Kevin Brine/iStock via Getty Images Plus

If you're a fan of the peanut butter and chocolate combination, this recipe from One Ordinary Day is for you. Just add a few dollops of regular, creamy peanut butter right into your saucepan along with the chocolate and enjoy.

2. Nutella

For a hazelnut flavor, mix some nutella into the saucepan. This one goes best with a whipped cream garnish.

3. Maple Syrup

Maple syrup in a glass bottle on a wooden table.
showcake/iStock via Getty Images Plus

For a New England twist on cocoa, add a couple teaspoons of maple syrup. If you need an extra kick, a couple pinches of nutmeg will do.

4. Cinnamon

A mere teaspoon of cinnamon in a saucepan of hot chocolate is all it takes to create a delicious mix of cinnamon hot chocolate.

5. Oreos

sandwich cookies on a blue background
stacey_newman/iStock via Getty Images Plus

You’ll need a food processor or blender to chop up around four oreos until they're the texture of sugar. Add it to the hot chocolate mix, then top with whipped cream and more crushed Oreos.

6. Peppermint

For a batch of peppermint hot chocolate, all it takes is three drops of peppermint oil and a pinch of salt.

7. Ginger

fresh ginger on a black background
martinrlee/iStock via Getty Images Plus

To make hot cocoa taste like gingerbread, add one piece of ginger, 10 cloves, and two cinnamon sticks while cooking.

8. Chili Powder

If you really want to spice up the beverage, whip up a batch of Mexican hot chocolate. This includes a little bit of ground cinnamon and a pinch of chili powder.

9. Cherry

Cherries in a jar.
Freila/iStock via Getty Images Plus

For a full batch of hot chocolate to taste like cherry, it takes a few tablespoons of maraschino cherry juice.

10. Booze

There are many types of alcohol that go well in hot chocolate. Some options include brandy, Kahlua, peppermint schnapps, raspberry liqueur, tequila, amaretto, Bailey’s Irish Creme, and even red wine.

101 Years Later: Remembering Boston's Great Molasses Flood of 1919

Boston Public Library, Flickr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Boston Public Library, Flickr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On January 15, 1919, Boston suffered one of history’s strangest disasters: a devastating flood of molasses. The “Great Molasses Flood” tore through the city's North End and deposited so much gooey residue that locals claimed they could still smell the molasses on warm days decades later.

While most of us probably think of molasses as a tasty ingredient in treats like gingerbread, the sticky stuff has quite a few other uses. With a little know-how, one can turn molasses into rum or industrial alcohol fairly easily, and the Purity Distilling Company had built the gigantic tank in Boston’s North End in 1915 to supply its booze-making operations.

The steel tank was enormous: 50 feet tall, 90 feet across, and capable of holding 2.5 million gallons of molasses. (Although Prohibition kicked in with Nebraska’s ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment the very next day after the 1919 disaster, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, Purity Distilling’s parent company, still had a license to distill alcohol for industrial applications.)


By Unknown - Anthony Mitchell Sammarco. Boston's North End. Arcadia Publishing, 2004, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The massive tank was nearly full on January 15, thanks to a recent infusion of 2.3 million gallons of molasses from Puerto Rico. Just after noon, something went horribly wrong. Witnesses later recalled hearing a noise like gunfire as the tank’s rivets popped and the steel sides ripped open. Suddenly, 26 million pounds of molasses were tearing down Commercial Street in a 15-foot wave.

A shockingly destructive force

A giant wave of a sticky foodstuff sounds like something from a cartoon, but the surging molasses was a shockingly destructive force. The wave moved at upwards of 35 mph, and the power was sufficient to rip buildings off of their foundations. The molasses snapped the support girders from an elevated train track and smashed multiple houses. The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities’s website claimed the property damage alone totaled around $100 million in today’s dollars.

The human cost of the disaster was even more grim. The wave of molasses moved so quickly and so forcefully that anyone who was unlucky enough to be in its way didn’t stand much of a chance. They were either knocked over and crushed or drowned in the goo. The flood claimed 21 lives, and another 150 people suffered injuries. Any flood would have been disastrous, but the viscous nature of molasses made rescue attempts even trickier. Medics and police officers arrived on the scene quickly but had to slog through waist-deep goo to reach victims.


Boston Post, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Even after the victims had been pulled from the muck, cleanup crews quickly learned that getting rid of 2 million gallons of molasses is no small task. In his book Dark Tide, Stephen Puleo wrote about one of the chief obstacles to the cleanup: firefighters couldn’t just use their hoses to blast the molasses off of buildings and streets with fresh water. Eventually they realized that saltwater would cut the hardened molasses and enable them to hose it down the streets into gutters. Thanks to all the foot traffic of rescue workers, cleanup crews, and rubberneckers, the sticky mess quickly moved around the city via people's shoes. In all, the cleanup effort required over 80,000 man-hours.

The Blame Game

How did this tragedy happen in the first place? The United States Industrial Alcohol Company was quick to blame everyone’s favorite early 20th-century scapegoats: anarchists. The company claimed that since its alcohol was an ingredient in government munitions, anarchists must have sabotaged the tank by detonating a bomb. Another theory explained that the molasses had fermented inside the tank, which led to an explosion.

Investigators soon found the real culprit, though: shoddy construction work. The company had been in such a hurry to get the tank built back in 1915 that it didn’t cut corners so much as it ignored the corners completely. Modern studies have found that the tank walls were both too thin and made of a steel that was too brittle to withstand the volume of molasses.

The man who oversaw the construction wasn’t an engineer or an architect; in fact, he couldn’t even read a blueprint. The tank needed to be an engineering marvel to hold all that weight, but the company never even consulted an engineer on the project. Basically, it threw up a gigantic tank as quickly and as cheaply as possible, skimped on inspections and safety tests, and hoped for the best.


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In light of these details, it’s amazing that the tank held together for four years. Nearby residents reported that the tank had leaked since its construction. Rather than fix the problem, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company had painted the tank brown so the leaks would be less noticeable.

The largely working-class North End residents who had lost their homes and loved ones in the disaster predictably turned their rage toward the United States Industrial Alcohol Company. USIA soon found itself named as the defendant in 125 lawsuits, which led to a legal battle that nearly matched the flood’s scale.

The Massachusetts Superior Court named Colonel Hugh Ogden as the auditor who would hear the evidence and report back on the cause of the disaster. It took Ogden nearly six years to hear testimony from 3000 witnesses. When he finally penned his report, he concluded that there was no evidence to support the company’s theory of anarchist saboteurs. Instead, Ogden found that the “factor of safety” in the tank’s construction and inspection had been woefully low. USIA was liable for the damage and paid around $7000 to the family of each victim.

The Great Molasses Flood still seems like a tragedy that could have been averted, but the disaster really drew attention to the potential repercussions of shaky construction. The case helped prompt Massachusetts and many other states to pass laws requiring that engineers and architects inspect and approve plans for major construction projects.

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