Why Hermès Birkin bags are so expensive, according to a handbag expert

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Hermès Birkin bags are some of the most expensive bags in the world, ranging anywhere from $9,000 to half a million dollars. The bags embody absolute luxury.

– A Birkin bag?

– You’ve heard of it?

– Of course. That’s a very nice purse.

Narrator: The exclusive accessory’s even considered by some to be a better investment than gold or the stock market. And the world’s most expensive bag is an Hermès Himalaya Birkin bag that sold for $500,000. So what is it that makes Birkin bags so expensive? The story of the bag begins with its namesake: Jane Birkin. On a flight from Paris to London, the English actress happened to be seated next to the chief executive of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas.

Pilot: Flight attendants, please prepare for takeoff.

Narrator: Jane was known for carrying a wicker basket wherever she went and used it for everything from groceries to diapers. When she tried to fit her famous basket in the overhead compartment, the lid came off, spilling the contents everywhere. Jane complained to her seatmate that it was impossible to find a weekend bag she liked. Dumas introduced himself as the head of Hermès, and the pair spent the flight sketching possible handbag designs on the back of an airplane sick bag. A year later, Dumas presented Jane with the Birkin bag, a spacious yet sophisticated leather design perfect for everyday use. The Birkin’s pockets made it highly functional, and the bag seals to prevent anything from spilling. Hermès makes the bags in France using premium materials like calf skin, alligator skin, and even ostrich skin. Each bag is made entirely by hand.

Although Birkins are one of the most exclusive and sought-after bags today, they actually weren’t all that popular when they first launched. It wasn’t until the ’90s that the Birkin became one of the it-bags of the era. Now they’re the ultimate status symbol. Victoria Beckham reportedly has a collection of over 100 Birkins, estimated to be worth over $2 million, and Singaporean socialite and entrepreneur Jamie Chua is considered to have the world’s largest Birkin collection with over 200 bags.

But you can’t just walk into Hermès and get one. While there used to be a wait list, nowadays all you can do is hope to be important enough or spend enough to be offered a Birkin bag. And if you’re offered one, don’t expect to be able to choose the color or size.

Hermès also places limits on how many Birkin bags a client can purchase per year. This dedication to preserving the exclusivity of the bag has certainly paid off, and the disparity in demand and access has created a thriving resale market.

A 2017 study revealed that the value of Hermès Birkin bags has increased 500% in the last 35 years, an increase of 14% per year. One of the most coveted models comes from Hermès’ Himalaya collection, which comes in three sizes. Often referred to as the holy grail of handbags, the white Himalaya Birkin bag features 18-karat white gold hardware and more than 200 diamonds. The 35-centimeter model in particular is very rare and has sold at record prices year after year. Most recently in 2019, it sold for over half a million dollars. Professional sports betting consultant David Oancea, also known as Vegas Dave, made the record-breaking purchase.

David Oancea: The reason I bought the Birkin bag is I love breaking records. I broke all the sports betting records, I wanted to break the most-expensive-bag record. I’m all about raising the bar. Also, it’s about supply and demand. The only other one in the world is by Steve Harvey’s wife, so there’s only two in the world. Not even Kim Kardashian has this, so I actually bought it for content, believe it or not, so I could take videos with it, pictures of it, getting people to talk about me.

Narrator: The record-breaking sale actually took place over social media.

Oancea: Sale was pretty easy. I posted on social media, I have about a million followers, that I’m looking for a bag. This lady hit me up, Privé Porter. She messaged me, said she’d get me the bag. I realized it was the most expensive bag. She said it would break the record. And this is for sure the record, $500,000?

– Absolutely, most expensive bag ever sold.

Oancea: We closed this deal in about three to four days, really, really fast. I actually do use the bag. Most people think I’m crazy. They put it away like in a safe, and they never touch it again. I’ve taken it out twice, once to a night club in Vegas as a great piece of content. It’s definitely worth the cost ’cause you could offer me a million dollars cash, and I wouldn’t sell it. My asking price is $2 million. If not, I’ll just keep the d— thing.

Narrator: It’s also made with white or albino crocodile skin, which is extremely rare. The costly skin is painstakingly dyed to emulate the snowy appearance of the Himalayan mountains.

Mason Howell: The high retail value and resale value is because these are pieces of artwork. These artisans train years and years to make one of these bags, and they may even train 10 years before even they’re allowed to make a Birkin.

Narrator: Another reason for the bag’s high price of course is the limited availability. The total number of Birkin bags Hermès produces each year is a well-guarded secret, but it’s estimated that there may be around 200,000 in circulation. And for the luxury resale market, Birkin bags are a hot commodity. Online retailer Privé Porter uses Instagram and WhatsApp to sell the bags online, and luxury reseller The RealReal has hundreds of Birkins available at any given time, many of which are priced well above the original retail cost.

