Eight of the World’s Most Expensive Ingredients

Published in Gourmet Live 04.11.12
There’s more to high-end edibles than lobster and foie gras: See what exorbitant ingredients Elizabeth Gunnison unearthed, and learn what’s behind the luxury pricing
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Most Expensive Poultry Product: Swiftlet Nests

What: More expensive by weight than any single bird are the nests of the high-flying swiftlet species, who forge these small, cuplike structures from strands of their saliva. The swiftlet nests dissolve in broth to create the gelatinous texture of bird’s nest soup, a Chinese delicacy, and are touted as valuable sources of nutrients. Nests were originally foraged from caves in Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia and Malaysia, but given the rising demand from China, they are now also “grown” in purpose-built concrete nesting houses in the same part of the world.

How Much: Swiftlet nests retail for approximately $1,000 per pound, which is $2 per gram or roughly $20 per nest.

Why Pay More: It takes up to two months for a male swiftlet to build a single delicate nest. Each bird will build only two to three nests per year, solely in the spring. Nests must either be foraged from the hard-to-reach interiors of caves or culled from custom-built houses that require a significant up-front investment.


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Elizabeth Gunnison is a freelance writer based in New York. She currently serves as the online food correspondent for Esquire.com and contributes to such outlets as The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Esquire, and BonAppetit.com.

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