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Gourmet - April 11, 2012
Gourmet

Eight of the World's Most Expensive Ingredients

Most Expensive Spice: Saffron
Elizabeth Gunnison

Spanish SaffronWhat: Saffron is derived from a type of crocus that grows most extensively in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Its brightly hued threads are graded for quality by the Switzerland-based International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which ranks the product on a scale from 0 to 250 based on color, fragrance, and taste.

How Much: "Coupe" saffron, which carries an ISO grade of 190 or greater, retails for $10 to $15 per gram, and the highest-grade coupe saffrons can reach almost $30 per gram. However, saffron is pungent enough that a little bit goes a long way: The 15 to 20 threads used in a typical paella recipe weigh in at only a very small fraction of a gram.

Why Pay More: The labor-intensive picking, cleaning, sorting, and toasting of these tiny saffron stigmas is to blame for the staggering price tag. It takes a football field–size plot of saffron crocuses to produce just 1 pound of saffron threads, which must be picked immediately upon blooming.

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