Rich Cuisine: The World's Most Valuable Food Items

Delicious food is a treasure to epicureans, but these particular delicacies take things up a notch with their high prices—some ranging from $4,309 per pound to $10,000 per kilogram.

If you are what you eat, then indulging in some of the world’s most expensive food is probably an indicator of wealth and prestige. Simple ingredients can be as luxurious as gold due to a number of factors. Rarity is one reason why food can have a high price tag, but the difficulty of procuring and processing a certain ingredient can also affect monetary value.

READ ALSO: Coveted Materials: The World’s Most Valuable Perfume Ingredients

So what are these highly sought-after food items, and why are they so expensive? To learn more, below is a list of some of the world’s priciest delicacies: 

Saffron

Saffron isn’t called “Red Gold” for nothing. It’s the most expensive spice in the world due to the amount of labor and resources required to process it for consumption. It’s made from the stigma of the saffron crocus, which must be picked and dried by hand.

Saffron
Saffron/Photo by Salonik Saffron via Wikimedia Commons

It takes around 300,000 flowers—spanning the area of two football fields—just to produce a kilogram of precious saffron. Its value not only makes it a coveted ingredient in cooking, but also perfumery. Genuine saffron can cost around $10,000 per kilogram, as per a 2020 report from Business Insider

A worker at a saffron farm in Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran
A worker at a saffron farm in Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran/Photo by Safa.daneshvar via Wikimedia Commons

White Alba Truffle

Truffles are generally pricey due to their seasonality and complex procurement process. These special fungi take years to cultivate and can only grow under very specific conditions. They’re usually found among the roots of certain trees, but can be difficult to spot without expertise. This is why many truffle harvesters spend years training pigs and dogs to help sniff them out. 

White truffles from Alba
White truffles from Alba/Photo by Kent Wang via Wikimedia Commons

Of all the truffles out there, the white Alba breed is probably one of the most valuable due to their extreme rarity and labor-intensive harvesting process. The most expensive tuber was sold to Macau casino owner Stanley Ho in 2007. It cost a princely $330,000 for just 1.5 kilograms. 

Iberico Ham (Jamon Iberico)

Iberico ham is a treasured delicacy even in countries beyond Spain. A single leg of a pig can cost around $4,500. “Black label” Iberico ham is the highest quality ham that money can buy. The hefty price tag is mainly due to the difficult process of raising these tasty livestock. 

Iberico Ham (Jamon Iberico)
A leg of premium Iberico ham can cost you $4,500/Photo from GERALD.ph’s website

Black label Iberico is made with the meat of a pig that’s of 100% Iberican descent. This breed of free-range swine is fed a 100% acorn diet from the months of October to February (known as the montanero period). Their acorn diet is what gives them a distinct flavor that can’t be imitated. 

100% Iberico pigs must be fed a 100% acorn diet to qualify as top-grade Iberico ham
100% Iberico pigs must be fed a 100% acorn diet to qualify as top-grade Iberico ham/Photo from the Enrique Tomas website

Gooseneck Barnacles 

In Europe, Gooseneck Barnacles can cost an impressive $500 per pound. Though these small crustaceans look quite unremarkable in appearance, fishermen withstand difficult conditions just to harvest them. These barnacles are found latched onto razor-sharp rocks surrounded by harsh waves. Though it may seem like an absurd exaggeration, the more dangerous spots actually yield tastier barnacles. 

Gooseneck Barnacles 
Gooseneck Barnacles/Photo by Tom Page via Wikimedia Commons

Fishermen spend years training to jump onto sharp rocks from their boats and swim through underwater caves just to acquire this pricey seafood. Are they worth all that effort? Diners who’ve tasted the delicacy say that they are, as they boast a remarkable texture and salty flavor that can’t be beat. 

Gooseneck Barnacles 
Fishermen brave challenging conditions to harvest these sought-after barnacles/Photo from Wildfish Cannery’s website

Swiftlet Nests

The prized-status of swiftlet nests as a food ingredient proves that nothing is too strange in the world of culinary pleasures. The rare delicacy can fetch prices of up to $10,000 if it’s a “blood nest.” These nests get their name from their red color, which can only be produced upon interaction with certain minerals. 

A bowl made from white swiftlet nests is already considered a steal at the price of $2,000 per kilogram. Nests are usually used in dishes like soups due to their nutritional value. 

Swiftlet Nests
Swiftlet nests are a prized delicacy all across China/Photo from the National University of Singapore’s website

The nests are actually made from the spit of swiftlets, and are found in the walls of deep caves. Though farmers build “swiftlet” houses to recreate the ideal conditions for nesting, harvesting the ingredient is still a pricey process. This is due to the short lifespan of these man-made houses.

Swiftlet Nests
Swiftlets and their nests in a natural cave environment/Photo by Mike Prince via Wikimedia Commons

A swiftlet house can be productive for around 10-15 years. However, birds are likely to move away from the area once development starts, as they prefer more rural environments far away from civilization. Drying nests is also a time and labor-intensive process that adds to the already exorbitant price tag.

Matsutake Mushrooms

Matsutake mushrooms can be found across parts of East Asia like Korea, China, and Japan. Those who’ve tasted them say they have a pungent flavor that packs a spicy punch.

Japan’s matsutake harvest has decreased by 97% over the past 70 years, according to a video by the Business Insider. As such, a kilogram of wholesale matsutake usually costs $500. Like truffles, these mushrooms can’t be farmed, only foraged. 

Matsutake Mushrooms
Matsutake mushrooms/Photo by Tomomarusan via Wikimedia Commons

The challenge of finding the elusive fungi also results in their high price. They don’t grow at the base of trees, so harvesters lack a point of reference to work from. Instead, they use their years of experience to hunt for the matsutake that often blend with the forest floor. Changing weather conditions and pests can also affect the availability of a good harvest, which makes the fungi even more valuable. 

Olive Wagyu Beef

Wagyu beef is one of the most expensive meats in the world due to its decadent marbling, intense flavor, and melt-in-your-mouth texture. This meat comes in different varieties, depending on the type of cow and its place of origin. 

Olive Wagyu Beef
A rich slab of Olive wagyu from the Kagawa prefecture/Photo from Experience Takamatsu’s official website

To qualify as “wagyu,” livestock must be raised according to the guidelines of the district they’re from. These rules are stringent in nature, and even determine the type of feed cows must eat to ensure proper marbling. 

Mr.Masaki Ishii started feeding his cows a special feed comprised of Kagawa-grown olives for a uniquely flavored wagyu
Mr.Masaki Ishii started feeding his cows a special feed comprised of Kagawa-grown olives for a uniquely flavored wagyu/Photo from Experience Takamatsu’s official website

“Olive wagyu” from the Kagawa prefecture is considered the rarest variation of this meat and costs more than $500 per pound. A single “olive” cow has a value of around $9,000. Much like Iberico pigs, these bovines are only given a particular kind of food: olives. 

Olives grown in Japan
Olives grown in Japan/Photo from Experience Takamatsu’s official website
The feed for Olive wagyu cows
The feed for Olive wagyu cows/Photo from Experience Takamatsu’s official website

A special feed made from Japan-grown olives comprises these cows’ diet. The olives’ oleic acid yields an extraordinarily tender meat (even by wagyu standards) with a rich flavor that many gourmets dream of trying out.

Banner photo by Amirali Mirhashemian via Unsplash.

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