Howell: The Birkin bag does retain and sometimes exceeds its value. It really does depend on the leather, the color, the size of the bag, you know, the hardware. There are so many factors that go into pricing a Birkin that it could really vary. However, if you do buy a Birkin, let’s say in 2004, and maybe the retail at that time was $5,000, you most likely will be able to sell it, even if you have worn it so many times, for $5,000, $6,000.

Narrator: Even as resellers like The RealReal and Privé Porter have made more Birkins available than ever, the prices haven’t gone down.

Howell: If you go to Hermès, you may not always get the exact color, size, that you want. Here, we have almost every single option, and if that means you have to pay a small premium, people and our clients are willing to do so. Even though that there has been such a saturation of these bags, not one bag is the same. So let’s say an Etain Birkin 35 with gold hardware, we only have one right now, and if it’s sold, we may not get another for a while, so someone’s looking for that, and they’d be willing to pay an extra maybe $10,000 to get that bag as soon as possible, and all these bags are handmade, artisan craftsmanship. It’s a piece of artwork. Not one is the same, not even one stitch.

Narrator: So if you have an extra $10,000 lying around, it could be worthwhile to invest it in a Birkin. Just make sure that you’re not falling for a fake. From Canal Street in New York City to websites like eBay, the counterfeit market is full of luxury knockoffs, and Birkins are no exception. Back in 2012, Hermès sued several websites for selling fake products and won $100 million in damages.

That same year, French police cracked down on an international crime ring that was manufacturing counterfeit Birkin bags. The crime ring reportedly included actual Hermès employees. Only two employees were arrested, but Hermès believed that several other employees could have been involved. And despite all their efforts, fake products continue to flood the market. The quality of counterfeit bags has also vastly improved over the years, making it difficult to tell whether a bag is real or fake. However, there are a few tricks to spotting a fake Birkin.

Howell: The handle should never be too long. If they look too long, longer than the bag, then it is most likely inauthentic. The hardware shouldn’t be too shiny or protrude out, and the feet, another big thing, it’s one of the best things I always check, is that the feet should never screw off. They are hammered in. The leather itself should feel very supple, very luxurious.

Narrator: And if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. While many other handbag styles have come and gone, it looks like the Birkin is here to stay. And the bag has become synonymous with status in a way that many other luxury goods have yet to.

Despite its popularity, the bag features no prominent logos and is only recognizable to people who already know what it is. In Birkin, Hermès has created something that feels inaccessible unless highly exclusive. As for whether the Birkin will always be so expensive, only time will tell.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in June 2019.

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Caterpillar fungus, the world’s most valuable parasite, can cost up to $63,000 per pound

  • Caterpillar fungus is a hybrid of a fungus that kills and lives in caterpillars.
  • It can sell for up to three times its weight in gold and can cost as much as about $63,000 per pound.
  • Some towns in the Himalayas rely on collecting and selling this fungus for a living.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: What would you do if a fungus invaded your body, and started consuming you from the inside? It sounds like something out of a horror film, but that’s actually what happens to a certain type of baby moth.

The fungus eats its way through the helpless moth larvae and then sprouts out of their heads like a spring daisy. But this rare hybrid, the caterpillar fungus, isn’t just totally fascinating, it’s also expensive. Sometimes selling for more than 3 times its weight in gold!

Caterpillar fungus grows in the remote Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan Mountains but that’s not the only place you can find it. Here we are in New York City’s Chinatown. And nestled among countless drawers of dried mugwort leaves and hibiscus flowers,

There it is a small pile of 50 or so pieces of dried caterpillar fungus. Here, 1 gram of it costs about $30. But even that might be considered a good deal. Vendors on eBay, for example, list a gram for up to $125. The price is so high because this hybrid creature is incredibly rare.

It shows up for only a few weeks each year in remote regions of Nepal, Tibet, India and Bhutan. And even then, the fungus can be tricky for collectors to find, hidden amidst a sea of grass. For centuries, it’s been a staple of traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine.

Kelly Hopping: “Traditionally, it was used as a general tonic, for immune support.”

For instance, a family might add half of this to a chicken soup. And it’s even rumored that it can be used as a sort of Himalayan viagra though there’s little evidence to back it up. People also buy the fungus as a gift or use it for bribes or as a status symbol. As a result, better looking pieces fetch a higher price.

Kelly Hopping: “It’s all dependent on exactly the color of the caterpillar fungus, even the shape of its body when it died, all of these things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with medicinal value make all the difference for the economic value.”

