Spices can do magic when it comes to preparing food – and that concerns all kinds of it, including vegetarian, vegan, fish, and meat dishes. Some of them have an intense flavor, and some can be delicate but still make a huge difference when it comes to the final taste.
Many spices are relatively cheap and can be used on a daily basis without any limitations in various recipes. However, there are some exceptions to this rule – some spices can be amazingly expensive, especially if you pay attention to their high quality.
Surprisingly, in the past, black pepper used to be one of the most expensive spices in the world! Nowadays, apart from salt, it’s a spice used in lots of dishes, at least in small amounts, and it’s really cheap.
Therefore, the price may change with time, but we would like to present you with some of the most expensive spices for the time being. Read on to check them out!
Saffron originates from a flower called Crocus Sativus, growing in certain parts of the Middle East, as well as the Mediterranean and India. Its price can reach up to $5000 per pound, mostly due to the fact that it takes a lot of work to harvest it. It needs to be picked by hand and treated with delicacy.
Its name is derived from saffron’s thread-like structure, and it is said to have origins in Iran.
Apart from its unique taste, it is also famous for its health properties. It can be helpful in treating mental problems like depression, Alzheimer’s disease, or anxiety. Also, women appreciate its impact on alleviating menstrual cramps or PMS symptoms.
Mahlab is an unusual spice produced from the St. Lucie cherry, normally ground before being used. Its taste resembles marzipan a bit, being a mixture between bitter almonds and cherry flavor.
This spice has been quite commonly used in the Middle East and around it, especially for baking desserts. Nowadays, it is spread around the world and applied to increase the sharpness of cakes and confections.
The price of mahlab can reach up to $716 per pound as a result of its demanding harvest. Namely, thousands of cherry pits need to be extracted, dried, and ground to be turned into dust that can be used for sprinkling.
Mahlab has many health benefits because it can help deal with asthma, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and more.
Second place on the list of the most expensive spices in the world belongs to vanilla. Its price is not as impressive as saffron’s, but still – it can reach around $170.
The expensiveness of this spice stems from the fact that it is taken from the orchids of the genus vanilla flowers, which require pollinating and harvesting by hand. Moreover, the harvest must be planned at a specific moment – just before the flowers ripen. After picking, they need to be treated with water vapor and kept in an airtight box for a month to ferment.
There are some health benefits that vanilla may have – it is said to be helpful with treating inflammation, for example. Apart from that, it can have antioxidant and neuroprotective properties.
Cardamom is often referred to as the “queen of Indian spices,” and it is really popular in this kind of food, including various rice dishes. This spice may not be as expensive as saffron or vanilla, but still, its price can reach $30 a pound, which is not that cheap either.
Although this tropical plant is native to Southern India, it can also be found in Madagascar. There are two varieties of it: brown and green cardamom.
The first one can be recognized by an earthier flavor with noticeable smokiness.
On the other hand, green cardamon has a characteristic pleasant aroma resembling perfume a bit. Both varieties of this spice can do wonders when added to chai tea, but the green one is particularly tasty in desserts.
Cardamom has some great health benefits. Namely, it may lower blood pressure, have anti-inflammatory effects, and ease digestive problems.
Despite the geographical distance, cumin can be commonly found in both Mexican and Indian cuisines. This spice is famous for its relatively strong smoky, and earthy flavor, and it goes well with, for example, various types of meat and curries. If you are looking for the finest cumin in the world, you should go for the one grown and harvested in the Kashmir region of India – this one can be bought for around $18 per pound.
Cumin has been often referred to as “the king of spices” as, at one point in history, it was one of the most expensive spices in the world, and now it’s a very popular spice in international production and distribution, although it is still not that cheap.
Importantly, cumin is rich in flavonoids that can work as antioxidants, neutralizing the so-called free radicals that damage cells in our bodies. What’s more, this spice is a great source of calcium, iron, and vitamin A. It can be helpful in treating diabetes, and it may improve blood cholesterol.
