Today the world’s three most expensive spices are Saffron, Vanilla and Mahlab.
The rarity of spices meant that in times past, it was also used for trading as a form of money.
Spices has been, for ages, some of the world’s most sought-after ingredients. For example, European settlement in South Africa in the 17th century was the very result of Dutch traders wanting to establish a halfway stop for ships on route to India to buy spices. In the past people have travelled halfway around the world to get their hands on these much-desired flavouring herbs. The rarity of spices meant that in times past, it was also used for trading as a form of money.
Today getting our hands on spices is a lot easier than it had been in times past – after all, you can now buy spices from around the world from the comfort of your own home. But one thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the fact that the prices of spices are still regulated by that ancient principle of supply-and-demand. Many spices are difficult to harvest, which of course limits global supply. Today the world’s three most expensive spices are Saffron, Vanilla and Mahlab.
- Saffron (around £15 000 per kilogram)
Originating from a flower called Crocus Sativus, the high price of saffron comes from the laborious harvest work of picking the stigmas delicately by hand to prevent damage and leaving them to dry. To collect a kilogram of saffron would take about 40 hours of labour. This spice, which is by far the most expensive in the world, can be harvested in India, the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East. Its uses include not only enhancing the favour of your food, but also perfuming baths and it can even be used as a medicinal narcotic.
- Vanilla (around £250 per kilogram)
The main reason that Vanilla is such an expensive spice is because of the fact that it comes from the orchids of the genus Vanilla flowers, which have to be hand-pollinated and are also harvested by hand shortly before they ripen, and are thereafter treated with water vapor and stored in an airtight container for 4 weeks to ferment. Madagascar’s Bourbon vanilla beans are the most popular type of vanilla because of their rich, creamy flavour. And along with Mexico, Madagascar is the world’s largest producer of vanilla.
Despite still being the world’s second-most expensive spice, the price of vanilla has actually dropped quite a bit over the past few years, after having peaked at around £600 per kilogram in 2018. This is largely due to a simultaneous increase in supply along with a decrease in demand because of the growing use of synthetic vanilla.
- Mahlab (around £70 per kilogram)
Mahlab is a very rare spice that comes from the seed kernel of St. Lucie cherries, native to the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. Its taste can best be described as a combination of cherries, almonds and floral, which makes it one of the world’s most versatile spices. It is used in a variety of traditional pastry dishes in places like Greece and Iraq, and is a most tempting addition to dairy-induced recipes such as rice pudding. The time-consuming process of producing Mahlab contributes greatly to its price, since the rock-hard cherry pits need to be cracked open and dried before they’re sold either as a whole seed or in powder form.
Paul Russell is co-founder of Luxury Academy London, a multi-national training company with offices in London, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise exclusively in the luxury industry and deliver training in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across the globe.
Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles within luxury hospitality. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.