Ten of the most expensive cooking ingredients in the world

Jo Romero

White truffles and Beluga caviar don't feature on your average restaurant menu — but they are among the most expensive delicacies money can buy. Together with 8 other rare and exotic delicacies, they make up this list of the 10 most expensive ingredients in the world.

Beluga caviar
These tiny, black wild sturgeon eggs are sold in
small quantities, although the cost per kilo works out at around
£4,000. Beluga caviar is considered the height of decadence and can be
spread onto cocktail blinis or eaten with a spoon straight from the tin.
While caviar is available from other species of fish, Beluga is
especially prized.

Caciocavallo Podolico Italian cheese
This semi-hard cheese is
made from the milk of the ancient breed of Podolico cows, which produce a
small amount of milk per season. The milk is very high in fat. The
short season runs from spring to the beginning of summer each year and
it is for this reason that the cheese is difficult to find and
consequently expensive. The cheeses are hung to mature and the effect of
gravity gives them a pear-shaped appearance. Caciocavallo Podolico is
currently available to a lucky few at around £30 per kilo. This compares
to the average supermarket cheddar, which is priced at a more modest
£7.50 per kilo.

The Alba white truffle
Black truffles are now widely
available, but no truffle is more elusive and more prized than the Alba
white truffle. Knobbled and pale-looking, it is found in the Piedmont
region of Northern Italy. While black truffles currently sell for around
£189 per kilo, Alba truffles can demand a staggering £6,000 per kilo.
They are used to add a woody, pungent aroma to egg dishes, pasta, meats
and even pizza.

Blowfish, pufferfish or fugu
Many people recognise fugu as that cute little fish that "puffs" up when it is threatened. Although fugu is a long-standing delicacy in Japanese cuisine, parts of the fish can be highly poisonous and must not be eaten. A chef must be trained and granted a special licence to serve the fish, as eating it when it has not been prepared correctly can prove fatal. Consequently its sale is banned within the European Union but it is served in other parts of the world, including the US, South Korea and Japan. The Times reported in 2004 that the cost of a small fugu meal in Tokyo started at 13,000 Yen (£65), making it one of the most exclusive and expensive fishes eaten. Chefs like Mukoujima Hashimoto serve the fish in various forms including 'Hot Fugu Porridge', 'Smoked Fugu Fins in Sake' and 'Fugu Fried Ribs'.

Saffron
Saffron is made from the stamens from the Crocus
sativus flower. At the supermarket, expect to pay around £3.50-£4.00 for
a few wispy stems (around £800 per kilo), although a little saffron
does go a long way. Some recipes suggest soaking the saffron in a little
water and then adding it, water and all, to dishes, while others
recommend just dropping the stems in whole to infuse. Saffron turns the
dish a characteristic yellow colour and is a basic ingredient when
making paella.

Bluefin tuna
The sale of bluefin tuna continues to prove
controversial, and various environmental groups campaign for either a
ban on bluefin fishing completely or for much tighter restrictions to be
put in place. Nonetheless, bluefin is still eaten, and is highly prized
- particularly in Japan, where it is usually served as sashimi. The BBC
reported in January 2010 that one 232kg bluefin was sold for the
princely sum of $175,000 (£109,000) at Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market.

Hop asparagus
Dark green and leafy, these shoots are the
vegetable of the hop plant, most commonly used in brewing. Full of
antioxidants and iron, these young shoots are thought to help ease
symptoms of the menopause and could even help fight against cancer,
although their season is short and they are difficult to get hold of.
They are best eaten steamed or blanched quickly in hot water to preserve
their nutrients, and are said to taste like a combination of asparagus
and spinach. The Times reported in 2009 that hop asparagus has been
known to fetch around £300 per kilo. 

Kobe or Wagyu beef
Real, authentic Kobe beef comes from the Wagyu species of cow that has been bred and slaughtered in the
Kobe area of Japan. The Wagyu breed has a large amount of fat marbling
in the flesh, making the meat especially tender to eat. However, all
this comes at a price. The Sun reported in 2008 that Burger King
intended to make Kobe beef burgers and sell them at a cost of £85 each.
Because Japanese Kobe beef is so difficult to get hold of and expensive
to export around the world, Kobe-style ranches have been set up in the
US, Chile and Australia using the same Wagyu breed. Although not
strictly authentic, but derived from the same cattle as in Japan,
Kobe-style beef can still fetch high prices for its quality — online,
one 8oz Kobe-style fillet steak from Chile costs £30.

Matcha green tea powder
Usually
sold in small 100g tins or less, matcha is finely ground green tea.
High in antioxidants and also caffeine, it can be used in baking, making
drinks and for flavouring ice cream and other desserts.  For the
privilege of opening a tin of matcha and watching the light powder puff
up as you do so, get ready to pay around £120-£150 per kilo. 

Edible gold leaf
For those who want the crème de la crème of sprinkles, edible gold leaf can be sprinkled or layered onto food. It is made from 23-carat gold and has been licensed as a food additive (E175) by the European Union. Immensely fragile and available in the form of gold dust, flakes and gold leaf, edible gold is incredibly light and has no taste. It can be sprinkled into glasses of champagne, over cakes or on savoury foods. In leaf form, it can also be wrapped over chocolates and other foods, for show-stopping displays of extravagance. A glass jar containing a tiny 150mg of 23-carat edible gold flakes can be bought online for around £16.95.