In 2017, for example, high quality pieces sold for as much as $140,000 per kg, or about $63,000 per pound. Now, caterpillar fungus has always been pricey. But experts say its value really skyrocketed in the 1990s and 2000s because of a growing Chinese economy, and the resulting increase in disposable income. Which ultimately, helped drive a massive boom in harvest.

In the Tibet Autonomous Region, for example, collectors reportedly hauled out more than three times as much caterpillar fungus in the early 2000s, than they did in the 1980s. And now, many families depend on the cash it brings in.

In fact, experts say that up to 80% of household income in the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas can come from selling caterpillar fungus. One district in Nepal reported collecting $4.7 million worth of caterpillar fungus in 2016. That’s 12% more than the district’s annual budget! But those profits are at risk.

Surveys indicate that annual harvests have recently declined.

Kelly Hopping: “The collectors themselves mostly attributed this to overharvesting, acknowledging that their own collection pressure was driving these declines.”

And it doesn’t help that it’s difficult to regulate the harvest.

Daniel Winkler: “All these different political units have different policy. In the end, it is really down to county level, how it’s implemented.”

Climate change is also causing problems. You see, the fungus is more abundant in areas with long, cold winters, which are increasingly hard to come by.

Daniel Winkler: “For the rural economy, if there’s a lot of loss, that would be devastating.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2019.

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Why nine times roasted bamboo salt costs so much more than sea salt

  • Nine times roasted bamboo salt can cost almost $100 for an 8.5-ounce jar.
  • It’s made by roasting sea salt inside of bamboo at over 800 degrees Celcius.
  • That labor-intensive process makes bamboo salt the most expensive salt in the world.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: This is standard sea salt. But after 30 days, it’ll become this. High-quality bamboo salt costs almost $100 for an 8.5-ounce jar, making it the most expensive salt in the world. So, what is bamboo salt used for? And why is it so expensive?

For hundreds of years, Koreans have used bamboo salt for cooking and as a form of traditional medicine. It’s made by placing sea salt inside of bamboo and roasting it at a high temperature. The goal is to infuse the salt with minerals from the bamboo and to remove any impurities. But the premium compared to other types of salt is steep. Nine-times-roasted bamboo salt, sometimes referred to as “purple bamboo salt,” can cost over 10 times the price of pink Himalayan salt. Most of that cost comes from the labor-intensive process. Every single step is done by hand.

Shin Min-kyun: It takes about one month to 45 or 50 days from putting the salt in a bamboo barrel and melting it nine times until it is finished.

Narrator: The process starts by cutting 3-year-old bamboo into uniform trunks, leaving one side closed as a container for the salt. Sea salt from the west coast of Korea is densely packed by hand into the bamboo. Workers load filled bamboo onto a cart and push it into a kiln. Traditionally, only pine logs are used. This process takes around 12 to 14 hours. Baking everything at over 800 degrees Celsius burns away the bamboo, leaving a column of salt. But the process has only just begun.

Shin Tae-joong: Then we grind the salt column and fill the bamboo again. This process is repeated eight times.

Narrator: The ninth and final roast is the hottest, at over 1,000 degrees Celsius. It’s fired in a special kiln and operated by an expert. Shin Tae-joong has been making bamboo salt for over 20 years. That experience is extremely important, because any error at this stage could result in wasting a month of work. At this temperature, the salt and bamboo completely melt and drain into a mold. After a few days of cooling, a blackened rocklike structure remains. This is nine-times-roasted bamboo salt. Workers carefully break this down by hand, trying not to waste any material. After a month of work, it’s ready to be packaged and sold.

Shin Min-kyun: If you bake the salt in a bamboo barrel, the bad things inside, such as microplastics, will be filtered out during this process. Then, as the bamboo burns, bamboo oil comes out. The bamboo oil is absorbed into the salt, and the good ingredients in the bamboo are then concentrated in the salt.

Narrator: The final price varies depending on where you buy it and what form it’s in. But nine-times-roasted bamboo salt doesn’t come cheap.

Shin Min-kyun: Based on the bamboo salt that was baked nine times, the price ranges from 200,000 to 250,000 won [~$179-$224] per kilogram. Koreans recognize the high price of bamboo salt. In spite of the high cost, I think people buy because they know the value of it.

Narrator: The health benefits of food have always played an important role in Korean culture. For centuries, bamboo salt baked two to three times has been used in traditional Korean medicine. But in the 20th century, the nine-times-roasting process was developed. Manufacturers say this process has the lowest toxicity and highest mineral content. Today, it’s used for cooking, toothpaste, soap, and various remedies.

