You pay for what you get…..right? Usually this phrase is something we say to validate paying more for something. It can also be said to deter someone from purchasing something that may be too cheap and lead to spending more money for a replacement.
You pay for what you get for food can mean different things to different people. Paying more may be justified for flavor, quality, uniqueness, authenticity, etc. Regardless of why you splurge on food, paying more for food usually means the cost is justified for the quality of the product.
Why are these foods so expensive? They can be grown in rare conditions/environments, harvested in a labor intensive manner, only produced in small quantities, or come from a rare type of plant/animal. There's a reason that genuine caviar and regular old fish roe do not cost the same, and it's not just pretentiousness.
Cooking with these most expensive ingredients on a regular basis can leave you broke. However, splurging on an expensive ingredient now and again might be worth it to capture the unique flavors and experiences these foods provide - or just to show off at your next dinner party.
Most of these expensive ingredients can have much cheaper alternatives. However, paying for the real deal will give you a chance to experience these rare, flavorful, time intensively harvested items. You pay for what you get.
If you see these listed items at a cheap price, beware they are probably a counterfeit. Most of these items have much cheaper counterparts. The question is: are these expensive ingredients worth it? Keep in mind if you do have the budget to try these authentic ingredients, you may need to spend more time and money hunting them down and paying shipping to get them to you.
Would you pay to cook and eat these boujee ingredients?
On a pound for pound basis, saffron costs more than gold. This vibrant red spice is the dried stamen of the crocus plant. What makes saffron so expensive? There are only about 3 stamens per crocus plant. Each stamen has to be handpicked. Therefore, the harvesting of saffron is very labor intensive.
Imagine how many plants are needed to create a pound of saffron. Each dried stamen weighs just a tiny fraction. Some estimates suggest a football field of crocus plants is needed to produce just a pound of saffron. So, the next time you enjoy something made with saffron, know that a lot of labor went into getting it in your kitchen or on your plate.
19 Wagyu beef
Wagyu beef is considered the most expensive type of beef. Beware Kobe or other types of beef may be sold under the impression of being authentic Wagyu from Japan. Kobe beef is another expensive type of beef, but Wagyu is more expensive.
What makes Wagyu beef so expensive? Waygu beef is derived from four specific breeds of cattle. The marbling of the Wagyu is considered the best ratio in the world.
Wagyu beef can be a few hundred dollars per pound and is fairly accessible if you pay the price. For example, you can buy Wagyu on Amazon for about $300 per ten ounce size steak.
18 Densuke watermelon
This fruit is so rare only about 65 are produced each year which is what drives the price up so much. There are annual auctions every year in Japan to sell them once harvested.
The cost for a single watermelon can cost around $250. However, the top melons can cost you up to thousands of dollars. What makes these watermelons so unique? They have a very dark black smooth rind. They are also supposedly sweeter than any other watermelon. It better be sweet for that price!
17 Hop shoots
According to a 2015 article from The Guardian, hop shoots can cost about €1,000 in parts of Europe. What makes this seemingly humble vegetable so expensive?
Hops are of course what brewers use to make beer. The hop shoots are the top, tiny parts of the hop plant that aren’t used to brew.
What makes these “leftover” parts of hops so valuable? They are considerably hard and time intensive to harvest. They have to be manually picked by hand. They are incredibly small, so you need a large volume to use. These shoots have a large following; there is even a hop shoot festival in London each year.
16 Jamon Iberico De Bellota
This can be considered really fancy Spanish ham. This expensive meat is from black Iberian pigs in the Western part of Spain. How is this pork different from any other pork elsewhere in the world? These pigs mainly dine on sweet acorns from the forests in Western Spain. This gives a unique taste specific to this region.
Making the jamon, which is ham made from dry curing, is a strictly regulated process. Less than 10 people in the world are considered to be true jamon inspectors. If you want to try this special pork product, it costs about $220 per pound.
15 Ruby Roman grapes
Are you ready to pay $225 for a bunch of 25 ping pong sized grapes? That is what you could pay if you wanted to try Ruby Roman grapes. In order to pass as superior grapes, they have a sugar content of 18% and weigh 20 grams each.
