World's Most Expensive Spices
It is said that in ancient and mediaeval times saffron was worth its weight of gold. Even in today’s time saffron remains much expensive and easily earns the tag of world’s most expensive spice. A pound of fine quality saffron may cost up to US$5,000 in international market.
Saffron is essentially the stigma of the Crocus flower, native to central Asia. The flowers are hand-picked and the stigma are separated carefully. Today, saffron is grown mainly in Spain, Italy, Greece, India and Iran. The best quality saffron comes from the Kashmir valley of India. Saffron is used as a flavoring and coloring agent in sweet and meat dishes. The high price of saffron has given rise to adulteration from time to time with substances such as inferior quality saffron, fibers of pomegranate, beet and silk and even the odorless stamens of the same saffron flower.
Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world. It is widely used as a flavoring in ice creams, confectionaries, sweets and other desserts. Though artificial vanilla is commonly available in market, natural vanilla comes from the beans of the Vanilla orchid, native to Mexico. As the pods ripen and begin to show a yellowish color, they are hand-picked and the dark red flesh is scrapped from the pods. The seeds have no flavor and are usually discarded. The high price of vanilla is due to the facts that, the flowers are artificially pollinated by hand and the fruits are picked by hand once ripen. In international market, one pound of whole vanilla pods may cost from $50-$200. Pure vanilla extract comes at a price of $2-$3 per ounce. Mexico and Madagascar produce the best quality vanilla in the world.
Native to Southwestern India, this spice is widely consumed throughout Asia and Scandinavia. Whole cardamoms are sold at around $30 per pound while ground cardamom commands a price of $5-$10 per ounce. The spice itself is the seed, hand-picked from the plant before the pods are fully ripened. A pod typically contains 12 seeds and about 10 pods produce 1 teaspoon of powdered cardamom. The whole process is labor-intensive which explains the high prices. Cardamom is a popular additive to Indian curries, Arabian coffees and Scandinavian baked goods. Today, Guatemala and India are the largest producer of this expensive spice.
Clove is the fourth most expensive spice in this list. Native to Indonesia, this aromatic spice is also grown widely in Zanzibar, India, Sri Lanka and Madagascar. The edible part of clove is the dried flower buds. Clove has an intense aroma and is used in most flavorful dishes of Indian and Middle-eastern origin. Clove essence is an important part of many perfumes. Clove oil is known as a natural antiseptic and analgesic. One pound of clove is priced at around $7-$10.
Cinnamon is the inner bark obtained from genus Cinnamomum and has a sweet aroma. Priced at around $6 per pound this is the fifth in our list. This prized spice is a native to Sri Lanka and is also grown in India and Indonesia. The spice is obtained by stripping the outer bark and removing the inner bark in rolls. The bark is then dried and sealed in airtight containers. Cinnamon is used primarily as flavoring agent in chocolates, desserts and savory meat-based dishes.
Black pepper was highly prized in ancient world before the discovery of chili pepper. It is the most traded and most used spice in the world. Known for its intense spiciness, this item is priced at $3 per pound in the market. It is the preciousness of pepper which led Vascodegama in his quest to find a sea route to India.
Turmeric is the last one in the list with a price tag of $3 per pound. Native to South Asia, this widely used spice is the rhizome or the root of plant. It has a deep yellow color and an earthy, bitter taste. It is mostly used as a flavoring and coloring agent in Indian, Thai and Persian dishes. Turmeric is also known for its medicinal properties and cosmetic uses.