The Most Expensive Spices in the World

Monday, 11. April 2016

The Most Expensive Spices in the World

In earlier times, the prices of spices were astronomical. However, as soon as the 19th century rolled around, many people could afford spices because the spice monopolies had collapsed. Even today though, there are still many spices that are extremely expense. A kilo of some of these spices could cost as much as a small car.

Spices are plants or parts thereof, which are characterized by lots of aromas and flavors. These condiments are essential in any kitchen and keep our dishes from tasting bland.

Saffron

By far, the most valuable spice in the world today is saffron. The dried stigmas of the saffron crocus plant can be purchased as saffron threads. A kilo of saffron costs, depending on the quality, 3,000-140,00 Euros.

The Saffron crocus is a member of the Iridaceae family. This plant was originally native to Asia Minor and the Mediterranean and is cultivated mainly in southern France, Iran, Spain, Italy, Morocco and Greece today. The reason for the very high prices is the expensive harvesting costs. The saffron crocus blooms once a year for two weeks. The pistils, of which each flower has three, must be painstakingly harvested by hand in the morning just after the opening of the flower, otherwise the precious flavor evaporates. For one kilogram of saffron, one needs at least 150,000 flowers or an acreage of approximately 1,000 square meters.

Besides using saffron for seasoning, it is also used for coloring foods. The very rich spice is mainly used to flavor rice dishes.

Vanilla

In second place for the most expensive spice award is vanilla. One pod costs between three and five euros, although there are significant differences in quality. The price reflects the labor-intensive production process. Only the fermented pods of the vanilla plants are typically used in trade. These can be up to 30 centimeters long. Shortly before the pods ripen, they are harvested by hand, treated with water vapor and stored for four weeks in an airtight container, where they ferment slowly. The preparation is thus very time consuming and laborious.

Vanilla is native to Mexico, but is now cultivated mainly on the islands in the Indian Ocean and on Madagascar on huge plantations. Of the more than 100 species worldwide, only 15 are used to flavor desserts.

Cardamom

Relatively inexpensive compared with saffron and vanilla, cardamom typically has a price of about 60 euros per kilogram. Nevertheless, this price is far above the average price for spices. Therefore, cardamom is the undisputed number three most expensive spice.

Cardamom is a plant that is related to the ginger family. It has a fiery-spicy flavor. Its main areas of cultivation are in India and Madagascar. There are two types of cardamom, black and green. Black cardamom has a smoky, earthy and tart flavor and is used mainly to flavor savory dishes. Green cardamom is often used in desserts.

Now we come to two spices that were once very expensive and today still can be some of the most expensive spices, although they now only cost a fraction of their previous prices.

Pepper

Unchallenged at the top of list of the most expensive spices historically, is pepper. This spice is the most often used spice in the world today, but for centuries it was also the most expensive. Pepper was once so valuable that there were armed conflicts around its growing areas. Many explorers and sailors set off to find a sea route to India so that pepper could be brought to Europe in a cheaper manner. One of the ironies of history is that Christopher Columbus set out to find a sea route to India for the pepper and spice trade, but discovered a new continent with countless new spices instead. This discovery lead to the decrease in pepper's importance, as the discovery of new spices brought the the focus away from pepper. When chilli was discovered, it suddenly brought another spice into focus. 

Originally, pepper came from India, but today it is also cultivated in many countries in Southeast Asia and in Brazil. The pepper plant is a climbing plant whose peppercorns can be harvested twice a year. 

Cinnamon

Here, we first need to distinguish which type of cinnamon we're talking about. In Europe, there are two types of cinnamon that are recognized as spices: Chinese cinnamon, or cassia cinnamon, and true cinnamon, or Ceylon cinnamon. Today we are talking about the latter. Due to the fact that Ceylon cinnamon it is less common than Chinese cinnamon, it is also more expensive.

The Cinnamon spice is made up of the dried bark of cinnamon trees. It is one of the oldest spices in the world and is used mainly to flavor desserts. Originally the Cinnamomum verum plant comes from Sri Lanka, although it is now cultivated in many tropical countries. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, cinnamon was particularly valuable and was one of the most expensive spices in the world.  In 1530, the merchant Anton Fugger burned the IOUs of Charles V, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, in a fire made of cinnamon sticks to demonstrate his enormous wealth.