Trying the most expensive food in the world is a luxurious experience many love to splurge on. Be it Japan’s bluefin tuna (kuro maguro), northern Italy’s white truffle, Spain and Portugal’s Iberico ham or the world’s most delicate ‘red gold’ saffron, an opulent dinner must know about these expensive food items used to create some of the finest delicacies.
While every country has its own gastronomic treasures, some of them come with a hefty price tag — the rarity and flavour become a justification for their exorbitant prices. For example, sturgeon caviar, which became a high-society status symbol at the peak of Russian Imperialism during the 19th century, is extremely rare, and its scarcity factor has ever since been the leading determinant of its price.
Having said that, some of these expensive foods might seem unique yet absurd, with coffee lovers paying between USD 35 and USD 100 for a cup of the Indonesian civet kopi luwak coffee or seafood lovers splurging USD 75 to USD 77 for a kilogram of coffin bay king oysters. However, they never fail to intrigue a food connoisseur.
Some of the most expensive food items in the world
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These single-salted fish eggs or roes of matured sturgeons are among the most expensive foods in the world.
The caviar types that standout the most are beluga caviar, osetra caviar and sevruga caviar. The ‘Almas’ beluga caviar from a rare Iranian beluga sturgeon holds the Guinness World Record for the most expensive caviar at a cost of USD 20,000 per kilogram, as of 22 February 2023.
The total value of the global Caviar market was USD 304.9 million in 2020, according to a 2022 GlobalNewswire report. This is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.3 percent during 2021-2027 to reach USD 530 million by the end of 2027.
The report also states that the classic caviar is harvested by commercial fishermen working in the Caspian Sea and primarily comes from Iran or Russia. Species of caviar-grade sturgeon are also found in Siberia, China, and North America.
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One of the most expensive foods in the world, saffron owes its high price tag to the 75,000 saffron flowers that are needed to make a pound (0.45 kg) of the spice. The stigmas found in the centre of the Crocus sativus (a purple flower from the Iris family, commonly known as the Saffron crocus) make for the saffron threads, and there are only three of the orange-yellow stigmas in each flower.
They are primarily grown in Iran, Greece, Spain and India. According to a 2022 Reader’s Digest report, almost 90 percent of the 300 tons of saffron harvested each year comes from Iran.
A gram of saffron can be priced from USD 7 to USD 15. Kashmiri saffron, the world’s finest and most expensive, can sell for over USD 1,500 per pound (approximately 0.45 kg).
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White truffles are mostly found in Tuscany, the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, Emilia-Romagna, the Marches and the Istrian peninsula of Croatia. It grows about a foot underground and can only be located with the help of trained dogs. These truffles are well known for their exclusive aroma and flavour.
One of the most expensive foods in the world, the white truffle (Tuber magnatum pico) is also the world’s most expensive edible fungus. As of 22 February 2023, per kilogram of white truffle costs up to USD 3,000, states Guinness World Records.
In 2021, bidding held at the Castle of Grinzane Cavour during the International Alba White Truffle Fair in the Piedmont region had 2-lb (approximately 907.1 grams) of this yellowish, potato-like mushroom selling for nearly USD 118,000.
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The exquisite taste and delicate flavour of this food item make its price soar to approximately USD 5,330 per kilogram.
The high price of the Elvish variety of honey is attributed to the way it is obtained — a 1,800-metre-deep cave in the Turkish city of Artvin is its primary source. According to Ecocolmena, the cave’s minerals contribute to the unique flavour of the honey.
In addition, the making of this honey doesn’t involve any beekeeper or hive. Elvish honey is produced most naturally with bees collecting pollen from wildflowers located in the surrounding forests of Artvin and then transforming it into ‘liquid gold’ in the cave.
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Feasting on Iberian ham (Jamón Ibérico) is a dream for all food lovers. This expensive ham comes from the rear leg of black pigs, needs to mature for 24 to 36 months and is produced in Portugal and Spain.
