Top 5 Most Expensive Ingredients


1. SAFFRON

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Saffron is one of the most precious spices in the world. The threadlike red stigmas—and the yellow hue they impart—are quite literally the stuff of legend. But what is saffron, exactly? No matter how many tales have been told about the spice, a lot of us still don't know what to do with it or whether it is worth the high cost. Here's everything you need to know.

The spice originates from a flower called crocus sativus—commonly known as the "saffron crocus." It is believed that saffron originated and was first cultivated in Greece, but today the spice is primarily grown in Iran, Greece, Morocco, and India. While micro-scale production of saffron does exist in the United States, most saffron found here is imported.

Saffron is extremely subtle and fragrant. The slightly sweet, luxurious taste is totally enigmatic—it's tricky to describe but instantly recognizable in a dish. As annoying as it is to say, you know it when you taste it.


2. ALBA WHITE ITALIAN TRUFFLES

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There's no question that white truffles have a unique aroma, a combination of newly plowed soil, fall rain, burrowing earthworms and the pungent memory of lost youth and old love affairs. I literally was not able to find a chef who doesn't love them. The most eloquent was Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter, a highly fashionable restaurant in New York City that caters to a moneyed clientele.

The way truffles smell is "disconcerting," she says. "It conjures up images of a locker room. But the aroma deceptively conceals their complex yet delicate taste. They are sublime." Guarnaschelli shaves them over risotto or mashed potatoes, and likes them a little warm; other chefs find a little creamy or buttery pasta the perfect vehicle. They are all as careful in their handling of it as a museum curator moving the Mona Lisa. This is a mushroom, mind you.

Truffles are rare. The white ones are only available a couple of months of the year, almost exclusively from one part of Italy, where they must be foraged by special pigs, and there are fewer of them, and of lesser quality, every year. They are, in short, the perfect luxury commodity, precious and getting more so all the time. Whether they are worth the money has a lot to do with how you like to spend and why you go to dinner. Which makes them very interesting to me.

Two thousand dollars a pound seems like a lot to pay for a mushroom. It really does. Yes, October marks the start of white truffle season, the time of year when the rare mushrooms are showered on dishes, signifying luxury to even the most jaded palates. One of Daniel Boulud's favorite stories involves Puff Daddy, as he was known at the time, urging the chef to "shave that bitch" onto his food; Boulud told me that he obliged (as, I'm sure, the bill mounted accordingly).


3. WAGYU BEEF

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Wagyu is actually a generic name for beef in Japan; Wa (Japanese) and Gyu (Japanese for beef). Four main breeds are used for Wagyu production in Japan, namely Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn and Japanese Polled (an Aberdeen Angus cross).

The rearing method is what makes this beef expensive. In Japan, to qualify for the Wagyu mark, the cattle have to be reared and fed according to strict guidelines. Breeding cattle and pregnant cows are grazed on pasture while calves are fed in a specific way, with special feed, to ensure that the meat has a lot of marbling. 

Young Wagyu calves are fed a milk replacer by hand and they get jackets to wear when the weather gets cold. They stay on a farm until they are seven months old before they are sent to auction to be sold to fattening farms. On the fattening farms, Wagyu cattle are raised in barns and are given names instead of just a number. 

They are kept on a diet of rice straws, whole crop silage, and concentrate, and allowed to grow up to about 700kg, which takes about three years (for normal beef, it’s 15 months). Every single cow has a birth certificate, which identifies its bloodline, so every piece of Japanese Wagyu steak can be traced back to a farm. There is a myth that cattle are fed on beer and massaged daily in Japan but this is not true. 

However, they are sometimes brushed with a stiff brush to increase blood circulation and to relieve stress. There is a Welsh Wagyu producer who does feed his cattle local craft beer and occasionally massages his cows though.

4. MOOSE HOUSE CHEESE

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Moose-milking can’t be easy. Perhaps that’s why moose milk cheese can set a buyer back as much as $500 per pound, making it one of the most expensive cheeses in the world. But for those with a druther for dairy, The Elk House (Europeans call their moose “elk”) in Bjurholm, Sweden, makes four varieties of the pricey product, all thanks to three moose sisters.


Despite our ignorance, we all have some expectations that our cheese must meet. It can be smelly, runny, moldy or melty, but if it hasn’t come from a cow, a goat or a sheep, we’re all immediately suspicious. The idea of “pig cheese” hasn’t captured the imagination in quite the way that pig farmers would presumably like. Nonetheless, if you look a little deeper into the cheese industry, you can unearth some seriously strange sources for everyone’s favorite dairy product.

A fine example of this comes from Scandinavia. Just south of the Arctic Circle, in the chilly countryside surrounding Bjurholm, Sweden, the Johansen family have built a business off the back some highly unusual cheese-making livestock. Rather than adopt the more conventional, cow-centric path to cheesy greatness, the Johansen’s decided that their model would make the most of one of the northern hemisphere’s most iconic species. They decided to have a crack at making moose cheese.

5. ALMAS CAVIAR

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Caviar is, undeniably, the most luxurious and exclusive food known to mankind. Its etymology is rooted in the Persian word khag-avar, which means “roe generator.” The Persians were the first group of people to consume, regularly, the eggs of the sturgeon fish.

They believed this delicacy enhanced the physical strength and endurance of those who ate it. It is also known that the ancient Greeks imported caviar from what is known today as Crimea in southern Ukraine. Even then, it was a luxury item reserved for the elite. The Romans also attributed healing and medicinal properties to caviar.

Almas is one of those items that are not for sale just anywhere. To acquire it, you need to go to one of the few select Caviar House & Prunier stores, the only place in the world where it is available for sale. Its classic presentation makes a unique gift: it comes in a metal container bathed in 24-karat gold. The price? A kilo (2.2 lbs) can cost upwards of $ 25,000.
Almas has a distinct personality. It is very complex and richly nuanced, destined for palates seeking the authentic flavor of Iranian caviar, produced under traditional processes deserving of such a unique food. These eggs have an intensely nutty, creamy taste. Their rich flavor is the result of a delicate salting process.
The best way to eat this unique product, worthy of kings and emperors, is to serve it alone, cold and preferably in a non-metallic dish, usually glass, with ice at the base to maintain the correct temperature. It is not recommended to serve it on a silver or any other metal container to avoid the metallic taste that could tarnish its precious flavor.


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