If cooking and serving of food can be termed an art, then it’s hard to assign a price or value to any dish, based purely on the ingredients used in it. It may seem bizarre to some that a certain item on the menu of a posh hotel presided over by a celebrity chef, is priced so outrageously. But for those in the know, it would be only normal for a celebrity chef to command and get the most esoteric of ingredients, just so that he may be able to create the work of art that he visualises. We mapped out 13 of the most sought after ingredients that have been popularised by celebrity chefs over the years.
1. White Truffle
White truffles are known for their unique nutty, savoury and sweet flavour. Truffles have always cost the earth because they are not easy to cultivate. They are found only in the forests of northern Italy. Harvested in the winter months, white truffles are found at the base of oak trees. Since they are only available in their natural habitat, truffle hunters use specially trained pigs and dogs to forage for white truffles.
White truffles are commonly used as a garnish in pasta and other dishes that have a lot of eggs, cheese and butter.
White truffles can be sold for $3000 to $5000 per pound, approx. INR 1.86 lakhs to INR 3.1 lakhs
Saffron is known for its distinct aroma and colour. It is the most expensive spice in the world. It comes from the saffron crocus flower, which blooms only once a year. Each flower produces only three threads of saffron, which explains why it is so hard to come by.
A kilo of saffron can cost a minimum around INR 2 lakhs.
Vanilla is the second most sought after spice in the world. The vanilla flowers bloom for a couple of hours once a year, which leaves very little time for natural pollination. The vanilla pods have to be fermented and aged for two years before they release their distinct aroma and flavour. The vanilla orchids have to be grown manually and they only grow in certain areas, thus adding to the exorbitant price tag.
A pound of pure vanilla can cost up to $3500 to $4000, approx. INR 2.17 lakhs to INR 2.4 lakhs
4. Kopi Luwak
Kopi Luwak is coffee beans that have been acquired from the excreta of an animal called Palm Civet. The civet finds the sweetest coffee berries, eats them and passes out the undigested coffee seeds. These are then cleaned, roasted and ground. The Kopi Luwak coffee is extremely sweet, smooth and rich because the bitterness of the coffee is removed in the digestion process.
The coffee is priced at approx INR 12,000 to INR 24,000 (as per 2013 records).
5. Black Truffle or tuber melanosporum
The black truffle is found in the Périgord region of France. It grows with the hazelnut and oak trees. It is ranked second in price after the white truffle. They are used to heighten the taste of the dish because, unlike the white truffle, the aroma and flavour of the black truffle intensifies on heating.
These can cost up to INR 70,000 to INR 1.14 lakhs for a kilo.
6. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale – Balsamic vinegar
The true balsamic vinegar is made from white Trebbiano grapes that are boiled down to a must, which is then placed in a barrel, allowing water to escape over a time period of 12 to 25 years. The prolonged evaporation and concentration needs a large quantity of grapes.
A 100ml bottle of this sweet, dark, thick syrup costs approx. INR 10,000
As the name suggests, this ingredient was originally found in the caves in Southeast Asian countries. The nests are made by the male swallow’s saliva. These nests dissolve in broth to give it a gelatinous texture. It takes up to two months for a bird to build its nest. These nests must be scavenged from the hard to reach caves or from custom built houses for the birds.
1 pound of the swiftnest costs approx. INR 64000.
8. Kobe Beef
Kobe beef or Wagyu steak originated in Japan. The cattle are fed a beer daily and massaged to create a distinct marbled and fatty cut of beef. The meat is very low on cholesterol, very tender and widely sought after.
A 16 ounce cut costs approximately INR 80,000
9. Matsutake Mushroom
The matsuke mushroom can be found in countries such as Canada, Japan, Finland, Sweden, Korea and China. These mushrooms are found hidden under fallen leaves of the forests, which makes it very hard to find. The mushroom’s strong spicy aroma and flavour is what makes it so appealing.
A pound of these mushrooms cost approx. INR 63000
10. Moose House Cheese
The cheese is made from the milk of three moose at the Moose House in Sweden. It is the most expensive cheese in the world. The moose milking season is just four months of the whole year. The cheese processing limits the amount of cheese that can be made in a year, thus contributing to the costly nature of the Moose Cheese.
One pound of the cheese costs aprrox. INR 31,000.
11. Edible Gold
Edible gold is used in desserts, wedding cakes, cocktails and appetisers, purely for decorative purposes. The gold used is 23k and 24k and it comes in flakes, powder and sheets, which gives the food a very opulent look.
Culinary gold costs approx. INR 5500 to INR 6300 per gram.
12. Sturgeon Caviar
Also called “Almas”, it is the most expensive caviar in the world. It comes from the eggs of an extremely rare albino sturgeon which is found in Caspian Sea. The harvesting of this caviar is banned due to the endangering of the species. The caviar when available is sold for extremely high prices. Unlike most caviar, the caviar of the sturgeon is pearly white.
The price of a small tin of this caviar can range from thousands to tens of thousands dollars.
13. Yubari King Melons
This Japanese melon is the most expensive among melons. Their sweetness and proportions make them highly popular. They are often gifted in pairs if you want to impress someone. The melons are meticulously picked and graded and the cheapest can be found in the upscale supermarkets for a few hundred dollars per melon. The best are auctioned off and they have been sold for as high a price as $26,000 each.
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