Turmeric is the most characteristic of Indian cuisine. Its warm and peppery flavor suits well both meat and vegetarian dishes. You can easily recognize it by its bright yellow color – thanks to it, it is also sometimes used as a natural dye. It is used not only for cooking but also for producing clothes and cosmetic products.
Turmeric’s price can reach even around $200 per pound if you choose the finest kind of it – the one coming from the Nilgiri Hills in India. Such an impressive price stems from the spice’s rarity – it’s very hard to access it in those mountains, and as a result, the crop yield is not high.
Moreover, the harvest is also difficult, as you need to dig up the root and dry it before it can be turned into a powder.
This spice is famous for its health benefits. For example, it is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can be helpful in treating heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, metabolic syndrome, and various degenerative conditions, to name but a few.
Cloves are, in fact, dried flower buds of a tree from the Myrtle family that hasn’t opened yet. They are often used in sweet dishes as they have a sweet, astringent taste, but it is also not rare to see them in savory food. Interestingly, cloves are used not only for cooking but also for producing natural fragrances.
Their price can reach $325 per pound due to the labor they require to harvest. Each bud must be separately hand-picked, and apart from that, they are amazingly susceptible to disease. Also, their growing conditions are very specific, as they require a humid and warm climate. The best cloves are said to be those coming from the island of Zanzibar.
Thanks to cloves, you can improve your skin problems treatment (including acne). What’s more, they may help in preventing such conditions as heart disease or diabetes. On top of that, they have antimicrobial properties, so they can kill bacteria.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there are quite many expensive spices available on the market – it can be, for example, saffron, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, or mahlab. Even though they can be quite costly, they are usually worth their price because they can allow you to bring your cooking to a different level and improve your dishes to a significant extent. No matter if you cook meat, fish, vegetarian or vegan dishes, high-quality spices can be game-changers. So, don’t hesitate to spice up your life!
Frequently Asked Questions
Which spices are known for their high price and rarity?
Saffron, vanilla, and cardamom are among the most expensive and rare spices in the world. Due to their unique flavor profiles and complex cultivation processes, these spices command high prices and are highly sought after in the culinary world.
How do the costs of various spices impact their demand?
The costs of spices can greatly impact their demand, especially for those that are more expensive. Some consumers may be less likely to purchase and use high-priced spices on a regular basis, opting for more affordable alternatives instead. However, in the case of premium and specialty dishes, sometimes the unique flavors and characteristics of these expensive spices cannot be replicated by cheaper substitutes, leading to a continued demand by chefs and food enthusiasts.
What factors contribute to the high prices of some spices?
Several factors contribute to the high prices of certain spices, including their cultivation and harvesting processes, the rarity of the plants, and the labor involved in production. Additionally, the geographical location where a spice is grown, as well as its supply and demand, can play a significant role in determining its price.
Are there any lesser-known expensive spices worth trying?
Yes, there are several lesser-known expensive spices worth exploring. Some examples include long pepper, grains of paradise, and black cumin. These spices offer distinctive flavors that can elevate your dishes and provide new culinary experiences.
How does the cultivation process affect spice prices?
The cultivation process can greatly influence the price of a spice. Factors such as the difficulty of growing a specific plant, the time it takes for the plant to mature, and the labor-intensive steps involved in harvesting and processing the spice can all contribute to higher costs. Additionally, some spices may have specific growing conditions and requirements that can limit their production and availability, thus driving up their prices.
What is the significance of vanilla being the second most expensive spice?
The high price of vanilla relates to its labor-intensive cultivation process and the fact that it is mainly hand-pollinated. Its significant value also stems from its popularity in various culinary applications, the unique flavor profile it offers, and its scarcity compared to other spices. The high cost and limited availability of vanilla make it a highly sought-after and treasured ingredient in the world of cooking and baking.