Most Outrageously Priced Foods Around the World
In January of this year, buyers for Tokyo's iconic Tsukiji fish market purchased a giant bluefin tuna at auction. The cost? More than $3 million.
The purchase was headline-grabbing, but hardly an anomaly. Around the world, rarified foods fetch thousands to millions of dollars. Some of these delicacies, like Iberian ham and exclusive barrel-aged chocolate, sound delicious. Others, like caterpillar fungus and coffee made from cat excrement, are more dubious.
In any case, it's safe to say the global marketplace is filled with outrageously priced foods. From small-batch specialty items to over-the-top tacos and hot dogs, here are some of the most exorbitant foods sold across the globe.
15. Civet Coffee
Price: $50 a cup
Folklore has it that when Dutch coffee farmers forbid Indonesian workers from drinking coffee, those workers discovered they could make coffee from the coffee-bean-filled excrement of wild civet cats.
It sounds disgusting, but plantation owners reportedly tasted the coffee and loved it. Word spread. Years later, according to the Guardian, the director of Taylors of Harrogate imported civet coffee into Europe as a novelty item and the market grew exponentially, launching a truly strange global trend.
Today, at swank cafes in New York or Europe, around $50 will buy you a cup of the coffee also known as Kopi Luwak. It’s been featured on CNN and Oprah, and even made an appearance in the Morgan Freeman/Jack Nicholson film “The Bucket List.”
But there’s a dark side to this brew that marketers swear has excellent flavor. Thousands of caged civets suffer in factory farms across Southeast Asia to make the coffee, and many dishonest brokers dilute civet cat coffee with regular beans.
14. To’ak Ecuadorian Chocolate
Price: $700 for 50 grams
For the ancient Mayans and Aztecs, chocolate was a treat for the elite. Nowadays, supermarkets stock mass-produced chocolate sold for a few dollars — but the ultra-wealthy still have their own chocolate brands.
To’ak, the exclusive Ecuadorian chocolate company, creates limited amounts of single-terroir chocolates that are barrel-aged. If their website tells the truth, this company promotes eco-friendly production processes and pays workers a decent salary. They should. Fifty grams of Art Series Guayasamín chocolate, aged three years in Andean alder wood, sells for about $700.
Alternatively, 250 grams of organic cocoa powder is $22 if your local store stocks it. Or, you can always pay for shipping from Ecuador.
(No matter whether you consume high-end or low-end chocolates, please learn more about the abusive conditions that many adults and children endure when working for numerous international chocolate companies. The International Labor Rights Forum’s Cocoa Campaign is an excellent place to start.)
13. Moose Cheese
Price: $1,000 per kilogram
Which of these — goats, cows, camels, moose or sheep — provides milk for a type of cheese that ranges from $900 to $1,000 per kilogram? The answer, you may be surprised to learn, is moose.
This is largely because, quite simply, moose cheese producers are so exceedingly rare. As in, there are only two or three moose milkers in the entire world.
One of those producers is Elk House farm in Bjurholm, Sweden, where — according to this video — the moose enjoy being milked. Moose milk from another producer, Sumarokovo Moose Farm in Russia, has medicinal qualities. A nearby hospital uses it to heal ulcers and lesions from radiation exposure.
An experienced milker can squeeze out of a healthy moose’s udder two or three liters of milk, which turns into one and a half kilograms of cheese. Also available? Moose droppings. One Swedish moose farm makes paper from moose poop, and collectors pay up to $150 per sheet.
12. 24K Pizza
Price: Starting at $2,000
Industry Kitchen’s 24K* Pizza is not your typical pizza; only the upper crust can afford to savor its squid-ink crust and over-the-top fixings. The menu for the New York City establishment lists the ingredients: Stilton cheese, foie gras, platinum Ossetra caviar, truffle and, yes, 24K gold leaves. The price starts at $2,000. For another $700, you can add 1 ½ oz. of Almas Caviar.
The 24K* Pizza costs the equivalent of 133.33 hours of labor by an employee who makes the new minimum wage of $15.00 per hour. The inspirations for the pizza? Nearby gold stores and Wall Street.
As for the pizza being worth its ridiculous price, we’re going to go ahead and say no. Check out this Worth It video to watch two men compare New York pizzas that range from a few bucks to a couple thousand dollars. Turns out some of the best pizza in NYC is the cheapest.
