LAST UPDATE: Jul 23 2008 | 9:40 AM ET
The world's priciest foods
Jamón ibérico de bellota, newly legal for import (at $180 per pound), barely cracks the top five on the pricey foods scale. We checked in with gourmet retailers for the rundown on the world's most expensive culinary indulgences.
By Stephanie Fletcher
Estimated price per pound: $6,000 and up
Sensual and mysterious, truffles were thought to be an aphrodisiac by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Their high price is due to their unpredictable growth habits: No one has been able to domesticate them, relying instead on trained dogs and pigs to sniff them out. The mushrooms grow underground near the roots of oak trees. Truffle hunters, known as truffeculteurs, work alone; their proven locations are closely guarded secrets.
White winter truffles, also called Alba truffles after their region of origin, are the priciest, commanding $6,000 to $10,000 per pound (prices vary year-to-year based on availability and quality). Less expensive truffles include white summer truffles and black winter and summer truffles.
Marky's, a gourmet market in Miami, sells fresh truffles in season; last winter between November and January, the store sold about a pound of white truffles per week.
Says purchasing coordinator Sarah Freedman-Izquierdo, "The people who buy truffles are people who know how to cook with them - people who know food well." She advises showcasing fresh truffles in simple preparations: "Nothing too complicated, nothing that will mask their flavor." Try them gently sautéed in oil or butter and served on bread, or eaten raw in a simple salad, she advises.
Estimated price per pound: $1,550 and up
A favorite at New Year's parties, weddings and other celebrations, caviar is synonymous with luxury. Caviar, or salted fish roe, comes primarily from sturgeon that live in the Caspian Sea; Russia, Kazakhstan, and Iran are all major exporters. Beluga caviar is thought to be the best, and at around $4,000 a pound, the most expensive. However, overfishing has led to the rapid depletion of the beluga sturgeon population. As a result, the U.S. has banned imports of beluga caviar. (Other countries do import beluga caviar, although production is limited by international quotas.)
Osetra caviar, consisting of small, yellow-brown eggs, is the next best option. At Marky's in Miami, one ounce of golden osetra caviar costs $147. "The best caviar," explains Mark Zaslavsky, co-owner of Marky's, "has a very light, buttery taste, and is not too salty. It makes you long for more. And caviar on Russian blini, with a little Champagne - it takes you to heaven."
Zaslavsky prides himself on selling "the best of everything" at his shop, which also carries high-end olive oils, cheese, escargot, caviar, and foie gras. To him, fine foods are a luxury along the lines of fur coats and diamonds. "Why do people buy expensive food? Why do they buy expensive cars, big houses, jewelry?" he asks. "Because we all want the best."