Why 5 Of The World’s Priciest Salts And Spices Are So Expensive | So Expensive Food


The video explores the reasons behind the high prices of five of the world’s priciest salts and spices. Bamboo salt from South Korea is considered the most expensive salt due to its labor-intensive process of roasting sea salt inside bamboo, resulting in a premium product. Ceylon cinnamon is highly sought after because of its delicate production process and unique flavor, while green cardamom is expensive because of the labor-intensive process of collecting the small raw pods to extract the few seeds inside. Cloves are valued for their complex flavor and medicinal properties, but harvesting them is risky and dangerous. River reed salt is produced through a traditional process in Kenya and its high cost is justified by the intense work involved and its special medicinal properties. However, climate change and deforestation pose challenges to the production of these expensive salts and spices.

  • 00:00:00 In this section, we learn about bamboo salt from South Korea, which is considered the most expensive salt in the world. Bamboo salt is made by roasting sea salt inside bamboo at a high temperature, infusing it with minerals and removing impurities. The labor-intensive process, which involves multiple roasting stages, is done entirely by hand. The final product, nine times roasted bamboo salt, is sold at a premium price due to the extensive work involved. This type of salt is not only used for cooking but also has a long history in traditional Korean medicine, with manufacturers claiming it has low toxicity and high mineral content.
  • 00:05:00 In this section, we learn about two of the world’s priciest salts and spices: bamboo salt and cinnamon. Bamboo salt is believed to have various health benefits, although scientific evidence is lacking. While studies have shown higher levels of beneficial minerals in bamboo salt compared to regular sea salt, the majority of bamboo salt is still sodium chloride. Ceylon cinnamon, on the other hand, is highly sought after due to its delicate production process and unique flavor. Growing cinnamon trees requires years of investment before harvest, and workers must delicately strip the inner bark by hand. The thinner the cinnamon quills, the more expensive they become. With only a few pounds of cinnamon quills produced in a day, the labor-intensive and time-consuming process contributes to its high price.
  • 00:10:00 In this section, the transcript discusses two expensive spices: cinnamon and green cardamom. Cinnamon, specifically Ceylon cinnamon, is more valuable than the cheaper variety known as cassia. Ceylon cinnamon requires more time and effort to make, with its soft and tender texture and inner layers. Cassia, on the other hand, is hard and sturdy and lacks the inner layers. Ceylon cinnamon is also considered healthier as it contains lower levels of coumarin, which can be harmful in large amounts. However, in the US, both cinnamon varieties are labeled as cinnamon, causing confusion. Climate change and a shortage of experienced cinnamon peelers pose threats to cinnamon production and may drive up prices. Green cardamom, known as the queen of spices, is also expensive due to the labor-intensive process of collecting the small raw pods to extract the few seeds inside. It takes six kilograms of pods to produce just one kilogram of green cardamom. Harvesting requires highly skilled workers, and knowing the precise time to harvest is crucial.
  • 00:15:00 In this section, the transcript discusses the process and challenges involved in harvesting cardamom, one of the world’s priciest spices. Harvesters undergo six months of training to learn how to identify ripe fruits for picking. However, the yield is low, with only about 10 pods harvested per plant, resulting in just one and a half teaspoons of ground cardamom. After drying, the pods are sorted based on size, weight, and color, with only a sixth of them qualifying as good quality. Changes in weather, such as excessive rain or drought, can disrupt the entire process and impact supply. The climate crisis has already affected cardamom production in India’s Idukki district, leading to increased prices but not necessarily benefiting small farmers. As the global cardamom market is projected to grow, meeting demand may prove challenging due to ongoing climate threats.
  • 00:20:00 In this section, the transcript explains why cloves are considered valuable and expensive. Cloves are the flower buds of clove trees, and when dried, they are commonly used as a spice. The flavor of cloves is complex, with notes of sweetness, bitterness, and heat. The oil found in cloves has medicinal properties, making them valuable beyond their culinary uses. However, harvesting cloves is a risky and dangerous job, as workers have to climb tall trees to pick the buds at the right time. If the buds are picked too early or too late, their grade and value will drop. Additionally, if the branches are broken during the harvest, it will lower the tree’s yield for the next season. Despite the risks, handpicking clove buds is the only way to ensure the highest quality and maintain the spice’s value.
  • 00:25:00 In this section, we learn about the expensive prices of cloves and river reed salt. First-quality cloves, which have the highest oil content and fragrance, are sold for around ten dollars per kilogram, while the lowest-grade cloves are sold for under seven dollars per kilogram. Cloves are not only valued for their culinary uses but also for their medicinal benefits due to the compound eugenol. In India, cloves are highly sought after, and Charles, a clove farmer, is able to sell everything from the buds to the pollen. Kanyakumari cloves, known for their high oil content and strong aroma, are the most expensive variety in India. The retail price of cloves is higher due to the supply chain and transportation costs. Similarly, river reed salt, made from reeds of the Matua plant, is sold at a higher price compared to sea salt. The traditional process of making this rare salt is carried out by the Bukutu community in the village of Wabuye, Kenya.
  • 00:30:00 In this section, we learn about Andrew and his sons who harvest river reeds along the riverbanks in Kenya to extract salt. They start their day with a prayer for protection from dangers like snakes and crocodiles. Andrew carefully selects ripe reeds that are at least two meters tall with wilted flowers at the top, as these have a high salt content. After a successful harvest, Andrew begins the labor-intensive process of extracting salt, including drying the reeds, burning them, filtering the ashes and water, boiling the solution, and finally drying the salt paste. This traditional process, which has been practiced for generations, originated in the 17th century when the Bokuzu people migrated from Congo and sought a way to extract salt from these aquatic plants. Today, the salt has become a valuable commodity.
  • 00:35:00 In this section, the transcript discusses the high cost of river reed salt and the reasons behind it. The intense work put into making the salt justifies its price for local buyers, who also believe in its special medicinal properties. The unique taste of Andrew’s river reed salt has gained recognition internationally. However, the production of river reed salt is limited due to climate change and deforestation in Kenya. Slow Food is working on conservation efforts, such as replanting indigenous trees and creating marshy areas for the reeds to grow, in order to sustain the production of this expensive salt for future generations.

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