What causes high ingredient prices? Usually, it comes down to scarcity. Some fruits and vegetables can only grow in very specific regions, which makes the supplies limited. Others must be carefully cultivated to meet rigorous regulations in order to qualify among the best of the best.
Great ingredients are the start of every amazing dish, so it’s worthwhile to know what’s out there—even at a high price point. This list includes some of the most expensive foods in the world, but note that prices can vary a great deal from season to season and country to country!
1. Kobe Beef
Kobe is a special type of beef that comes from Wagyu cattle. To qualify as Kobe, the cattle must be born, raised, and processed within Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture in western Japan. The cattle are fed a diet rich in grains which adds to their higher fat content and tender texture. The resulting meat must have both a high marbling rating and meat quality rating to get the Kobe designation.
These standards are so strict that only 3,000 to 4,000 head of Kobe cattle come to market each year!
In the United States, Kobe beef can cost $25 to $50 per ounce—and more at restaurants. At COTE Miami, for example, a single ounce of Kobe beef will cost $76. With a protein this pricey, its preparation is best left to trained culinary professionals!
2. White Truffles
White truffles, also known as Alba truffles, are one of the most expensive types of truffles in the world. Truffles are the edible spores of a type of underground fungus. The white variety has a strong, earthy flavor with notes of oak and garlic. They are often shaved on top of a finished dish like pasta, risotto, or eggs.
White truffles are primarily found in the Piedmont region of Italy, as well as in parts of Croatia and Slovenia. But why are they expensive? Because of how they grow. The truffle fungi require a special relationship with tree roots in order to grow. The fungi help the trees to gather water and minerals, and the tree feeds the truffle with sugars. Truffles also rely on forest creatures to eat them and spread their spores for propagation. This special codependent relationship is very hard to recreate in the wild, making truffles mostly foraged rather than cultivated.
This is why they’re so rare—and therefore, so expensive. A single ounce of white truffles could go for over $250.
3. Beluga Caviar
Caviar is a luxury food that is made from the roe, or eggs, of sturgeon fish. Caviar is usually served as an appetizer, typically on toast points or blinis, and is often accompanied by sour cream, chives, and lemon.
The most expensive type of caviar is beluga caviar, which comes from the beluga sturgeon. This large fish often weighs nearly 600 lbs, but the largest ever recorded weighed in at 3,463 lbs!
The popularity of beluga caviar is an unfortunate development for sturgeon populations. The species has been wildly overfished, leading to its listing as a critically endangered species. This has caused caviar prices to soar. And in the United States, beluga caviar imports are banned due to the threat of beluga extinction.
Saffron is a spice made of the dried stigma of the saffron crocus flower. It has a unique flavor and aroma that is often described as floral, honey-like, and slightly bitter. It’s grown primarily in Iran, and it’s a common ingredient in Iranian, Moroccan, and Indian dishes. You’ll find it in risotto, paella, and bouillabaisse recipes.
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world by weight, due to the labor-intensive process of harvesting the stigma. Each crocus flower only makes three strands of saffron, and they must be removed one at a time using tweezers.
As of 2023, saffron retails between $10 and $20 per gram. If it’s less than $10/gram, it’s probably a fake like corn silk threads or safflower. These fakes usually aren’t harmful, but they won’t provide the flavor you’re after either.
While it’s very expensive per gram, a little goes a long way. An education in the culinary arts from Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts may help cooks and chefs to develop their palates so they’re not overusing pricy spices like saffron!*
5. Matsutake Mushrooms
Matsutake mushrooms are highly prized in Japanese cuisine and are one of the most expensive types of mushrooms in the world. They have a strong, earthy aroma and a firm, meaty texture. They are harvested in the fall and can be eaten raw or cooked in a variety of dishes, such as soups, stews, and rice dishes.
These large mushrooms are native to Japan, but can also be found in parts of China, Korea, and the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Like truffles, they cannot be reliably grown. Instead, they are foraged from among the roots of red pine trees.
Unfortunately, a type of roundworm has been damaging the pine trees that the mushrooms need to grow. As a result, the harvests of these mushrooms have dropped precipitously over the past seven decades—which has led the price to skyrocket. These special mushrooms can cost as much as $1,000 per pound!
A mushroom this rare should be the focus of the dish. In Escoffier’s plant-based culinary arts programs, students can explore how to make vegetables, fruits, and grains the star of the show.*
6. Kopi Luwak Coffee
Kopi luwak coffee has a highly unusual origin. It’s made from coffee beans that have been eaten and excreted by Asian palm civets, a type of wild cat-like animal native to Indonesia. Inside the civet’s digestive tract, the beans are fermented and partially broken down. The coffee is then harvested from the feces of the civet, washed thoroughly, and roasted. The coffee is said to have a rich, smooth flavor with hints of chocolate and caramel.
