The most expensive spices in the world today have always been valuable to some extent. There were times in history that some were used as currency. The demand for spices is what makes them expensive. While the demand has grown considerably over the years along with the cost, the factors that result in a small supply are essentially the same as they always were. Here is a look at some of the most expensive spices in the world.
Of all the expensive spices, saffron is the most expensive and has long held the title of the world’s costliest spice. Saffron consists of stamens from the crocus flower that are sold as threads. A pound of saffron threads can cost thousands of dollars. Saffron is expensive because the process of harvesting the threads is painstaking work and must be performed early in the morning before the flower opens or the flavor will be lost.
Saffron comes from Asia Minor and is used in dishes like saffron rice and other similar dishes as well as in baked goods. It brings a yellow color and a unique grassy flavor with nutty and slightly metallic elements.
You will often see vanilla beans in desserts like ice cream, custards, and cake. The vanilla flavor is one of the most popular ones in the world. The beans have a sweet, woody and slightly floral flavor and aroma. Vanilla beans are expensive because of how hard they are to grow and process.
Vanilla plants are native to Mexico but are grown all over the world in locations like Madagascar that are not necessarily ideal for them. Vanilla plants can take as long as four years to mature and their flowers must be pollinated by hand on the one day of the year that they bloom. Manual pollination is necessary when there are no local species that pollinate vanilla flowers.
Vanilla bean pods need several months of curing time after they have been harvested. In short, vanilla production takes a lot of time and manpower.
Americans typically only consume dishes that include cloves during the holidays, but this spice is a year-round favorite in other countries. Cloves have an intensely pungent flavor comprised of sweet and bitter notes. There are also hints of pepper and mint. You get a fair amount of sweetness as cloves have notes of cinnamon and allspice.
In the United States, cloves show up in pumpkin spice and some apple pie spice blends. Hams are sometimes studded with cloves. In Indian cuisine, cloves are one of the main elements in many garam masala blends and are also used in rice dishes and chai.
Cloves are expensive because cloves trees produce only a small amount of the blossoms each year and those must be harvested by hand. Also, the spice can only be harvested when it measures between 1.5 cm and 2 cm. This means that they have to be visually inspected, which makes the harvesting process labor-intensive and expensive.
The two spices called cardamom are green and black cardamom. The most widely used one is green cardamom and it is one of the world’s most expensive spices. When a recipe requires cardamom and does not specify the type, it is almost always referring to green cardamom.
Cardamom is a popular spice in Indian cuisine, which is to be expected since India is its native home. The spice has also become popular in parts of Northern Europe. Cardamom has a distinctive flavor and powerful fragrance that can be described as resinous with hints of eucalyptus as well as notes of black pepper and citrus. It delivers one of the most distinctive flavors in chai and is a popular addition to Arabian coffee. Like the other spices on this list, cardamom is expensive because it must be harvested by hand.