10 of the World’s Most Expensive Ingredients

Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images
Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

Gourmands around the world delight in sampling some of the most exclusive and expensive ingredients. With this list, you can too—if you have thousands of dollars and many hours to spare tracking down specialist suppliers, that is.

1. SAFFRON

Pound for pound, saffron is more expensive than gold, mainly because the harvesting process is so labor-intensive. Saffron is the dried stamen of the crocus plant: Each crocus produces just three stamens, and each of these must be hand-picked and air-dried. It takes about a football field’s worth of flowers to produce one pound of dry saffron, and about 40 hours of labor to pick all those flowers. However, saffron is usually sold in small portions, because a little of the spice goes a long way in flavoring dishes. The top saffron is Spanish coupe grade, which retails at about $20 for 2 grams.

2. HAWAIIAN KONA NIGARI WATER

The world’s most expensive water comes from 2000 feet under the ocean in Hawaii. Because the water is taken from such a great depth, it is supposedly free from contamination by pollution and is said to help with weight loss and improve skin condition. The desalinated water is a seawater mineral concentrate and should be mixed with normal water before drinking. Hugely popular in Japan, it costs $402 per 750ml (about 25 fluid ounces).

3. ALBA WHITE ITALIAN TRUFFLES

white truffles
Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

White truffles are expensive because they are so rare. Only available for a few months of the year in one small part of Italy (the Piedmont area) they must be foraged by specially trained truffle-pigs (or, in some cases, truffle-dogs). The truffle harvest fluctuates depending on how favorable the growing conditions have been that year. They’ve been known to go for $2000 a pound.

4. WAGYU BEEF

The Champagne of beef, Wagyu beef comes from Japanese cows famed for their high level of fat marbling. It is this marbling that lends the beef such an amazing flavor—the fat has a low melting point, so it melts into the meat when cooked, resulting in a juicy taste. Wagyu beef goes for about $100 a pound.

The best Wagyu is said to come from Kobe. With only about 3000 cows certified as Kobe annually, and even fewer of these destined for export, Kobe beef is one of the most exclusive foods in the world—priced at around $300 a pound.

5. ACETO BALSAMICO TRADIZIONALE

True traditional balsamic vinegar takes at least 12 years to produce and is protected under the European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system. Trebbiano grapes grown in the Emilia Romagna area of Italy are harvested and the grape must (the pressed juice, skin, seeds and stems of the grape) is then boiled over an open fire before being stored in wooden casks for up to 25 years. 100ml of this specialty vinegar (about 3.4 fluid ounces) can go for $180.

6. YUBARI KING MELONS

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Yubari King melons are a cross between two cantaloupe varieties and are cultivated in greenhouses in the Yubari region of Japan. These melons are traditionally given as gifts, frequently in perfectly matched pairs, and the most sought-after are exceptionally round with a smooth rind. The most exclusive pairs of melons are sold at auction and can cost as much as $12,400.

7. JAMON IBERICO DE BELLOTA

 slice of dry-cured Jamon Iberico de bellota
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Produced from black Iberian pigs in the west of Spain, the special taste of this pork product is said to derive from the sweet acorns (bellota) that these pigs forage from the forest floor. The production of the jamon (Spanish dry-cured ham) is strictly regulated by Denomination of Origin (DO), a Spanish system meant to ensure quality and geographical origin of traditional foodstuffs. These rules specify that there can be no more than two pigs per hectare of land, to ensure the porkers can forage the 11 or so pounds of acorns a day needed to reach the required weight of about 350 pounds by the end of the acorn season.

After slaughter the hams are hung up to dry, a process that can take up to three years. DO inspectors are sent out to sniff the ham to ensure it is of the correct quality to be classified as Jamon Iberico de Bellota (only about eight people have sufficiently well-trained noses to hold the jamon-inspector post). Hand-sliced Jamon Iberico de Belotta can cost around $220 a pound.

8. HOP SHOOTS

The latest vegetable fad is the hop shoot (or hop asparagus), a by-product of the brewing industry—hops shoots are the green tips of the hop plant, which won’t go on to produce the flowers used in making beer. The vegetable is costly because harvesting the tiny tendrils is back-breaking work, since each shoot must be found amidst a sprawling plant and gently picked by hand. In some parts of Europe, the hop shoots can go for $128 a pound.

