Spices literally are the flavor of life. For almost any dish to be successful, you not only need proper cooking techniques, but you need spices! And while spice preference differs depending on your part of the world and personal taste, there are some spices that are world renowned for their role in elevating food to new heights. Here are some of the most sought-after and most expensive spice varieties in the world. Which ones top your list of must-haves?
6 Most Expensive Spice Products
Saffron ($1,303 per pound)
Perhaps one of the most in-demand spices worldwide is this yellow spice which is essentially the dried stigmas of the Saffron flower. Since the growing season is limited in Spain, and the labor so intensive, it’s not unheard of to see the spice selling for much more during times of shortage. Counterfeiters have tried to take advantage of the high price and demand; knock-off spices flood online stores. Fake saffron has turned out to be nothing more than colored, dried paper.
To ensure that you’re getting the best quality saffron, it is recommended that you buy only from reputable brands that specialize solely in Spanish-grown Saffron and related products. While you can buy Saffron grown in other countries (Italy, Greece, India and Iran), purists insist that Spanish saffron is the only way to enjoy it. Saffron has other benefits besides just flavor. It has been used as a medicinal plant for thousands of years for anxiety, depression, and eye health. Whatever you use it for, it cannot be disputed that saffron is the most expensive spice.
Cinnamon ($6 per pound)
It may be hard to believe that a spice sold in dollar stores could be the of most expensive spice. The reason, however, has more to do with the quality and freshness of the spice than anything else. In fact, most of your typical grocery-store cinnamon is ground so finely that it loses most of the flavor. This makes sense, as the flavor of cinnamon comes mostly from oils (that tend to be lost in the manufacturing process.) Some brands have even added fillers to their cinnamon to prevent caking.
The freshest cinnamon can be found as sticks that you can then grind yourself. Look for a product that has a harvested date, is this indicates attention paid to freshness. And while there are two kinds of cinnamon to choose from (and both have rabid fans), both the Cassia and Ceylon varieties are delicious in recipes and drinks!
Vanilla ($100 per pound)
Most people are unaware that the journey to that small bottle of liquid vanilla extract in your cupboard started somewhere far away. But vanilla is considered the 2nd most expensive spice in the world, next to saffron, and there’s good reason for it. Why so much fuss over such a common flavor? Not only to vanilla bean flowers have to be pollinated by hand, but the resulting pods must be harvested by hand, too! The daily work of the farmers is richly rewarded; pure vanilla extract can cost $3 or more per fluid ounce!
The vanilla bean pod flavors most all of your standard sweet treats (ice cream, cookies, and candy), but it’s also used in beauty supplies! Madagascar and Mexico are the two most notable growers and exporters of this most expensive spice. Look for beans that are packaged for freshness. You won’t be disappointed!
Pepper ($2-3 per pound)
Don’t dismiss this common table spice as typical. Pepper is one of the oldest and most-respected spices, being frequently named in historic accounts of the spice trade that started global exploration! There are many kinds of pepper, other than the black pepper we usually pour at the table. Black peppercorns can be sold for up to $3 a pound. Other colors of peppercorns include green (which is a very immature peppercorn), white, red, and pink! Each has their own distinct flavor and can add much to your next dish.
Cardamom ($28 per pound)
This spice is what make chai tea special, and to get it, you’ll have to pay a price. Expect a cost of $29 a pound or more. Another spice with labor-intensive farming requirements, it’s most commonly exported from India and Guatemala.
There is also a difference in cardamom types. Green cardamom is more expensive and what we think of when we order that spiced latte from our local barista. While not exactly the most expensive spices, black cardamoms are a bigger relative used in cooking and savory dishes. Both have given a unique and comforting flavor to a variety of global cuisines for centuries!
Cloves ($4.50 per pound)
This spice is most popular during the fall and winter holidays when spiced apple cider and mulled wine become a common treat. The whole cloves command more than ground ones (which can have some of the same issues as cinnamon with fillers.) The next time you make a pumpkin pie, consider the Indian spice that gives it a signature flavor. Whole cloves are fragrant and bold and can command almost $5 a pound in some markets.