by staff on September 20, 2011
Under: Food & Lifestyle
When wandering the grocery aisle it’s easy to get stuck in the quality versus price dilemma. Free range, organic, local or factory, GMO, from Mexico. However, the most expensive ingredients – like these ten – you’ll almost never see at your neighborhood grocery. For good reason, as only the priciest restaurants or most extravagant gourmands could ever afford them. Here are the top ten most outrageously expensive ingredients for you salivate or shake your head over.
More expensive and controversial than foie gras, as well as a reported aphrodisiac, shark fin has for centuries been a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, making the dish a staple whenever a host wants to impress. China’s huge economic growth has prompted the market for shark fins to explode in the last several decades, and the process of finning a shark – catching the animal, cutting its fin off, then leaving it to die in the water – is leaving many oceans with disrupted food chains as a consequence of illegal shark fishing.
Made exclusively at the Moose House in Bjurholm, Sweden from the milk of three moose named Gullan, Haelga, and Juna, moose cheese is almost certainly the most expensive cheese in the world. Much of this cost comes from the product’s exclusive source, but also from the fact that moose milking season is extremely short – just four months out of the year – and the process can produce at most 660 pounds of cheese each year. They make three cheeses, most of which are then made available to restaurants or in the House’s tasting room.
Though the matsutake mushroom exists in the Pacific Northwest, as well as in Korea, the rarest of the species come from Japanese pine forests, where pathogens have killed off huge numbers of trees that once spurred the growth of these rare fungi. Because of this, the highest quality wild mushrooms can sell for hundreds each, making foraging a highly profitable venture for the lucky few who are good at it; the mushrooms are so rare and the demand is so great, in fact, that Japan actually imports them from the other regions capable of producing them.
The process of making Kobe beef, which consists of feeding cattle a daily beer and giving the animals massages in order to create a distinctly marbled and fatty cut of meat, originated in Japan and has since been adopted all over the world. That said, a cut of the real stuff – as in actual Kobe beef from Kobe, Japan – is considerably more expensive than the stuff one sees in high end meat shops, with many cuts ranging between $500 and $1600 for steaks for four (or two very hungry people).
Produced in Iran, this ultra-rare beluga caviar is extremely difficult to come by, commanding huge prices whenever it’s available, even when compared to other caviars from the Caspian and Black Seas. Pearly white, rather than dark in color, and sourced from centennial sturgeon over half a decade old, prices can range from the thousands to the tens of thousands of dollars for a tin.
Poor dubbing aside, the Japanese version of Iron Chef was an extremely expensive production. Battle Swallow’s Nest was the most expensive production in the history of the series, costing $40000 for just the theme ingredient, and it’s easy to see why. The nests, made from the saliva of swifts and harvested in caves and barns, are celebrated in Chinese cuisine, where “bird’s nest soup” is considered to be a delicacy with substantial health benefits.
A key ingredient in many European and Asian cuisines, as well as an herb with huge health potential, saffron comes from the flower of Crocus sativas and has a distinctive flavor it lends to countless preparations. Additionally, it takes literal football fields’ worth of the flowers to produce a pound of edible saffron threads, requiring many hours of meticulous labor. As a result, the price of this herb is always high at around $3000 per pound. Fortunately, a little often goes a long way, with many recipes calling for less than a quarter-teaspoon of threads to flavor a finished dish.
Though a bottle of vanilla extract will run only a few bucks in most parts of the world, it’s far removed from pure vanilla, which is among the priciest spices at approximately $3500 to $4000 per pound. Vanillin is the black, powdery substance one scrapes out of a vanilla bean, and a key part of many desserts, ice cream, candies, teas, and other edibles, as well as one of a few dozen ingredients that goes into most bottles of extract. Fortunately, a little goes a long way; home cooks can easily get by when making ice creams, for example, with the contents of a vanilla bean or two and still yield a huge amount of flavor from them.
The Japanese are far more serious about watermelons than just about everyone else in the world. If you want good evidence of this, look to the existence of the Yubari melon, which are meticulously picked and given one of four grades to determine their price before being sold like designer goods. The cheapest Yubari melons are available in upscale shops in the low hundreds of dollars per melon, but the most expensive have sold at auction for almost $26000 each.
Virtually no chef dislikes truffles. They possess one of the most distinct aromas and flavors in the world, and the endless assortment of truffle-enriched products now in the world, like truffle salt and truffle oil (which is almost entirely olive oil with a synthetic, truffle-like flavor added) is a testament to this fact. The white truffle is its even rarer relative; it’s unavailable outside of an extremely short growing season, during which pigs and dogs are loosed across a small region in Italy where they can grow, and the truffles have both gotten worse and harder to come by as demand as gone up. As a consequence, prices have skyrocketed in the last several decades, with a record-setting white truffle selling for over $300000.