11. Ultra Premier Hot Dog
Tokyo Dog is a food truck in Seattle that once reigned as the home of the costliest Guinness World Record-certified hot dog. The owners wanted to surpass the record of the previous most expensive dog and succeeded by making a $169 dish with Bavarian sausage, wagyu beef, smoked cheese bratwurst, black truffles, foie gras, maitake mushrooms, caviar and teriyaki grilled onions, all served on a brioche bun.
The over-the-top item was one people could feel good about buying: Tokyo Dog donated all of the money from sales of their precious dogs to the Red Cross. (Want to learn how to make this hot dog for yourself? Watch this video.)
Although not certified by Guinness, 350 Fifth Avenue, a restaurant for the top dogs of New York, served an ultra-premier hot dog in 2012 for $2,300. The ingredients also included wagyu and truffles, with caviar and gold leaf as extra-special touches. Proceeds from sales were reportedly donated to the homeless.
10. "Billion Dollar Popcorn"
Price: $2,500 for a 6.5-gallon tin
While this popcorn made by Berco's in Chicago isn't actually a billion dollars, it still costs way more than you'd spend at your local AMC theater. The popcorn's big flashy touch is the 23-Karat edible gold flakes it comes covered in. But the real selling point is its salt, sourced from the island of Laeso in Denmark, which has been producing handcrafted, unfiltered sea salt since ancient times.
When rapper 2 Chainz tried the snack on the GQ show "Most Expensive S---," he said it all: "It leaves gold on your fingers. I think it makes my skin shine and glisten.”
Don't want to splurge on a pricey bin? Buy a single kernel for five bucks.
9. Iberian "Manchado de Jabugo" Ham
Price: £3,192.76 (or about $3,937.71)
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most expensive leg of ham commercially available is this "black label" Iberico cured ham from Spain and Portugal.
The ham is famously delicious and distinct, and for good reason: Only pure-bred Iberian pigs can be used to make it, and they must feast exclusively on acorns during the last part of their life. Oh, and the curing process takes 36 months.
Nonetheless, it's hard to think of any ham being worth a few months' rent.
8. Caviar Taco
Tacos are known for being cheap. On the streets of Mexico, and at food trucks across the U.S., you generally won't need to spend more than a few bucks to purchase a simple but delicious version of the classic dish.
Alternatively, if you have thousands of dollars to throw at a ridiculous purchase, you could spend $25,000 for a taco at the Grand Velas Los Cabos that's been billed as the world's most expensive. (Indeed, we cannot find one that's pricier.)
What's to account for the high price? First of all, the fixings go far beyond chicken or carnitas and some cheese. This taco is filled with langoustine (a type of small lobster), Kobe beef, Almas Beluga caviar and black truffle brie cheese. Then there's the salsa, made with dried Morita chili peppers and another pricey food from this list — civet coffee — and the tortilla, which comes infused with gold flakes (because, why not?).
Throw in a white gold and platinum bottle of premium tequila, for $150,000 extra, and you have one seriously absurd purchase.
7. Da Hong Pao Tea
Price: $27,000 for 20 grams
For most of humanity, tea is an affordable beverage. But gold is cheaper than some types of tea.
According to the BBC, a wealthy tea drinker paid over $27,000 for 20 grams of Da Hong Pao tea leaves in 2002. Pickers plucked those leaves from old tea bushes called “mother trees” that, according to legend, were once used to produce tea that cured a critically ill Chinese monk. Government regulations now protect the mother trees, and today, much more affordable tea is harvested from descendants of the sacred plants.
The most expensive tea bag in the world, meanwhile, was made by the tea company PG Tips to celebrate its 75th anniversary. The tea bag, containing Darjeeling leaves, was covered in 280 diamonds, and was used in a prize draw to raise money for the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. It was valued at £7,500, or nearly $10,000.
6. Caterpillar Fungus
Price: $50,000 a pound
In the world of haute cuisine, the most beloved and outrageously priced fungi is the white truffle, for which wealthy connoisseurs willingly pay more than $2,000 per pound. Chefs sprinkle these truffles on the priciest pizzas and hot dogs — and they go to great lengths to secure the coveted ingredient.