Like the melon and beef, this expensive grape variety is found in Japan. According to ABC News in 2016, a bunch of these Ruby Roman grapes sold in Japan for $14,600. This worked out to about $480 per ping pong grape! I don’t know the best way to enjoy a $480 grape, but if they are that much a piece hopefully they were savored to the fullest.
Pure vanilla (not cheap, artificial vanilla) has always been considered a more expensive ingredient because it is labor intensive to harvest. The pods are handpicked and pollinated. However, it was still not considered a top expensive ingredient. However, a few years ago a shortage of vanilla beans in Madagascar started which further drove the price up.
According to Cooking Light, vanilla is at an all time low and costs more in weight than silver. A kilogram of vanilla costs about $600 - up ten times from a few years ago. If supplies continue to go down, the cost could go up even more.
13 Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
Balsamic vinegar is a good example of an ingredient that can drastically range in price. You can pick up some balsamic vinegar at the store very cheaply, or you can pay top dollar for traditional balsamic vinegar from Italy. In this instance, I would argue you pay for what you get.
This expensive traditional balsamic vinegar is made in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy and is protected under the European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system. This special way of making balsamic vinegar entails using locally harvested grapes, boiling them over an open fire and storing in wooden barrels for at least 12 and up to 25 years. The longer it sets, the sweeter, thicker the vinegar.
12 Yubari king melons
This melon isn’t any old melon you can get at your local supermarket. These melons are specifically grown in the greenhouses in the Yubari region of Japan. This melon has the familiar orange flesh and tan/off white rind, but it is a special hybrid of two varieties of cantaloupes.
A Yubari melon should be perfectly round, have a smooth rind and have a small piece of the stem left on. Melons that are more round and have the smoothest rind will go for top dollar. They are usually sold as pairs and are given as (expensive) gifts. A pair of these melons can cost as much as $12,000 per set.
11 White Truffles from Italy
Truffles are notorious for being a decadent ingredient. According to Italy Magazine, there are hundreds of species of truffles. Not all of them are top dollar. Some of the most expensive truffles are the white truffles, also known as the white diamond or white Alba, from the Piedmont region.
These truffles grow only in this region of Italy and are found growing with oak, hazel, willow or beech trees. The truffles are not easily found; they are found by trained dogs (or pigs!) who hunt down the smell of these truffles. They only are harvested between September and November. After they are harvested, it is recommended to eat within a week. These truffles have a short shelf life for peak flavor. There are many other truffle varieties, but this one reigns supreme in many people's opinion. How much they go for can vary depending on the growing conditions every year. These truffles have been sold for as much as $2,000 per pound.
10 Almas Caviar
There is arguably no other ingredient associated with luxury as much as caviar. Most caviar is already expensive, but there are still certain types of caviar that cost more than others.
The most expensive caviar is considered to be the Almas caviar from Iran. This caviar is from albino beluga sturgeons which lives in the Caspian Sea. This caviar is considered to be some of the rarest in the world because the sturgeons are now considered endangered. Most albinos are about 100 years old.
Something so rare is packaged to match it’s worth. Almas caviar is packed in a gold plated tin, and it can be as expensive as $25,000 per kilogram.
9 Civet Coffee
Civet coffee, or kopi luwak, is literally coffee beans that have gone through the digestive tract and have been excreted by the palm civet, which is similar to a cat. So why do people pay top dollar for this poo-poo coffee?
The civets eat the coffee cherry fruits and excrete the beans. Farmers go around and collect the excrement, wash and roast the beans.The beans get fermented in the digestive tract of the civet. This is one reason why the civet coffee has a unique flavor. Proponents of this type of coffee say the flavor is superb compared to other coffee beans. Even in the 1800’s plantation owners in the Netherlands would pay top dollar for these coffee beans. There are many cheaper versions of civet coffee, but the real thing can go for about $700 per kilogram.
8 Black Truffles From France
Just as there are white truffles called white diamonds, there are black truffles called black diamonds. They grow in southwestern France's Dordogne county. How are the black truffles unique? The flavor is sweet and extravagant, and said to be superior to other black truffles around the world.
