When we talk about “expensive food,” one of the first images that pop up in our heads is of some food laced in 24-carat gold. Yeah, gold sure is expensive, and eating delicacies wrapped in gold is a fad, but did you know that there are some food ingredients which are equally as expensive as gold? It is surreal that a spice or piece of edible fungus can cost you a fortune. Below we have prepared a list of ten of the most expensive food items cultivated around the world.
1. White Alba truffles are grown in the northern region of Italy in the countryside outside the famous towns of Alba and Asti. The price of the truffles can be around $2,000 per pound.
Truffles are one of the most expensive and rare food items. They are a type of fungus which grows underground. White Alba truffles are the finest species of truffles and are grown in the Piedmont Region of northern Italy. They are only available from mid-September to December or January.
Truffles are extremely difficult to cultivate as they require a very specific climate, moisture, soil, soil temperature, and sunlight to grow. They are the fruit of ectomycorrhiza fungus, which means they grow around the roots of trees and have a symbiont relationship with them. Truffles explore the soil for nutrients and water and transfer it to the trees, and in return, the tree nourishes them with sugar. Harvesting them isn’t easy either. The ones that grow near the ground can be identified through their scent and cracks in the ground. But trained dogs or pigs are used to sniff the ones out that lay deeper underground.
Last year’s annual auction at Turin saw an 850 gm piece of truffle fetch $96,000, which is about $113 per gram. It went to an anonymous buyer from Hong Kong who paid almost 30 times the price of small truffles. (1, 2)
2. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world costing around $5,000 per pound. The reason for such high prices is the cost of cultivation, as it can only be harvested manually, and it takes about 50,000 to 70,000 flowers to produce just one pound of saffron.
Saffron is the stigma of Crocus sativus flower. Every flower has three strands which weigh around 30 mg. The spice originated from Central Asia in the regions of Iran but is now cultivated in many countries throughout the world like Spain, India, Morocco, New Zealand, etc. Yet Iran remains the largest producer of saffron contributing to about 90% of the global share.
The saffron plant thrives in Mediterranean climates. It is planted in the month of June. The plants require maximum exposure to sunlight which is why they’re often preferred to be planted on hilly slopes. The harvest is usually in the fall and is completed within a span of two to three weeks.
Saffron is widely known for its culinary properties. It is also used in medicine. According to one meta-analysis, saffron supplements showed improvement in people suffering from depression. Apart from this, the spice is also used in manufacturing perfumes and for dyeing purposes. (source)
3. Almas caviar is the most expensive caviar in the world and is harvested from the Beluga sturgeon. The cost of Almas caviar can be around $35,000 per kilo.
Almas caviar is one of the most expensive luxury food items. It is known for its rich, nutty flavor, spongy texture, and creamy taste. In comparison to other caviars, Almas caviar is less salty and less oily. It comes from the rare, albino beluga sturgeon fish. Beluga fish are some of the oldest fish that exist on our planet. They are presumably over 250 million years old. Beluga sturgeon are found in the Caspian Sea. Caviar is harvested from adult fish that weigh nearly 900 kg, and it takes about 20 years for a beluga sturgeon to mature.
Almas caviar is produced from the eggs of rare, albino beluga sturgeon that are about 60-100 years old. The albino beluga is mostly found in the southern regions of the Caspian Sea.
Beluga sturgeon are considered a critically endangered species. Over-fishing has been a major concern and the main reason for the decline in beluga sturgeon population which in turn has helped the prices escalate. Since 2005, United States Fish and Wildlife Service banned any imports of beluga sturgeon to the US. (source)
4. Yarsagumba fungus, which is only found in Himalayan regions, can cost up to $18,000 per kg. It is known for its medicinal and healing properties.
Yarsagumba, or the caterpillar fungus, is a type of entomopathogenic fungus that grows inside of insects and feeds off them. It is only found in high altitude (3,500 meters and above) regions of the Himalayas. The fungus germinates inside the larvae of moths that live underground. It then kills and mummifies the larva and stands it upright with its head above the ground. The length of Yarsagumba fungus can be around two to six centimeters. The harvesting period lasts for two months starting from mid-May and ending around mid-July.
Yarsagumba has been known for its exceptional healing properties for ages. It is known to heal respiratory disorders including tuberculosis and asthma. Along with that, this species of fungus is also known to increase immunity and improve the functioning of the liver. (source)
5. The highest grade of Japanese Matsutake mushrooms, at the beginning of the season, can fetch up to $1000 per kilogram. As the prices depend on the availability, last year’s Japanese Matsutake mushroom prices were around $317 on an average with the highest price being $616.
If anything, by far we’ve seen that the right kind of fungus can be pretty expensive. Matsutake mushrooms are a culinary treasure in Japan and hold a historic significance in Japanese culture. Like truffles, matsutake mushrooms also grow on the roots of trees (pine trees). The picking season runs between the months of September and November.
Japan is the highest consumer of matsutake mushrooms. What makes the mushroom such highly priced is their limited availability. Due to favorable weather conditions and good yield, the price of the mushrooms went down. On average Matsutake mushrooms were sold at $317. The highest price of the mushroom was $616 as compared to $883, a year before that. In the last 50 years, the production in Japan has gone down because of a pine-killing nematode. While the prices can go down significantly depending on the yield, the highest grade of pine mushrooms can cost you around $1,000 per kg. (source)