In this week’s episode of Filthy Riches, mushroom hunters Chris Matherly and Levena Holmes go searching through the forests of Michigan to find a species of rare wild mushroom fungus called Laetiporus or “chicken of the woods.” The duo’s quota could yield up to $1,000 for a day’s work.
Ingredients like chicken of the woods, which can’t be grown or harvested in commercial farms, sell for huge profits on the world market. Here are five more of the most expensive foods found in the wild:
Bird saliva generally isn’t a lucrative commodity in most countries. But one entrepreneurial bird species has made a huge exception, reaping hunters massive profits every year with nothing except its salivary glands. Small birds called swiftlets weave webs of saliva that eventually harden into nests, and sell in China for about $1,000 per lb. The nests are believed to have medicinal properties for the people who eat them, and represent a multi-million dollar industry in many Asian countries including Indonesia and China. While some swiftlet nests are now grown in farms due to the enormous demand, the costs to build these facilities mean that many of the nests are still culled directly from the insides of bat caves in rural southeast Asia.
The world’s most expensive wild fish, the rare bluefin tuna is also one of the world’s largest, growing up to 1,000 lbs. Bluefins are prized for their flavorful belly fat, which is wildly popular at sushi bars in Asia and North America. The price for the tuna has skyrocketed with the demand: in Jan. 2013, the owner of the Japanese sushi chain Kiyomura purchased a single bluefin for $1.76 million. Unfortunately, the fishing industry has pushed the bluefin tuna to the brink of extinction. According to a 2013 assessment, the wild fish stock has declined 96.4% since scientists started measuring it several decades ago.
A civet coffee bean is just your average coffee bean, except that it’s been eaten, digested and excreted by an Asian palm civet, a species of tree-dwelling viverrid, before being packaged and shipped off to your local luxury coffeeshop. The process is relatively straightforward: the civet picks the ripest coffee cherries off of the ground, eating the fruit surrounding the beans and naturally disposing of the leftovers. The process infuses the beans with enzymes which give the coffee a smooth, deep flavor profile (once it’s been properly cleaned, of course). A single cup of coffee brewed with Kopi Luwak beans can go for $100 in New York City. However, recent investigations have revealed widespread mistreatment of the civets in Indonesia where some farmers exploit the animals to speed up the natural process, inciting a backlash against the product.
Hawaiian deep sea water, or “Kona Nigari,” is the world’s most expensive bottled water. Pumped from deep pockets under the ocean, the water is high in minerals and believed to be free of modern contaminants. A decade ago, Kona Nigari sold for as much as $33 a bottle in Hawaii.
Alba White Mushroom
Only available from Sept. to Jan., white truffles from Italy’s Alba region are the most prized mushroom in the culinary world, and sell for $2,000 per lb. Yielding a unique umami flavor, the most profitable mushrooms have only been cultivated in the wild, so Italian truffle hunters employ dogs or pigs to sniff out the truffles in groves and forests. The mushroom is so popular that it’s inspired truffle heists, paramilitary patrols and roadblocks where Italian police search for stolen fungus and even dog theft and sabotage, as rival truffle hunters leave traps and poison for each others’ truffle-sniffing dogs.
(Extra Credit) Wagyu Beef
Cattle owners: have you considered playing your cow classical music? Yep, a steady playlist of Beethoven and Bach is just one of the tricks that Japanese Wagyu breeders employ to increase the net worth of their stock. Although not wild by any means, the Wagyu yields a consistently marbled meat which is highly flavorful and tender due its increased amount of fatty acids. Popular cuts can run around $200 in the US. Wagyu cattle are often subject to special treatment from owners, who massage them to get a more tender flavor, and feed them higher quality rice and occasionally even soju.
Tune in to a new episode of Filthy Riches: Go Big or Go Home this Sunday at 10P where Chris and Levena race against the clock to fill an order of prized wild mushrooms.