9. MOOSE HOUSE CHEESE

There are many expensive cheeses out there to choose from, but Moose House cheese has to be one of the most exclusive. A 59-acre farm in Bjurholm, Sweden, is a small moose farm with just three moose (named Gullan, Haelga, and Juna), who are only milked between about May and September. The moose produce enough milk for about 660 pounds of cheese each season, and Mouse House makes three types of cheese from the milk—rind, blue, and a feta-type cheese. The cheese sells for about $400 or $500 a pound.

10. ALMAS CAVIAR

A technician fills boxes with caviar
Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

Caviar has always been a byword for luxury, but in recent years the most expensive beluga caviar has become even more expensive because the sturgeon it comes from is now an endangered species.

The world’s most expensive caviar is the very rare Iranian Almas caviar, a pale-colored beluga caviar that comes from 100-year-old albino sturgeons from the Caspian Sea. To be an albino sturgeon is rare, but to be an albino sturgeon aged over 100 years? That’s really rare. Naturally, Almas caviar is sold in gold-plated presentation boxes and retails at about $25,000 for 2.2 pounds.

 

15 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of The Great British Baking Show

Netflix
Netflix

by Sarah Dobbs

If you’re an American fan of The Great British Bake Off you probably know it better as The Great British Baking Show (though its most devoted fans simply call it GBBO, which saves a lot of time). While its ninth season just kicked off on England’s Channel 4, American audiences are only now just getting caught up on season eight via Netflix. And with new hosts Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig taking over for Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, plus Prue Leith taking over for Mary Berry as host, the latest incarnation of the show looks a lot different.

A bona fide global sensation, the baking competition has the power to cause otherwise rational human beings to immediately run to their nearest supermarket in search of obscure ingredients like psyllium or Amarula cream liqueur. It’s a charming, retro, warming hug of a TV show. But how much do you know about what goes on behind the scenes? Without destroying any of your illusions, here are some secrets about how the producers whip up one of the world's most beloved cooking shows.

1. THE REASON WHY IT HAS TWO DIFFERENT NAMES IS SIMPLE.

A scene from The Great British Bake Off
Netflix

If you’ve ever wondered why the series is called The Great British Bake Off in England and The Great British Baking Show in America, the answer is simple: Pillsbury. The Pillsbury Bake Off, which kicked off in 1949, is probably America’s most famous baking contest. And the company didn’t want there to be any confusion among viewers, hence The Great British Baking Show.

2. THE OVENS ALL HAVE TO BE TESTED EVERY DAY.

It’s difficult enough to make a cake that Paul Hollywood won’t declare either under- or over-baked without having to worry about whether your oven is working properly. So for every day of filming, every oven has to be tested. And because this is a baking show, they’re tested with cakes. Yes, every day every oven has a Victoria sponge cake cooked in it, to make sure everything’s working exactly as it should be.

3. EVERY TIME SOMEONE OPENS AN OVEN DOOR, THERE'S A CAMERA WATCHING THEM.

To make sure they catch all the drama, GBBO producers insist that every time a bake is put into or taken out of an oven, the moment must be caught on camera. So whenever a baker wants to put their goodies into an oven, or check if they’re ready to come out, they need to grab someone to make sure the moment gets captured on film. (Which must be a hassle for the first couple of weeks, when there are more than 10 bakers all trying their best to produce a perfect bake at once.)

4. THE CONTESTANTS HAVE TO WEAR THE SAME CLOTHES ALL WEEKEND.

It’s a minor thing, but have you ever noticed that the bakers wear the same clothes for an entire episode, even though it’s shot over two days? For continuity purposes, the contestants are asked to wear the same outfits for the entire weekend. If you’re the kind of baker who ends up with flour all over your shirt whenever you bake up a loaf of bread, the second day of filming could be a bit of a nightmare.

"Luckily they change the aprons so we don't look like a Jackson Pollock painting by the end of it," 2013 champion Frances Quinn told Cosmopolitan. "I think layers [is the answer], but even then you still have to wear what you had on, on top. Difficult."

5. THE CONTESTANTS DON’T HAVE A LOT OF DOWNTIME.

Having any time to spare is not something that season seven contestant Jane Beedle remembers happening regularly for the contestants. "Maybe once or twice, and when they did we would just sit and have a cup of tea and chat with the people around us,” she told the Mirror. "They don't like it if you have nothing to do, so they try and make the challenges as difficult as possible to keep you busy."