Similar with white truffles, if the growing conditions are not right, truffle availability can be limited. When this happens, prices go up even more. Price can fluctuate around $1,200-$1,400 per pound. If you see an option on a menu for shavings of black truffles, beware that may add a couple hundred dollars to the bill - just for a few shavings.
7 To’ak Chocolate
Chocolate is another example that has a wide range of costs. Certainly there are cheap chocolate products and foods available. However, you can also find chocolate that is quite pricey. An example of an expensive chocolate is the To’ak Chocolate. Fine Dine Love claims this chocolate is made from the last trees of this specific cocoa strain in Ecuador.
If you order this chocolate, you will get a box sent to you with a wooden set of tongs you are supposed to use to eat the chocolate with. Less than 600 chocolate bars are made from each harvest, so the cost is high because it is so rare. A bar can cost about $260.
6 Matsutake mushrooms
Matsutake mushrooms actually grow in many parts of the world, but the variety from Japan may be prized most of all. These mushrooms grow on forest floors under the veil of roots, leaves and other coverings, making them harder to find. Squirrels, deer and other animals are competition for finding these mushrooms.
These mushrooms have a surprising spicy and meaty texture making them unique. Specifically, the mushrooms growing under the red pine tree are highly prized and can run about $2,000 per kilogram. Total harvest per year in Japan is about 1,000 tons. Matsutake mushrooms from other parts of the world add to the total harvest and can provide a lower cost.
5 Edible gold
Like other elements calcium and iron for example, gold can be safe to consume. Unlike these nutrients, it is not essential for the human diet.
Pure gold is of course considered an expensive product no matter how it is used. It is estimated to cost around $15,000 for a pound of gold. However, gold used for eating is usually just sprinkled on food as gold dust or a few gold leaves are added on top of a dish. A smaller container of gold dust may be $30-45 which is more reasonable as long as you are just using a dash here and there.
4 Bluefin tuna
Unfortunately, the high cost associated with bluefin tuna has a darker side. As with many other marine species, the bluefin tuna are being over fished as demand for this meat continues to grow worldwide. Some experts suggest bluefin tuna is at risk for extinction, and their current levels have shrunk 97%.
In January 2018, an 892 pound bluefin tuna sold for about $320,000. Surprisingly, this cost is actually lower compared to a few years ago. However, the cost remains high for this tuna, and as their numbers continue to shrink, cost will continue to go up. Therefore, it may be justified for everyone to cut back on bluefin tuna not only due to cost but for sustainability.
While cardamom may not top the list as most expensive, it may be more expensive than you realize. Cardamom is a common spice used in cuisines from the Middle East and India. Most people are familiar with cardamom in chai teas, curries, biryani, coffee and baked goods.
Guatemala is surprisingly the world’s largest supplier of cardamom. It was brought over in the early 1900’s from Germany. Behind saffron and vanilla, it is the third most expensive spice. It can cost up to $30 per pound. What makes this spice so expensive? It is labor intensive to harvest. Similar to vanilla, if growing conditions restrain the production of cardamom, costs could soar up.
2 Moose Cheese
You can technically make cheese from any animal that makes milk. Most of us are used to seeing cheese from cows, goats and sheep. Most of us probably have not had cheese made from moose milk. Yes, moose milk.
Moose cheese is only currently available from the Elk House in the Bjurholm region of Sweden. This cheese is so rare which is why it is so expensive. A pound of moose cheese could be around $500. Arguably, there is nothing considerably different about moose milk cheese other than its source. True cheese connoisseurs may catch subtle taste and texture uniqueness, but most of us may be just as happy with less expensive cheeses.
1 Swiflet nest
That’s right this ingredient is actually a bird’s nest. I am guessing this is a new idea of an ingredient for most people outside of China. These prized nests are made from the saliva of the male swiflet birds and can be made into a soup.
These nests take a few months for the male birds to make and are only available in the spring. On top of that, they are usually found in the tops of caves in Southeast Asia. So not only are they rare, they are also dangerous to obtain. Costs for these nests can be $1,000 per pound.