To some people, food is food. Whether they’re spooning limp, unseasoned kale into their mouths or biting into a sliver of the world’s finest cheese, it would hardly make any difference.
But for foodies, everything from the taste to the aroma counts, which is probably why there are people willing to spend hundreds of thousands for rare spices or exotic roots that can only be harvested at precisely five minutes past midnight, on a humid evening in January. Some of the most expensive ingredients in the world carry hefty price tags because of how rare and difficult they are to obtain.
The top five most expensive foods in the world and how they got to be so expensive:
Beluga Caviar– R596 284 per kg
Caviar refers to the roe (eggs) of wild sturgeon from the Black and Caspian seas, the world’s largest salt-water lake. The most expensive variety is beluga-albino caviar often called ‘Almas’, meaning diamond in Russian.
The Persians were the first group of people to regularly eat the roe of the sturgeon fish because they thought it increased their physical strength and endurance. However, during the Middle Ages, it ceased to be consumed as a food source, disappearing from people’s tables. It wasn’t until the 12th century where it re-emerged and Russian fishermen and peasants began using it as a cheap source of protein – how ironic?
Saffron– R41 610 per kg
Saffron is a spice harvested from a purple flower commonly known as the "saffron crocus". The vivid orange stigma, referred to as threads, are the sticky stems of the pistil of the female reproductive system in a plant.
These threads are individually collected and dried to be used mainly for seasoning and colouring in food or for medicinal purposes.
Having long been the world’s most expensive spice, the crimson threads carry a hefty price tag because of how they are harvested. To produce half a kilogram, you’ll have to hand-pick about 300 000 flowers.
Alba White Italian Truffles– R28 660 per kg
With a pungent, musky aroma and a slight garlicky flavour, these white truffles transform dishes from average to gourmet in taste experience.
In Piedmont region of northern Italy, where one of the country’s most famous lakes can be found, they’re famous for many reasons including their wines and the birth of the Slow Food movement.
But their esteemed white truffles, that grow between the roots of specific trees, and are scarcer than any other type of truffle, are most sought after in Piedmont and across the globe.
Iberico Ham– R19 517 per leg of ham
These streaky ribbons of cured ham are produced in Spain and Portugal. To produce the ham, the pigs are reared for three years before the legs of ham are cured in a traditional cellar for up to six years.
The product, sold as an entire leg, in deboned pieces or in slices is then presented in a wooden box made by a local artisan from oaks grown in the same region.
The ham production is slow and laborious compared to the regular store-bought ham which is normally cured for 8 to 10 months.
With a distinctive oily quality, the meat is considered a culinary delicacy due to its complex combination of flavours which leave a lingering nutty after taste in the mouth, making it stand out from regular cured meat.
Wagyu– R6 956 per steak at a top Japanese restaurant
Traditionally, Wagyu is a highly prized and expensive cut of Japanese beef renowned for its fat-marbled, tender and buttery-tasting flesh. It is expensive because of how the cattle are raised and slaughtered. There are very strict guidelines for beef to qualify as Wagyu.
Wagyu is the breed, and Kobe beef comes from the Wagyu breed of cattle raised in the Kobe region of Japan. The young cattle are hand fed milk and graze on an open pasture.
When it’s cold, they are given jackets to warm up and, unlike most animals raised for produce, they’re given names and certificates instead of a number and ear tag.