Just Why Are These Luxury Ingredients So Expensive?
Recently we did an article on shopping at the supermarket and how you can get the best out of your budget by ‘down-branding’ your shop and aiming for simpler ingredients. Now, just for fun, we’re going to look at the opposite end of the spectrum – the absolutely most ludicrously overpriced ingredients and luxury foods, and possible substitutes you might consider instead.
For some it seems like preying on the humble lobster is a little bit mean. They are pretty harmless and a fairly interesting creature once you get past the oddness of their alien-like appearance. You could even go as far as saying they’re somewhat endearing.
But when it comes to eating these ponderous bottom feeders, you’ll find that lobsters command a high price. This is mainly because they need a lot of food but also, grow so incredibly slowly. A lobster you might find in a restaurant may be over ten years old, and even some of the smaller individuals may be over seven years old.
In the wild they’re practically immortal, and if left alone will live out their days patrolling the sea bed eating scraps and fighting each other for territory like angry underwater lawn mowers. The semi-nomadic lobster lifestyle means there’s really no way to commercially farm them, so all lobsters caught are free roaming.
A good ‘lobster dinner’ at a restaurants may set you back up to 50 pounds per crustacean, so if you don’t want to get involved in this expensive scene, consider a meal of crab. Though less rich in taste than lobster, crab is more abundant and grows faster – hence why it’s much cheaper.
Though it seems unlikely, Kobe beef really exists, and given its nature as the world’s most notorious marbled beef, there’s not necessarily a real alternative for anyone wanting to try something similar for less.
If you can get hold of a cheaper ‘marbled beef’ then well done, but we thought we’d mention Kobe because of just how pricey it really is. No other steak is more expensive, with a 16 ounce serving going for close on a thousand pounds.
Kopi Luwak Coffee Beans
The Palm Civet is a small animal which likes to eat coffee beans. It lives in the southern regions of Asia, and is known for its poo. The coffee beans it eats come out the other end pretty much intact, and once cleaned and brewed make a unique coffee. It’s just about as odd as it sounds.
Going for 500 pounds a kilo, you should probably buy any other coffee but this, as recently the poor civets are increasingly being subjected to battery intensive farming for their dung, as opposed to the traditional methods of searching for their droppings manually.
If you’re really looking for a pre-digested coffee fix, there are other varieties of much cheaper coffee out there that have also been passed through a small mammal (such as a weasel) for your brewing pleasure.
Yet another good reason to leave a very old and long suffering sea creature alone – as the most expensive caviar in the world comes from the eggs (properly known as roe) of the giant beluga sturgeon, a huge bony fish which takes up to 20 years to grow to maximum size, which can live well over 100.
These fish also end up weighing a good two tons when they’re fully grown. A truly mind boggling and highly threatened species from the black and Caspian seas, the caviar is mostly banned for export due to over fishing, except when it comes from Iran, a country which has a very comprehensive conservation program to protect these behemoths of the sea.
Like champagne, only sturgeon roe can be called ‘caviar’. In terms of how expensive it is, white caviar from a sturgeon estimated to be over 100 years old once sold for over a thousand US dollars an ounce, well beyond the budget of anyone with a normal salary.
For the rest of us there are other fish eggs around which are also pretty tasty, but much cheaper, if that’s what floats your boat. Salmon roe is always cheap and plentiful, and there are no worries about harming the gentle sturgeon.
These fungi are some of the most expensive food on earth – growing underground on the roots of trees in one specific part of Italy and requiring well trained dogs or pigs to sniff them out. Plus, they’re only around a couple months of the year. They smell somewhat odd on their own, if you’ve ever managed to actually see one in its natural state.
What’s worse for the rare white truffles is that less and less grow every year, heightening their rarity. Who can say why this is, but it is, as they say, just so. There’s also no way to cultivate the white truffle in a controlled environment, so we’re still stuck with the prospect of dog and pig friends to help us find them.
Most famously ‘shaved’ in minute amounts over risotto or pasta, there are few things in the world that are a substitute for the white truffle, but you may try truffle oil, dried porcini mushrooms and parmesan, or the morel mushroom, that’s still pretty rare in its own right.
One of the most controlled substances in the world, this sparkling white wine is only allowed to be grown in the eponymous region of France – any type of sparkling white from any other area of the world is not allowed to be called ‘champagne’.
A lot of the expense in producing the beverage comes from the brand label. A lot of the time when you buy these wines you’re buying into the global wine industry, with all its quirks and traditions. Generations of winemakers have dedicated their lives to creating the most excellent drink around, so naturally that experience is reflected in the cost.
The other thing is champagne fermentation processes are complicated by nature – there are special barrels and other equipment to consider in order to create a glass of bubbly. If you’re looking for an alternative without the fuss but with all the fizz, try Prosecco, Cava or any other sparkling white wine for that matter.