Until recently, truffle hunters with trained pigs and dogs (specialized training requires thousands of dollars) found premium gourmet truffles only in Europe, mostly in Italy. Nowadays, farmers in Oregon are growing truffles too. Poachers, often destroying the habitat in the process, are not uncommon.
Even more expensive and coveted is the caterpillar fungus, which some people even kill for; an NPR article reports that the rare fungus found in Nepal sells for $50,000 a pound. Why all the fuss? Many believe it has aphrodisiacal properties.
5. Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani Bottled Water
Even with the recent media stories about contaminated drinking water, $60,000 for bottled water seems extreme. But the water marketed as Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani comes in a 24-karat gold bottle, and taps into a larger trend of H2O marketed to the wealthy elite.
For some rich people, water is more than hydrating. Expensive water brands promote status and self-indulgence in a world where billions lack adequate water for basic needs. Fillico of Japan, to take another example, does not sell water, but 750ml bottles of “jewelry water,” some decorated with Swarovski crystals, for around $200.
Meanwhile, dosomething.org reports that “more than 840,000 people die each year from water-related diseases.”
4. Screaming Eagle Wine
California’s Screaming Eagle Winery produced one of the most expensive wines ever sold at an auction, allegedly sold to a former Cisco Systems executive for the “WTF” price of $500,000 — aka, more than twice the median value of homes sold in the U.S. in early 2019.
Magazines for wine connoisseurs describe Screaming Eagle’s wines as “cult wines.” Screaming Eagle sells its ambrosia to a limited number of individuals who may have waited years for inclusion on a list of qualified buyers.
Every time I think about absurdly expensive wine, I recall a sobering story. A friend of mine loves high-class wines. On his 60th birthday, his friends presented him with wine bottled the year that he was born. He told me his hands were shaking as he poured $2,000 worth of wine. He lifted a glass to his lips, sipped and spit it out.
The wine had turned to vinegar.
3. Macallan Whiskey
Price: $1.6 million
On November 29, 2018, Christie’s, the renowned international auction house, fetched a record £1.2 million ($1.6 million) for a bottle of 92-year-old Macallan whiskey hand painted by Irish artist Michael Dillon. Even for many one-percenters, that is a high price; Forbes reported in 2018 that the baseline for entrance into the world of one-percenters in San Jose, California, is a $1.2 million annual salary.
Did the purchaser drink the whiskey? We don’t know. He or she might be holding it as an investment, as the speculative collectible whiskey market is booming. A similar bottle to the one purchased in 2018 sold 11 years ago for 1/14 of the sum paid for this one.
2. Bluefin Tuna
Price: $3.1 million
Just a couple months ago, the owner of a sushi-chain restaurant paid 333.6 million yen — $3.1 million — for the honor of purchasing a 278-kilogram (612-pound) bluefin tuna.
The outrageous sum raised eyebrows, but wasn’t a total shock; the price for the most expensive tuna sold at an auction in Japan increases almost yearly, with Japanese and world media regularly reinforcing the idea that bluefin is a desirable fish.
At the same time, humans are harvesting bluefin tuna faster than it reproduces. The Smithsonian Magazine reported that populations have declined by 96 percent since about 1950. Environmentalists keep sounding the alarm that strict fishing quotas need to be created and enforced, yet that is not happening. The Mitsubishi Company, for one, has stockpiled thousands of tons of frozen bluefin tuna for future sales.
Obviously, these dead fish will never reproduce. Perhaps our grandchildren will know of bluefin tuna and many other creatures only through history books.
1. Engagement Cake
Price: $75 million
We expect wedding cakes to be expensive. The average wedding cake in the U.S. costs over $500, and Brides Magazine in the UK recommends budgeting £300 for the momentous occasion.
But a royal family wedding cake? Well, that requires more dough than what the peons spend.
Prince William and Kate Middleston’s eight-tiered fruit cake cost approximately $80,000. (Did anyone save a slice of that cake?) And in 1998, a single piece of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s 1937 wedding cake was auctioned off for $29,990.
But the story that, well, takes the cake is that of an anonymous buyer in the UAE who commissioned British designer Debbie Wingham to create an engagement cake for $75 million. Wingham decorated it with jewelry, including thousands of diamonds worth more than $45 million, and hand-crafted figurines of runway models and onlookers at a fashion show.
That cake could have purchased over 250 million school lunches for high schoolers in the U.S. But who’s counting?