Kopi luwak coffee is one of the most expensive coffees in the world due to the labor-intensive process of collecting the beans and their limited supply. A pound of these beans—when harvested in the wild—can go for $600. And a cup could run you $100, making it the most expensive in the world.
There are concerns about this popular coffee having a detrimental effect on the civet population. Some people capture civets and keep them in poor conditions to mass-produce the beans. As naturally solitary animals, civets don’t thrive on farms. So make sure to only get yours from ethical sources!
7. Iberico Ham
Iberico ham, also known as Jamón Ibérico, is a cured ham that is produced in Spain and Portugal. It has a complex, nutty flavor with hints of acorns, herbs, and spices. It’s served in thin slices and eaten on its own, so the flavor can shine through.
This meat is made from the Iberian pig, a breed that is known for its unique flavor and texture. These pigs are allowed to roam freely, where they get plump on an acorn-heavy diet. After processing, the meat is salted, dried, and aged for up to three years.
Due to the time involved in making it, Iberico ham can be quite pricey. A single leg (13 to 17 lbs) can cost between $500 and $4,500.
8. Densuke Watermelon
Densuke Watermelon, also known as black watermelon, is a rare and unique melon that is only grown on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan. It is known for its distinct black rind, crisp red flesh, and exceptional sweetness. Their flavor is often described as having a hint of strawberry or honeydew melon.
These melons are grown in the volcanic soil of Hokkaido, which is rich in minerals and nutrients. They require a cool climate and plenty of water to thrive. Densuke watermelons are hand-picked when fully ripe, then washed and packaged for shipment.
Only 10,000 are grown each year, which accounts for their exceptional price. They usually go for around $250, but they have sold at auction for over $6,000!
9. Bluefin Tuna
Bluefin tuna is highly prized in Japan, where it is a staple of sushi and sashimi. It has a rich, buttery flavor and tender texture. It’s also popular in other countries, particularly among seafood enthusiasts and high-end restaurants. This popularity has led to overfishing in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and it is now an endangered species. But fishing restrictions have helped the species to begin recovering over the past decade.
Due to its popularity and fishing restrictions, bluefin tuna is pricey. A 212 kg bluefin tuna sold for $273,000 at auction in Tokyo in January 2023. That breaks down to $1,287 per kilo! In a sushi restaurant, single pieces of bluefin tuna could cost between $10 and $80.
At Escoffier, culinary arts students may explore the topic of sustainability and responsible food sourcing. With this education and supplemental experience, graduates may be better prepared to look for delicious alternatives to ingredients like bluefin tuna.*
10. Ruby Roman Grapes
When you asked yourself, “What are the most expensive foods in the world,” it’s unlikely that grapes crossed your mind!
Ruby Roman grapes are a rare and exclusive variety of grapes that are only grown in Japan. These round, plump grapes have a deep red color and thick skin. They are known for their large size, with individual grapes often weighing up to 20 grams each.
Ruby Roman grapes are very sweet, with a rich, fruity flavor that is often compared to that of wine grapes. They are exclusively grown in the Ishikawa Prefecture of Japan, on the west coast of Honshu island. They are carefully tended by farmers, who limit the number of grapes per vine to ensure the highest quality. Ruby Roman grapes are hand-picked when fully ripe, then carefully packed and shipped to markets in Japan and around the world.
These grapes are priced by category, with “superior” bunches going for $90 to $140, and “special superior” bunches costing between $180 and $450. The rarest of all, the “premium” Ruby Roman grapes can go for $1,000 per bunch!
Expensive Ingredients Require an Experienced Chef!
Many of these pricey ingredients are not pantry staples, except perhaps saffron and truffles. The rest could be one-time indulgences for foodies who value the experience of trying something new—whatever the cost.
With ingredients this expensive, they’re not the domain of the amateur cook. Rather, it takes education and experience to be ready to tackle these premium products! The road to this kind of ingredient expertise could start with culinary school.
Start by building a foundation at Escoffier, so you can eventually be ready for Kobe beef and matsutake mushrooms! Contact us today to learn more about curriculum and enrollment.
To learn more about special ingredients and world cuisines, try these articles next:
- Cajun vs. Creole: What’s the Difference?
- American Regional Cuisine: The Best Dishes from Around the Country
- Is Eating a Plant-Based Diet Healthy?
*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.