From strands of saffron to pearls of snow-white caviar, these are some of the priciest pantry products on the planet. They’re worth their weight in gold—and laced with it, too.
Indonesia’s Kopi Luwak, or civet coffee, famously sells for upwards of $50 for a single espresso. In January, a quarter-ton bluefin tuna made headlines when it sold for a record $3.1 million at a Tokyo fish auction. These famously pricey ingredients are just the tip of the pricey-ingredient iceberg. Super-rare mushrooms, spices, and even potatoes have found themselves on the list of the most expensive and most sought after food items in the world. The next time you’re at a high-end epicurean auction and in for a splurge, raise your paddle and place your bid on one of these 10 lavish pantry items that are so prized, they’re some of the most expensive food items in the world—as well as some of the most sought-after.
Mushroom: Cordyceps ($10,000 Per Pound)
Dubbed a “superfood,” cordyceps are a mix of medicinal mushroom and caterpillar that only grow at elevations above 14,000 feet in the Himalayas of Bhutan and Tibetan Plateau. Considered the world’s most expensive mushroom, cordyceps can cost over $10,000 per pound and even have their own dedicated auction. To prove their authenticity, cordyceps bidders’ official credentials are listed above jars of the dried Himalayan mushroom, which you’ll find at shops in Bhutan’s capital city of Thimpu.
Cheese: Pule ($1,700 Per Pound)
Donkey milk is said to contain 60 times more Vitamin C than cow’s milk and offer anti-allergenic properties. Since donkeys only produce about 1.5-2 liters of milk per day (compared to nearly 60 liters from a single cow), and must be milked sans machinery three times a day, it takes nearly 11 liters of milk to craft a pound of the prestige cheese. This rarity has reached a record retail price tag of $1,700 per pound at Zasavica, a special nature reserve north of Belgrade, where pule (Serbian for foal) is crafted from the milk of 120 donkeys. And since it’s not produced commercially, you’ll have to trek out to Serbia if you want to shell out for a sample.
Balsamic Vinegar: Aceto Balsamico di Modena ($700 for 100 ml)
Modena, the Italian town associated with famous sports cars like Ferrari, is the home of coveted condiment Aceto Balsamico di Modena. One of the priciest—and rarest—bottles on the shelves is Giuseppe Giusti’s 100-year-old balsamic vinegar, aged in cherry wood barrels and distilled to perfection thanks to family traditions passed down from 17 generations of vinegar specialists.
Caviar: Albino "White Pearl" Caviar (Over $3,000 Per Pound)
Dubbed “white pearl,” this particular type of caviar is one of the most treasured on the market (the majority of starlet caviar is black), harvested from rare, freshwater albino sturgeon farmed in northern Europe. The medium-sized pearls offer up a rich, creamy flavor and color that ranges from snow white to striking gold—with Austrian fish farmer Walter Grüll upping the exclusivity factor by lacing his caviar with actual 22-karat gold.
Truffle: Alba White Truffle (up to $45,000 per pound)
Considered the most valuable truffle (and most expensive), the “diamond of Alba” are white truffles found in Italy’s Piedmont region. An auction takes place each November during the International Alba White Truffle Fair, with A-List attendees like Alfred Hitchcock and French actor Alain Delon making appearances in the past. A quality commission checks each of the truffles before they go to market, with those weighing more than 10 grams receiving their own identification code (and numbered bag).
Vegetable: La Bonnotte Potato (Over $300 Per Pound)
In the 1920s, a farmer introduced a new type of potato to the island of Noirmoutier, located off France’s Atlantic coast, which thrive in the sandy soil (especially when fertilized with foraged seaweed). Known as La Bonnotte, the prized potatoes are planted on Candlemas (a Christian festival in February) and harvested 90 days later, when they reach the size of a thumb. Only 5% (about 1,300 acres) of the island is dedicated to growing the world’s most expensive potato, which are hand-picked over seven days in May and sell for a cool $300 per pound.
Spice: Saffron (Up to $10,000 Per Pound)
Since only the red pistols of the saffron flower (the stigmata) are harvested, one pound of the spice requires about 75,000 flowers—which bloom a few weeks of the year. Used as everything from perfume to medical potion, saffron was first cultivated in Greece, but now 90% is grown in northeastern Iran, with retail prices reaching a staggering $10,000 per pound.
Ham: Jamón Ibérico de Bellota ($4,600 for a Bone-in Piece of Ham)
The Spanish consume 160,000 tons of ham per year, but one of the most revered is jamón ibérico de bellota. The cured Iberian ham is produced from pigs that feed on bellota, or acorns, that fall from oak trees grown in central and southern Spain during a two-month period in fall and winter. A color-coded system classifies the ham according to quality (a black label is the highest), with organic-certified ham from Dehesa Maladúa going for over $4,600 per leg, earning it the Guinness World Records title of “most expensive leg of ham commercially available.”
Coffee: Geisha Coffee ($803 Per Pound)
Discovered in Ethiopia in the 1930s, Geisha seeds were later planted in Panama, where the coffee gained global attention after a family farm by the name of Hacienda La Esmeralda won the 2004 “Best of Panama” green coffee auction, fetching $601 per pound. Geisha coffee broke the record for highest price ever paid at auction the following year when Lamastus Family Estates’ coffee sold for $803 per pound—making Geisha the second-most expensive after the infamous kopi luwak “poop” coffee.
Animal Product: Red Bird’s Nest (Up to $5,000 Per Pound)
Small swiftlets use their protein-rich saliva as a natural glue to stitch together edible nests, typically served in soup form in Traditional Chinese Medicine to boost immunity and improve complexion (the ultimate natural beauty product). Similar to the grading of eggs or beef, the highest-grade birds’ nests are the purest—meaning they’re 90% edible at harvest (and require less processing and cleaning). Nicknamed the “Caviar of the East,” edible nests can net up to $5,000 per pound (or $50 for one bowl of swallow saliva soup), especially for the rarer red “blood” nests.