For centuries spices have been traded across the world with prices going up and down based on supply and demand. Like other expensive luxuries, some spices are in short supply, so the prices skyrocket. Certain varieties can only be harvested for a short time, they’re rare, or they need to be picked with painstaking care by hand. These factors drive prices up and lead to some astonishing prices in-store.
We decided to research the most expensive spices that are available for sale online. Be sure to check out the winner (number 10), you’ll have to splash out more for this ingredient than gold. Here are the top ten.
Cloves are a well-known ingredient in the United States, used during the holiday period for festive dishes. Their pungent, astringent taste combines well with nutmeg and cinnamon to create a delicious spice blend for apple pie and also pumpkin spice. Cider and mulled wine also benefit from cloves. Traditionally, hams can be studded with cloves for added flavor and a visually appealing look.
Although cloves are used sporadically throughout the year in the US, other countries use them as a staple. Chai beverages and rice dishes often have cloves added, and they are a key addition to garam masala. Ethiopians add them to their revered berbere spice blend.
Clove trees produce only limited blossoms every year and they are picked by hand. To slow the process down further, the pickers must painstakingly inspect the size of every pod to ensure it is big enough to harvest. A labor-intensive harvesting process, combined with high demand means this spice will cost you a pretty penny in store.
2. Dried Kaffir Lime Leaves
The dried kaffir leaf, aka Indonesian lime, is a popular ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine. Its intense citrus flavor adds a unique flavor to soups and curries that is hard to replicate. This makes it an in-demand ingredient. Although the trees are easy to grow and are found in abundance in some parts of the world, commercial production is fairly limited, resulting in a pricey ingredient.
3. Black Cumin Seed
Black cumin seed is very popular in North African, Pakistani, and Iranian meat, curry, and rice dishes. Biryani and korma both benefit from a sprinkle of black cumin. The spice is sweeter than regular cumin, with an intense lemon taste. Its flavor mellows once toasted and there is a prominent nutty undertone.
Limited production of black cumin seeds makes it hard to get. This results in costly pricing at markets and supermarkets globally.
4. Grains of Paradise
If you enjoy cooking African recipes then you may have come across Grains of Paradise, a relative of turmeric, ginger, and cardamom. The pyramid-shaped seeds are aromatic, with a peppery, spicy flavor. It is a useful spice for finishing dishes, sprinkled over food in place of regular pepper.
Also known as Guinea pepper, alligator pepper, or Roman pepper, this spice is gaining popularity in various regions of the world, which is pushing up the price tag for the ingredient.
Cardamom is popular in Northern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and India, offering a strong aroma and a herbal, spicy, mint-like flavor. Indian and Sri Lankan cooks use the green variety throughout their food, adding it to many spice blends, stews, curries, and chai tea. The spice must be harvested by hand, which makes it another expensive spice to include in your rack at home.
Learn more about Ceylon spices for Sri Lankan cuisine here.
6. Long Pepper
Long pepper, or pippali, tastes a lot like black pepper with a little extra kick to it. Although it used to be a popular spice in the Roman Era, it has been superseded by the chili in more recent times. However, it is still added to food in Pakistan, India, and Nepal. Pickles, soups, marinades, stews, and curries all benefit from its complex yet mellow flavor.
Long pepper is believed to provide a range of health benefits which keeps demand for the spice high. Combined with limited production, the price is higher for long pepper than your average spice.
7. Organic Fennel Pollen
Fennel pollen is a powerful spice that adds delicious licorice and citrusy flavor to food. Although it can be sprinkled over roast vegetables and meat, it also adds a “special something” to baked goods.
Collecting fennel pollen is a painstaking task that requires picking by hand from wild fennel. Although the plant grows aggressively, it is found in fairly limited locations around the world such as California and Italy.
8. Vanilla Bean
Being an everyday ingredient, people are often shocked to see vanilla on this list. However, it’s not the essence or extract we’re referring to here, the vanilla pods are the pricey option. In-store they look unassuming in their withered brown pod. But once opened, the tiny seeds inside can be scraped into desserts to add an amazing depth of flavor than no essence can provide.
Vanilla beans have a very limited supply because they are a challenge to grow. Their vine can take up to four years to mature and their flowers bloom on just one day of the year. To produce beans, the flowers need to be pollinated on that day. The pods must then be cured for several months, adding to a drawn-out production process.
Prices of vanilla beans will vary depending on the origin. For example, the Tahitian variety will cost a lot more than those sourced from Madagascar.
Mahlab is sourced from Southern Europe, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, and comes from a cherry seed. It has a unique combination of cherry, almond, and rose flavor that is delicious in scones, pastries, chocolate, and ice cream.
Although mahlab production isn’t as difficult as some other spices like saffron or vanilla bean, there is limited production of the cherry pits. As demand increases from the western world, thanks to a growing interest in Middle Eastern cooking, prices go up.
Saffron is a vibrant red powder that adds amazing yellowish color and pungent flavor to paella, risotto, and bouillabaisse. No other ingredient can replicate this spice in the kitchen, and this makes it a sought-after ingredient. At the time of writing, this was the most expensive spice in the world and more costly than gold based on price per weight.
Harvesting saffron crocus is limited to just three weeks of the year. It involves a manual, time-consuming process of picking the flowers early in the morning to lock in the flavor. The stigmas then need to be plucked from their blue flowers before being dried.
Summary table of spice prices
|Grains of paradise||$15||$250|
|Black Cumin Seed||$15||$250|
|Kaffir lime leaves||$14||$233|
Prices in USD. Based on 2020 retail prices offered online.
Spices range in price depending on supply and demand. All the spices listed on this page are expensive because they’re either time-consuming to harvest, or there is limited supply worldwide. Until new technology can make the production process more efficient, it looks like these spices will remain at their high levels.
There is some good news though. Many recipes only require a small amount to bring food to life. So, even though you may balk at the price per ounce when you’re out shopping, you should be able to get a lot of use from your purchase.
Of course, the quality will play a big part in pricing. You may get a cheaper price than what we’ve mentioned here. Maybe you’re getting a great deal, but often you’re getting an old product or worse still, fake spices. Always buy from a reputable seller who you can trust.
www.spicesinc.com and Amazon.com.