How much would you pay for a memorable meal? When money is no object, the rarest, most decadent ingredients are on the table—literally. From caviar to Kobe beef, from truffles to pufferfish, these are some of the most expensive foods in the world. How many would you try if you got the chance?
Let’s start with a relatively obtainable luxury. Oysters, like lobsters, were once considered food fit only for the working classes. They were plentiful and cheap once upon a time, but decades of overfishing transformed oysters from a commonplace food to an expensive treat. You’ll have to pay $25-35 per dozen oysters at a fish market—and much more if you’re buying them at a restaurant.
Foie gras is a controversial delicacy. Made from the fatty, oversized livers of ducks (or, rarely, geese) that have been force-fed, it’s a luxury that is facing pushback from animal rights activists. There’s a movement to switch to ethically produced foie gras, such as the plate produced at a small Spanish farm that costs over $200 for a small jar.
What’s the difference between Kobe and Wagyu beef? Well, Wagyu refers to a specific type of Japanese cattle that are raised using traditional methods. Kobe beef is a subtype of Wagyu, which is the highest quality and most expensive beef. It can cost $200 for a single serving of this rare and highly prized delicacy. The meat is exceptionally well-marbled, which results in beef that melts in the mouth.
The reason fugu, or Japanese pufferfish, is so expensive is that it can literally kill you. Fugu is difficult to catch, but it’s even more difficult to prepare. A chef must undergo extensive training in order to prepare the fish without leaving any of its deadly neurotoxins behind. Fugu is most often prepared as sashimi—in other words, raw. A small plate of fugu sashimi can cost up to $60!
Sure, you can find a bottle of balsamic vinegar for a few dollars at pretty much any grocery store in America. But if you want the most expensive, rarest balsamic vinegar, it’ll set you back about $380. That’s the cost of a tiny bottle of Oracolo Gold Cap, a balsamic produced in Modena, Italy, that is aged 25 years in antique wooden barrels. They make just 60 bottles a year, and each one comes with a hand-numbered card.
Cheese is cheese… right? Well, the first wildly expensive cheese on our list is Caciocavallo Podolico, an aged Italian cheese made from the raw milk of a rare breed of cow that is raised on wild forage high in the mountains. It is a dry, firm cheese that comes in a distinctive gourd-like shape. A pound costs about $50.
All truffles are expensive, but white truffles are the costliest of all. Although truffles have always been pricy—mostly because they’re almost impossible to farm—the 2021 season was very bad. “Right now, white truffle prices are around $4,500 a pound,” says Vittorio Giordano, vice president of Urbani Truffles USA, told Bloomberg. “In 2019 they were $1,100 to $1,200 a pound.” Oil infused with white truffles is less expensive, but if you want to sample the flavor on a budget, look for black truffles instead.
In Japan, it is traditional to give fruit as a gift. And if you’re ridiculously wealthy, then maybe you’ll gift someone a Densuke watermelon. The perfectly smooth, black skin of this melon hides a sweet, crisp interior that’s unlike the watermelon we’re used to. It’s only grown in Hokkaido, and it requires a tremendous amount of labor and space to produce. The most expensive Densuke was sold at auction in 2008 for an incredible $6,100.
Bluefin tuna is the most prized fish in the world—although not quite the most expensive seafood product. One of the reasons that bluefin is so expensive is overfishing. Because the fish is considered such a delicacy, supply far outweighs demand. Unlike the smaller, less pricey albacore tuna that we’ve all seen at the grocery store, bluefin is a massive fish that has sold for almost two hundred thousand dollars at auction in Tokyo.
If you thought prosciutto was an expensive treat, then meet jamón Ibérico de Bellota. This type of Spanish cured ham is made from a specific breed of black pigs that are fed exclusively on acorns. It’s the most expensive type of Spanish ham, and it’s served in paper-thin slices. While no jamón Ibérico comes cheap, jamón Ibérico de Bellota will cost you over $220 a pound.
Wait, why is vanilla on this list? You’ve probably got a bottle of vanilla extract in your kitchen right now. Vanilla is made from the seed pods of an orchid, and most of the farms that grow these orchids are located on the island of Madagascar. It’s a labor-intensive process to grow, harvest, and dry vanilla bean pods, but many purists believe that the price tag is worth it. An eight-ounce bottle of Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract costs $55 at Williams Sonoma.
So, technically any mammal’s milk could be turned into cheese. We mostly eat cheese made from cow’s milk, but sheep and goat milk are common, too. But moose milk? That’s wild. Moose cheese is only made at one farm in Sweden. It’s apparently similar to Camembert cheese, but it costs a lot more. We’re talking about $500 a pound!
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. That’s been the case throughout history, as the golden threads must be painstakingly harvested from crocus flowers. It takes 70,000 crocuses to produce a pound of dried saffron. That’s why it retails for $5,000 to $10,000 a pound. Luckily, you can get the flavor of saffron with a tiny pinch.
While truffles are meant to be eaten in shaved slivers, matsutake mushrooms are prepared more like ordinary button mushrooms. These wild mushrooms are native to Japan, China, and Korea, but they also grow in the Pacific Northwest. Depending on the rarity and size of the mushroom, matsutake can cost anywhere from $40 a pound for the common American variety to $2000 a pound for the most prized Japanese mushrooms.
Gooseneck barnacles look unlike any other seafood you’ve ever seen. They look like alien tentacles, but they’re (allegedly) delicious. The barnacles sell for $125 a pound, mostly because it’s so difficult to harvest them. Fishermen along Spain’s “Coast of Death” must brave the currents and rocks to search for the barnacles in underwater caves.
Yubari King Melons
Cantaloupe is typically used as filler in fruit salad, but you’d never serve up Yubari King melon in a medley of other fruit. Like Dansuke watermelons, Yubari King melons are only grown in Hokkaido. They are perfectly spherical, without blemish, and handled by white-gloved farmers who pollinate the flowers by hand. Although the reported sale of two Yubari King melons for $45,000 was something of a publicity stunt, a single fruit can still cost about $200 in Japan.
There’s nothing that certain foodies love more than coating their food in literal gold. Delicate sheets of real gold, similar to the gold leaf used in crafting, can be applied to everything from chocolates to cocktails to fried chicken. No, really: Popeyes created “champagne-battered, gold-flaked chicken wings” in 2018 to commemorate the opening of the company’s 3,000th location. Gold leaf has no flavor, and its only purpose is to dazzle diners with its expensive glimmer.
Chocolate has long been considered the food of the gods, whether it was whisked with hot water and cayenne pepper by the Aztecs or savored as a chocolate truffle. To’ak produces chocolate bars that can cost as much as $450 each! The Art Series bar is made from heirloom cacao beans sourced from Ecuador. After bringing back this strain of chocolate from the brink of extinction, the chocolatier created a limited-edition bar made from the rarest, most ancient cacao beans in the world.
Albino Sturgeon Caviar
When you think of a “rich person food,” caviar is one of the first things that come to mind. The price of caviar depends on the type of fish, with salmon and trout priced at around $9 an ounce. But the caviar of the albino sturgeon, a prehistoric fish that can live to be a hundred years old, is the most expensive in the world.
Black sturgeon caviar is rare and highly coveted, but Almas Beluga is in a whole different league. The albino sturgeon produces golden-white eggs that offer a unique flavor—but can it really be worth the price? Harvested from the Caspian Sea off the coast of Iran, the most expensive caviar in the world sells for $34,500 a kilogram!