Shin Min-kyun: First of all, being a salt, bamboo salt has salty flavor. Then there’s bamboo salt’s unique flavor. As the salt absorbs good ingredients from the bamboo, an egg-yolk-like flavor of bamboo salt gets deeper as it is baked. Then there’s no bitter flavor.

Narrator: Proponents of bamboo salt say that it can help with everything from digestion to oral health, skin care, and inflammation and that it even has anticancer effects. The proposed medical benefits have likely helped it maintain its high price. But there hasn’t been enough scientific study to fully back up all of these claims. Studies have shown that bamboo salt contains higher levels of iron, potassium, and calcium compared to regular sea salt and that it could improve your immune system. But these beneficial minerals constitute only a small percentage — the majority of bamboo salt is sodium chloride. Even with lower toxicity, it’s unclear how potent the health benefits are. In 2016, the WHO wrote in a report that “the composition of specialty salts poses no toxicological risks but does not offer any relevant nutritional benefits either.” The full benefits of bamboo salt compared to sea salt have yet to be extensively researched. But despite that, bamboo salt continues to be popular. Insanga, a popular bamboo-salt maker, earned around $24 million in sales in 2017. And the traditional labor-intense process isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

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Why Japanese eel can cost over $90

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: This is the most expensive fish in Japan. In January 2018, a kilogram of these baby eels cost around $35,000. That’s more than bluefin tuna, and almost as much as the price of gold at the time.

But catching these eels is just the beginning. It can take a year of work until they’re large enough to be sold. So what makes these eels so popular? And why are they so expensive?

People in Japan have eaten eel for thousands of years. Restaurants like this can sell 40 to 50 tons of eel each year. Japanese eel, or Anguilla japonica, can be found across East Asia, but overfishing and changing habitats have caused a huge decline in eel populations. Since 1980, the global catch of eel has declined by more than 75%, which has had a huge effect on price.

Rui Kinoshita: What is happening these days is the difference in the price is so much each year. It can be tripled compared to last year. Next year can be a third of the year before.

Narrator: Unlike other types of fishing, the majority of eels are raised, not caught as adults. Young eels, called glass eels, are caught in the wild and raised on farms like this. No farms have been able to efficiently breed the eels in captivity. So farmers depend on the catch of young eels to make a profit.

Michio Tanaka: The amount I raise here varies each year, but roughly speaking it’s about 30 tons. About 150,000 or 160,000 eels.

Narrator: Raising this many eels requires constant attention. Michio has been working as an eel farmer for almost 40 years.

Michio Tanaka: As for farming eels, I don’t think eels are easy fish to grow. If one disease spreads or one accident happens in the pond, you can never make a profit. This can be done only through daily care.

Narrator: After the cost of the eels themselves, feeding them is the most expensive part. Two to three times a day, workers feed eels this. It’s a mixture of fish meal, wheat, soybean meal, and fish oil.

Michio Tanaka: I am trying to feed them in a way that food gets around to all 150,000 baby eels. That is a difficult task. I pay a lot of attention to those baby eels. If something happens to that one pond, everything is gone.

Narrator: After six to 12 months of work, eels are big enough to be sold. Workers unload the eels and sort them by size to determine where they’ll be sold. Experienced workers can quickly tell the difference just by feel. Some of these eels will end up at restaurants like Surugaya, which has been serving eel for over 150 years. That high demand is part of the reason young eels are so expensive. The final dish is called kabayaki. It may look simple, but preparing it takes years to master.

Rui Kinoshita: There is a saying about cooking eel. It takes three years to master the skewering. Slicing takes eight years. Grilling needs a whole life to master.

Narrator: Workers prepare eel alive to maintain freshness, but this makes handling much more difficult. Workers remove the bones and cut eels to the proper size for the skewers.

Rui Kinoshita: Finally, grilling. It takes a whole life to master. Until you die.

Narrator: Eel has to be constantly monitored while it’s cooking to achieve even grilling.

Rui Kinoshita: The best eels for us have good texture. Not too hard, not too soft.

Narrator: Chefs steam, then grill each eel three times, dipping it into sauce between each grilling.

Rui Kinoshita: Presentation and taste have to be equally good. When you open the lid, it has to look beautiful.

Narrator: Kabayaki presented in a lacquer box with rice is called unajū. It can cost up to $91 depending on the price of adult eel. If prices are too high, restaurants struggle to make a profit.

Rui Kinoshita: The amount of eel catch is a matter of life and death for eel restaurants. We all are very concerned about it. I myself am concerned too.

