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.
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 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
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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
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
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.