The instant expert: expensive tastes

Float through any social event with M's fast facts. This week the self-styled gourmand Rick Arthur salivates over some of the world's most expensive foods. Bon appétit!

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THE BASICS So, why is a button mushroom cheap and a white truffle almost priceless? Why does a fast-food hamburger cost no more than pocket change and a Wagyu steak eats up a big chunk of your pay cheque? Why is turmeric among the most affordable spices and saffron the most expensive? Well, think rarity and harvesting difficulty to explain why a foodstuff is costly. Any chef looking to make a name for himself can add edible gold leaf to a dish, but that's not what we're talking about here.

FISH EGGS? FOR HOW MUCH? Caviar - the roe, or eggs, from fish - has long been known as an opulent comestible. Beluga caviar is from the beluga sturgeon, which can take 20 years to reach maturity, lives mainly in the Caspian Sea and is endangered. Caviar from Iran is exempt from a ban imposed on other Caspian countries. An Iranian pearly white type of Beluga caviar, called Almas, is the rarest kind, taken from a hundred-year-old fish. Prices can hit some US$30,000 (Dh110,000) or more per kilogram.

A WATERMELON FOR THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS? Why the Japanese have such an affinity for expensive foods escapes us. Regardless, black, hard, crisp, super-sweet Dansuke watermelons are grown only on the island of Hokkaido. In 2008, a 7.7kg beauty was sold for $6,100 (Dh22,405).

CANTALOUPES THAT COST The similarly rare Yubari melon, also grown on Hokkaido, looks like a common cantaloupe but also is extra sweet. A pair sold in 2008 for 2.5 million yen (Dh108,959).

A FUNGUS MONSTER White truffles, from northern Italy's Piedmont region and beloved by chefs of haute cuisine, are rare, and it takes luck and a pig to find them. The most expensive specimen, a 1.5kg monster, was sold for $330,000 (Dh1.2 million) in 2007.

A HUNK OF COW OR A NEW HANDBAG? The venerable Kobe beef comes from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The meat is renowned for its flavour, tenderness and fatty marbling. It runs as high as $770 (Dh2,828) a kilo. And no, the beasts are not given beer or massaged with sake.

A SPICY TREAT Saffron - a seasoning and colouring agent from the saffron crocus flower native to South East Asia - is used in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. It takes an absurd amount of dried stigmas - tens and tens of thousands of them - to make up a kilo, which would cost you some $11,000 (Dh40,403).

COFFEE ANYONE? Kopi luwak coffee from Indonesia is made from beans that are eaten, partly digested and excreted by the common palm civet, the luwak. The creature's digestive process is said to remove the beans' bitter flavour. Cost: some $300 (Dh1,102) a kilo.

TEA FOR TWO? "Tieguanyin" means "Iron Goddess of Mercy", and that's the name of the most expensive tea in the world. From China, this type of Oolong can cost up to $15 (Dh55) a cup and $3,000 (Dh11,019) a kilo. Lovers of the leaf say the flavour increases with repeated brewing, instead of growing more bitter.

WATER FOR WEIGHT LOSS? Kona Nigari water from Hawaii sells for $33.50 for a two-ounce bottle, which equates to $402 (Dh1,476) for a 750ml bottle. The seaweed mineral concentrate and desalinated seawater are meant to be mixed with regular drinking water before consuming, so add another couple of dirhams to your total cost. Supposedly it helps to lose weight, reduce stress and firm up the skin.

The costliest meal ever

On February 10, 2007, The Dome restaurant in Bangkok served a meal that cost 1 million Thai baht (Dh122,087), including tax and tip. Here's what six chefs - from France, Germany and Italy - prepared for 15 diners, mostly real estate and gaming moguls from Asia and the US. The wines, of course, were rare and expensive.

Crème brûlée of foie gras with Tonga beans

Tartar of Kobe beef with Imperial Beluga caviar and Belon oyster

Mousseline of pattes rouges crayfish with morel mushroom infusion

Tarte Fine with scallops and black truffle

Lobster Osso Buczco

Ravioli with guinea fowl and burrata cheese, veal reduction

Saddle of lamb "Léonel"

Sorbet "Dom Pérignon"

Supreme of pigeon en croute with cèpes mushroom sauce and cipollotti

Veal cheeks with Périgord truffles

Imperial gingerbread pyramid with caramel and salted butter ice cream