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Food + Cooking

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 Spice: Saffron

What: Saffron is derived from a type of crocus that grows most extensively in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Its brightly hued threads are graded for quality by the Switzerland-based International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which ranks the product on a scale from 0 to 250 based on color, fragrance, and taste.

How Much: “Coupe” saffron, which carries an ISO grade of 190 or greater, retails for $10 to $15 per gram, and the highest-grade coupe saffrons can reach almost $30 per gram. However, saffron is pungent enough that a little bit goes a long way: The 15 to 20 threads used in a typical paella recipe weigh in at only a very small fraction of a gram.

Why Pay More: The labor-intensive picking, cleaning, sorting, and toasting of these tiny saffron stigmas is to blame for the staggering price tag. It takes a football field–size plot of saffron crocuses to produce just 1 pound of saffron threads, which must be picked immediately upon blooming.


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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.