6. THE TEMPERATURE IN THE TENT CAN MAKE OR BREAK A BAKE.

Sue Perkins, Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, and Frances Quinn in 'The Great British Bake Off'
BBC

Forget setting the oven to the correct temperature—the temperature inside the tent is just as important to a bake. "It's completely alien to your own kitchen at home,” Quinn told Cosmopolitan. “The temperature fluctuates—you'd be making a meringue and it would start raining, or we'd try and make pastry and it would be 27 degrees outside. The technical challenges and lack of time and lack of fridge and work space are the enemy on that show."

7. THE ILLUSTRATIONS ARE CREATED BY TOM HOVEY, AFTER THE EPISODE HAS FILMED.

You know those fun illustrations of the confections that pop up when each baker explains what they’re going to make that day? Those are all drawn by illustrator Tom Hovey. He was working as a video editor on the first season of GBBO when the producers realized they needed an extra visual element—so he offered his illustration skills. And while we see the illustrations on screen before the bakers attempt to make them a reality, Hovey told the BBC he draws them “a pack of photos of the finished bakes from the set after each episode has been filmed … I sketch out all the bakes quickly in pencil to get the details, form and shape I am after. I then work these up by hand drawing them all in ink, then they’re scanned and colored digitally, and then I add the titles and ingredient arrows. It's a fairly well streamlined process now.”

Even if a bake goes horribly wrong, Hovey said his “illustrations are a representation of what the bakers hope to create. Even if the bakers don't produce what they’ve intended to I have a degree of artistic license to make them look good.”

8. THE CONTESTANTS DON’T INTERACT WITH THE JUDGES VERY MUCH.

“They very much tried to keep it unbiased,” Quinn said about how the bakers don’t spend much time interacting with the judges. “We saw a lot more of Mel and Sue. Mary and Paul would purely come in to do what we called the royal tour—where they'd come in and find out what you were making, and then they'd come back in for judging. You're not in the same hotel having sleepovers! You form more of a relationship after the show when you see them at things like BBC Good Food or whatever—but they need to keep their distance [on the show]. They're there as judges."

9. MAKING SURE THAT THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE IS ACTUALLY POSSIBLE IS ONE PERSON'S JOB.

Sandi Toksvig in 'The Great British Bake Off'
Netflix

Another vital behind-the-scenes role is that of the food researcher. It’s down to them to make sure that the elaborate concoction the judges have decided the bakers have to whip up is actually possible, given the ingredients, instructions, and time the bakers will be allowed.

The tent presents its own challenges, too, because it could be hot or cold, depending on the weather, and it tends to have quite a wobbly floor, which can make delicate decorating work trickier than it might otherwise seem. “The tent is just mocked up, so the floor is really bumpy and bouncy because you’d got so many camera guys running around,” Quinn told the Irish Examiner.

10. THE SHOW GOT INTO SOME TROUBLE FOR ITS PARTNERSHIP WITH SMEG.

Part of GBBO’s homey charm has to do with the setup of the tent where the bakers do their cooking, and few appliances spell “retro” as well as a colorful Smeg refrigerator. A viewer fed up with what they described as “blatant product promotion” wrote to the Radio Times to complain, and an investigation was launched into the series’ agreement with Smeg. As BBC guidelines state that a series may "not accept free or reduced cost products" in return for "on-air or online credits, links or off-air marketing,” the broadcaster ended up having to write the company a check for all the times their product got some screen time.

11. THERE ARE NEVER ANY LEFTOVERS.

The judges only take a mouthful of every bake, which seems to leave an awful lot of leftover pastries, cakes, and ridiculously complicated bread sculptures. But don’t worry—none of it goes to waste. “The crew eats all the leftovers," Beedle told The Mirror. "We get some brought to us in the green room so we can taste each other's bakes, but it's only slithers."