According to Guinness World Records, a leg piece of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, the highest quality Iberian ham, costs around USD 13,183.1 and is sold by Taishi Co., Ltd. (Japan) as of 3 February 2020.
Iberico Bellota hams have a longer curing period than Iberian ham. The process involves the pigs (from which the ham is made) being reared for two years, followed by the legs of the ham being cured for up to five years.
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Did you know Kopi Luwak is exclusively made from coffee beans eaten, digested and defecated by a cat? Well, the beans of this earthy and pungent-smelling coffee with a chocolate-syrup flavour are collected from the excrement of the Sumatran civet cat, living in the Indonesian mountain province of Irian Jaya.
The process is totally natural and involves the civet cat climbing into the coffee trees and eating the ripest coffee cherries it can find. Eventually, these appear in the animal’s excrement and are collected by the locals.
According to the Guinness World Records, the most expensive coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak, sells for approximately USD 300 per pound (approximately 0.45 kg), with only 500 lb (approximately 227 kg) of the coffee available per year.
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The juicy, tender and strong-flavoured Wagyu, which takes its name from the Japanese Wagyu cow, is quite different from traditional beef and comes at a hefty price tag of USD 200 per pound (approximately 0.45 kg). According to Business Insider India, the individual cows that produce Wagyu beef fetch around USD 30,000 at auction.
The cows involved in making Wagyu beef are bred for physical endurance. This process leads to them having more intramuscular fat cells. As a result, fat gets distributed more evenly throughout the muscle and gives them an exclusive pink colour and tender taste.
Olive Wagyu is considered the rarest steak in the world — with each steak costing between USD 120 to USD 300.
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Bluefin tuna, which is among the most coveted seafood, is also one of the costliest food items in the world because of its rarity. According to Worldwildlife, the population of the fish has been severely declining — overfishing of Atlantic bluefin tuna, Pacific bluefin tuna and Southern bluefin tuna has been largely driven by the demand for them in sushi markets.
While the price of bluefin tuna depends on the type and location, a recent auction in Japan has brought its per kg price up to USD 1,300.
On 5 January 2023, a 212-kilogram Bluefin tuna was rolled out at the New Year’s auction in Tokyo’s Toyosu fish market for USD 273,000, as per The Japan Times.
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Oysters are mostly found in brackish waters along the US coasts. While Bluff oysters are touted as one of the most delicious foods in the world, Coffin Bay King Oysters take the title of one of the most expensive foods in the world. These take nearly seven years to mature fully.
According to a 2022 report by WAFB, the oyster industry in the US saw heavy demand and short supply, which eventually forced oyster processors to pay up to USD 70 per sack at the docks.
Oysters come in different varieties — each having a distinct flavour. For example, eastern oysters in the US are saltier than pacific oysters. However, the latter is better suited for people with complex palates.
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Made from duck or goose liver, foie gras (fat liver) is one of the most expensive and popular delicacies of French cuisine. Generally, a kilogram of foie gras has a market value of approximately USD 31 to USD 39.
Foie gras is rare and is banned in most countries as its production involves geese and ducks being force-fed corn using feeding tubes to increase their fat content. However, one can see productions of the food in Strasbourg province, as per Britannica.
Mostly consumed as a pastry or Pâté de foie gras, the delicacies come with baked crust and jelly lines. The preparation process involves seasonings and truffles and can be served hot or cold, as per choice.
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This story first appeared here.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: World’s finest caviar Almas beluga, which is derived from a rare Iranian Beluga sturgeon, holds the Guinness World Record for the most expensive food in the world and costs USD 34,500 per kilogram. It is also the most expensive seafood in the world.
Answer: Although Guinness World Record doesn't have a list of the most expensive foods, some of the items to hold the record are ‘Almas’ beluga caviar, white truffle, kopi luwak and Iberian ham.