Spices are essential ingredients for any cook who wants to add some flavor and aroma to their dishes. But did you know that some spices are so rare and precious that they can cost a fortune? In this article, we will explore the 10 most expensive spices in the world and why they are worth their weight in gold.
Cloves – $133 per pound
Cloves are the dried flower buds of a tropical evergreen tree that grows mainly in Indonesia, Madagascar, and Zanzibar. They have a strong, spicy, and sweet flavor that is used to season meats, fruits, desserts, and beverages. Cloves are also known for their medicinal properties, as they can help relieve toothache, improve digestion, and fight infections.
But why are cloves so expensive? Well, it’s because they are very sensitive to weather conditions and have to be harvested by hand when they are just the right size. Plus, each clove tree only produces about 4 to 6 pounds of cloves per year, which makes them scarce and valuable.
Dried Kaffir Lime Leaves – $233 per pound
If you love Thai cuisine, you are probably familiar with the refreshing and citrusy flavor of kaffir lime leaves. These leaves come from a thorny tree that grows in Southeast Asia and is used to flavor soups, curries, salads, and rice dishes. Kaffir lime leaves have a unique aroma that is hard to replicate with any other ingredient.
But why are dried kaffir lime leaves so expensive? It’s because they are not easy to find in the US, as they are only grown in small quantities in Florida and California. They also have to be picked by hand, which adds to the labor cost. And since they lose their flavor quickly, they have to be dried and stored properly to preserve their quality.
Black Cumin Seed – $250 per pound
Black cumin seed, also known as black caraway or nigella, is a spice that is native to Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It has a smoky, earthy, and slightly bitter flavor that is used to season bread, cheeses, salads, and meats. Black cumin seed is also revered for its health benefits, as it can boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, and treat various ailments.
But why is black cumin seed so expensive? It’s because it is not widely cultivated and has a low yield. Only about 20% of the seeds can be extracted from the plant, and they have to be carefully cleaned and sorted to remove any impurities. Black cumin seed is also in high demand, especially in India, Pakistan, and Iran, where it is considered a staple spice.
Mahlab – $716 per pound
Mahlab is a spice that is made from the seeds of the St. Lucie cherry, a type of sour cherry that grows in the Mediterranean region. The seeds are cracked open and ground into a powder that has a nutty, floral, and slightly sour flavor. Mahlab is used to flavor pastries, breads, cakes, and cookies, especially in Turkey, Greece, and the Middle East.
But why is mahlab so expensive? It’s because it is very rare and labor-intensive to produce. The St. Lucie cherry is not widely cultivated and has a short harvest season. The seeds have to be extracted by hand from the cherry pits, which are very hard and brittle. And since the seeds are very small and delicate, they have to be processed quickly before they lose their flavor and aroma.
Vanilla – $2,000 per pound
Vanilla is one of the most popular and versatile spices in the world. It has a sweet, creamy, and rich flavor that is used to enhance desserts, drinks, and savory dishes. Vanilla comes from the pods of a tropical orchid that grows mainly in Madagascar, Mexico, and Indonesia. Vanilla is also one of the most expensive spices in the world.
But why is vanilla so expensive? It’s because it is very difficult and time-consuming to grow and harvest. The vanilla orchid only blooms for one day a year, and the flowers have to be pollinated by hand within a few hours. The pods have to be cured for several months to develop their flavor and aroma. And since vanilla is in high demand and low supply, the prices are often driven up by market forces and natural disasters.
Fennel Pollen – $2,500 per pound
Fennel pollen is a spice that is harvested from the flowers of the fennel plant, a herb that belongs to the carrot family. It has a sweet, floral, and slightly licorice-like flavor that is used to season meats, seafood, vegetables, and cheeses. Fennel pollen is considered a delicacy in Italy, where it is known as the “spice of angels”.
But why is fennel pollen so expensive? It’s because it is very rare and hard to collect. The fennel flowers only bloom for a few weeks a year, and the pollen has to be gathered by hand using a special brush. Only a small amount of pollen can be obtained from each flower, and it has to be dried and stored carefully to prevent spoilage.
Long Pepper – $3,000 per pound
Long pepper is a spice that is related to black pepper but has a longer and spikier shape. It has a warm, spicy, and slightly sweet flavor that is used to season soups, stews, curries, and pickles. Long pepper was once very popular in ancient Rome and India, but it fell out of favor when black pepper became more available and affordable.
But why is long pepper so expensive? It’s because it is very rare and hard to find. Long pepper grows in the wild in the forests of India, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and it is not widely cultivated. The spikes have to be harvested by hand before they ripen, and they have to be dried and sorted carefully to remove any impurities.
Cardamom – $3,500 per pound
Cardamom is a spice that is made from the seeds of a plant that belongs to the ginger family. It has a complex, aromatic, and slightly citrusy flavor that is used to flavor coffee, tea, desserts, and savory dishes. Cardamom is one of the most popular spices in the world, especially in India, the Middle East, and Scandinavia.
But why is cardamom so expensive? It’s because it is very labor-intensive and risky to produce. The cardamom plant takes three to four years to mature and bear fruit, and the pods have to be picked by hand when they are just ripe. The seeds have to be extracted from the pods and dried in the sun or a kiln. And since cardamom is prone to pests and diseases, the crop can be easily damaged or destroyed.
Saffron – $5,000 per pound
Saffron is a spice that is made from the dried stigma of the saffron crocus, a purple flower that grows in Iran, Spain, India, and other countries. It has a delicate, floral, and slightly bitter flavor that is used to color and flavor rice, paella, risotto, and other dishes. Saffron is also known for its health benefits, as it can improve mood, memory, and vision.
But why is saffron so expensive? It’s because it is the most labor-intensive spice to produce. The saffron crocus only blooms for a few weeks a year, and the stigmas have to be hand-picked at dawn before the flowers wilt. It takes about 150,000 flowers to produce one pound of saffron, and the stigmas have to be dried and stored properly to preserve their quality.
Agarwood – $10,000 per pound
Agarwood is a spice that is made from the resinous heartwood of the aquaria tree, a tropical evergreen that grows in Southeast Asia. It has a woody, smoky, and musky flavor that is used to make incense, perfume, and tea. Agarwood is also known as oud, aloeswood, or gaharu, and it is considered a sacred and spiritual spice in many cultures.
But why is agarwood so expensive? It’s because it is very rare and difficult to obtain. The aquaria tree only produces agarwood when it is infected by a fungus, which triggers a defense mechanism that creates the resin. Only about 10% of the trees are infected, and the infection can take decades to develop. The agarwood has to be extracted from the tree by cutting or drilling, and it has to be graded and processed carefully to determine its quality.