12. HUNDREDS OF SEASON FIVE VIEWERS WROTE IN TO COMPLAIN ABOUT “SABOTAGE.”

Midway through season five, contestant Iain Watters had a bit of an issue with his Baked Alaska. Realizing that his ice cream had not yet set, he threw the entire dish into the trash rather than serve the judges a subpar dessert and was sent home as a result. Footage from the episode made is seem as if fellow contestant Diana Beard had removed his ice cream from the freezer. Beard left the show at just about the same time due to health issues, but some viewers (811, to be exact) smelled sabotage—and wrote in to the show’s producers to complain. Media watchdog group Ofcom looked into the matter, but said that they had assessed viewers’ complaints and “they do not raise issues warranting further investigation under Ofcom’s rules.”

Paul Hollywood took to Twitter to clear up what became known as “bingate,” tweeting: “Ice cream being left out of fridge last night for 40 seconds did not destroy Iain’s chances in the bake off, what did was his decision BIN.”

13. MARY BERRY WATCHED BREAKING BAD BACKSTAGE.

Although it looks pretty nonstop on screen, there’s quite a bit of downtime during the show’s filming days. Especially for the show’s judges and hosts. Former judge Mary Berry had one unique way of passing the time: binge-watching Breaking Bad. “It’s shocking,” Berry told The Telegraph. “Then you get into it and you think: ‘Have I seen episode four or five?’ You get hooked. It’s better than motor racing, which [my husband] Paul watches—though I’d prefer Downton Abbey.” She’d apparently rope former hosts Mel and Sue into watching it with her on occasion. What better way to relax during a long day of baking than by watching Walter White, umm, baking?

14. THE APPLICATION FORM IS NO JOKE.

Fancy your chances in the Bake Off tent? If you’ve been inspired by the show and reckon you could nab a couple of Star Baker titles, brace yourself: The application form is a whopping eight pages long, and it’s full of probing questions. As well as giving details of your hobbies, lifestyle, and level of experience with various types of baked goods, it also asks applicants to describe their baking style, and answer a couple of existential-sounding questions.

"It's a long application form. I think it's designed to put some people off, essentially," fourth season contestant Beca Lyne-Pirkis said. "It asks you about everything you have done, good and bad. It's designed to get information about your character, stories, mishaps and successes."

Still fancy applying? Though submissions are not open at the moment, you can keep your eyes open for when the next batch of contestants are being accepted here.

15. THE AUDITION PROCESS IS EVEN MORE GRUELING.

If you happen to make it through the application process, the audition process is even more difficult. “Every person who makes it into the marquee has passed a rigorous series of tests,” GBBO creator and executive producer Anna Beattie told The Telegraph. In addition to the application form, The Telegraph reported that there is “a 45-minute telephone call with a researcher, bringing two bakes to an audition in London, a screen test and an interview with a producer. If they get through that, there is a second audition baking two recipes … in front of the cameras, and an interview with the show psychologist to make sure they can cope with being filmed for up to 16 hours a day.”

Mayochup Is Now an Official Condiment

Heinz
Heinz

Like it or not, Heinz Mayochup is on its way to a store near you. As Us Weekly reports, bottles of the blended sauce—made from mayonnaise and ketchup, naturally—will be available for purchase later this month.

Heinz's announcement of the condiment back in April was met with mixed reactions. Many were thrilled. Others repulsed. And people from Utah were pretty miffed that Heinz took credit for their beloved "fry sauce," a condiment that was reportedly invented by a local restaurant chain in 1948. (In addition to fries, the ketchup and mayo combo pairs well with burgers and can be used to make a variety of dips.)

Mayonnaise haters (we're looking at you, Millennials) may find Mayochup less than appealing, but at least it's better than Heinz's green ketchup, right? Mayochup also seems to be doing well in the United Arab Emirates—the only country where it's currently being sold. In April, Heinz took a poll on social media to see if there was any interest in bringing the condiment stateside, and 500,000 people voted in favor of the move. This week, the company launched another Twitter poll to see if there's similar interest in the UK.

If you happen to live in Culver City, California; Chicago, Illinois; or Brooklyn, New York, you may have the chance to sample it before anyone else in the country. These cities—preselected by Heinz for being the most "passionate" on social media about bringing Mayochup to the U.S.—are in the running to win a "food truck takeover." Free samples of fries and Mayochup will be dished out to passersby and diehard Heinz fans. People are now taking to Twitter to vote (using the template #MayochupYOURCITY), but act fast—voting ends September 18.

[h/t Us Weekly]

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