Saffron is one spice that most people in the world have never had a chance of tasting because it is just too rare and too expensive. Many who have tasted it find it difficult to describe but always say it is impossible to replicate its taste. Well, Saffron is not the only spice that might bankrupt you. No one really lives in the fear of being bankrupted by spices but if you love your spiced food, it won’t taste the same until you have your vanilla, cumin, black pepper or whatever you like the most. That is why these 10 spices are so expensive but still popular all over the world.
Most of the world’s saffron is actually produced in Iran but that has little to do with the ridiculously high price attached to a pound of that stuff. It all comes down to the painful job of harvesting and drying it. Saffron comes from the stigma of the Saffron Crocus flower and each stigma has to be delicately picked by hand to prevent damage. You also need to pick it up at a specific hour of the day before the sun gets too hot which damages the quality of the stigma. To get a pound of saffron, you need over 70,000 flowers. The pound goes for anywhere between $500 and 5000 depending on the origin and the quality.
Organic Fennel Pollen
This is another powerful and aromatic spice that has been around for years but is so hard to harvest. Getting a gram of organically grown pollen is so tough because the little flowers don’t store that much powder. The flowers are harvested before they close off to make seeds so you have to catch them at a precise time. You also have to harvest by hand and dry the leaves before shaking them to get the actual spice. The whole job is so difficult, many people rarely collect a pound and those that do will sell it for up $500.
We are talking about real vanilla here most of which comes from the island nation of Madagascar and whose supply has been dropping almost every year. While vanilla may sound like a common flavour, most of what you see is artificial vanilla and it is not the best. Cyclones and climate change destroy more and more vanilla farms in Madagascar causing the prices to soar past their weight in silver. A pound now costs between $200 and $500 depending on where it comes from and the quality of the beans.
There is cardamom and then there is green cardamom. Regular cardamom is expensive enough in itself because of the hard work involved in harvesting tons of pods by hand only to get a few good seeds out of the whole thing. As for green cardamom, the scrutiny on quality is way higher and workers have to scour acres of plantation to get enough pods that will get the quality. After opening the pods, they still have to remove bad seeds and narrow them down to a few quality ones. The final product can cost up to $200 per pound especially when it is organic.
This is another widely used spice whose price per pound is higher than you could imagine. It is another spice that requires so much hard work that the farmers have to charge a premium on each gram that makes it to the market. Dried and ground seeds of Mahlab are the most sought-after part of this spice and to get to them you have to crash through the hard kernel of St. Lucie Cherries. A pound may cost up to $100 depending on who is selling and the quality of the seeds you get.
These long cone-shaped fruits are now hard to find because many farmers no longer cultivate them. They are almost similar in taste to black pepper but way spicier and tend to do better in soups and broths. Long pepper was so popular in Africa, Asia and Europe back in the renaissance days that it was used as a currency of sorts. Now, it is only grown on a few family-owned farms in India and Nepal and a pound may cost you up to $50.
Grains Of Paradise
The Latin name for these rare black seeds was Afromum Melegueta and it was so popular in Europe, that the Gulf of Guinea was called the Melegueta Coast back in the day. It has a similar spiciness and taste to cardamom and turmeric but it is stronger, hence more lovable as a spice. They are also harder to harvest and gather in quantities that can be sold on large scales which is why the spice is pricier than turmeric. To get to paradise on this spice, you will have to pay $30 to 50 for a pound.
Black Cumin Seeds
Just imagine the taste of thyme, onions and black pepper balanced oof to be less hot but warmer and sleekier. Well, it is hard to describe but that is the closest you come when you spice your food with black cumin seeds. Iran and Egypt are the biggest producers of this spice. It is different from regular cumin though and of course, way harder to harvest into a pound so you will pay more for it. It has been used in making bread and pastries in Indian and Middle-Eastern cuisines for many years and still is. A pound of these tiny seeds could cost $30 to $40.
Kaffir Lime Leaves
These leaves are now found almost everywhere in the world as opposed to decades back when the majority was cultivated in South East Asia. They are now grown in the US, Europe, The Middle East and of course South East Asia so they are not that rare and therefore not as expensive as before. They are shredded whether fresh or dry and used to add an aromatic citrusy taste to food. A pound may cost up to $35 depending on where they come from.
Pasilla De Oaxaca Chile
As the name suggests, these peppers originate from Oaxaca in Mexico and while other Pasilla varieties are as good, they can’t match the popularity of the smoke-dried Pasilla chiles from Oaxaca. They give the food the heat and smoke flavour and match up to most dishes, especially stews and fried meat, chicken and cheese foods. They may Oaxaca for as little as $15 but they sell for up to $50 North of the Mexican border.