Narrator: In Japan, eels are eaten year-round, but consumption peaks in the summer, and it’s become a big part of some local economies. But the high demand has caused concern. In 2014, Japanese eels were classified as endangered, and because of low domestic catch, the majority of eels eaten in Japan are imported from China and Taiwan.

Kouji Yamamoto: When they can’t catch enough young eel, the price goes up. When the price is so high, what can those farmers do? Finding the right balance is currently the biggest problem.

Narrator: There have been efforts to improve the eel population, like regulating fishing, releasing adult eels back into the water, and researching how to hatch eels in farms. But the future of Japanese eels remains unclear, and the price is likely to increase with demand.

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Why wasabi is so expensive

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Wasabi is a small green plant in the brassica family, that means it’s related to many cheap and easy to find plants like horseradish, cabbage, or broccoli. But unlike these it’s incredibly expensive, a kilogram of fresh wasabi can cost you 25 times as much as fresh horseradish.

Because of its price the “wasabi” you’re used to is probably just a mixture of horseradish, coloring, and sweetener. These products often only have 1-5% of the real thing in.

Wasabi is known for being the hardest plant to grow commercially in the world. It can be found naturally growing alongside Japanese mountain streams has a strict set of conditions it needs to thrive.

Wasabi needs a constant supply of running spring water, it likes a shady area and rocky soil or gravel, and can only tolerate a temperature of around 8-20 degrees centigrade all year round. Too much humidity, or the wrong minerals can also cause problems for the plant and on top of all that it’s susceptible to pests and disease.

There’s one other reason you probably don’t see real wasabi products in your local supermarket or restaurant. Wasabi’s spice comes from a chemical reaction that occurs when you break down the cells, but this reaction is short lived. After 5 minutes the spicy flavour peaks but leave it for 30 minutes and almost all the flavour is gone.

All of these factors mean fake wasabi isn’t going away any time soon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in January 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Why avocados are so expensive

  • Avocado has become one of the world’s trendiest foods, but they require an extraordinary amount of costly resources and labor in order to grow.
  • Avocado prices have rocketed in recent years by up to 129%, with the average national price of a single Hass avocado reaching $2.10 in 2019, almost doubling in just one year.
  • We break down what makes avocados so expensive.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Avocado has become one of the world’s trendiest foods. As the poster child of millennial healthy eating, this superfood is now a mainstay for foodies everywhere. But have you noticed your avo on toast is costing more and more? Avocado prices have rocketed in recent years by up to 129%, with the average national price of a single Hass avocado reaching $2.10 in 2019, almost doubling in just one year. So, why are avocados so expensive?

Archaeologists in Peru have found domesticated avocado seeds buried with Incan mummies dating back to 750 BC. But it was the Aztecs in 500 BC who named it āhuacatl, which translates to “testicle.” When Spanish conquistadors swept through Mexico and Central America in the 16th century, they renamed it aguacate. The farming of aguacate developed over the next few hundred years, predominantly in Central America and South America. But consumption of the “alligator pear” outside of these regions before the late 19th century was almost nonexistent.

The commercialization of aguacate began in the early 1900s but was focused on branding avocados as a delicacy for the wealthy, like this advert in The New Yorker from 1920, which declared them as “The aristocrat of salad fruit.” But a selection of Californian growers realized that the hard-to-pronounce aguacate was off-putting for the mass market, so they formed the California Avocado Association. By the 1950s, production scale grew, and avocado prices fell to about 25 cents each. Popularity increased further with the wave of inter-American immigration in the ’60s, as Latin Americans brought their love of avocados with them to the US. But as demand increased, supply had to keep up, and the true difficulties of yielding large-scale avocado crops began to show. Avocado orchards require an extraordinary amount of costly resources in order to flourish.

Gus Gunderson: There are multiple inputs that avocados require, whether it’s water, fertilizer, pruning, pest control, the sunburn protection of trees. All those go into making your chances better of having a very good-quality crop. When we decide to plant an avocado orchard, we’ll plant trees that come from certified nurseries. We have to place our orders years in advance. On average, if we’re producing 100,000 pounds per acre, that takes about a million gallons of water, so 100 gallons per pound, so it’d be about 50 gallons per 8-ounce fruit. But that’s dependent on what mother nature will throw at you, you know, we have wind, we have intense sun. It’s really hard for a grower to manage the unmanageable things that will affect a crop.

Narrator: The surge in popularity of avocados stalled during the fat-fighting frenzy of the 1980s, with an average of only 1 pound per capita being consumed in America by 1989. The decade’s low-fat obsession drove consumers away from avocado because of its high fat content, without really understanding the nutritional truth hidden within.

Hazel Wallace: When it comes to fat in food in general, people tend to get a little bit concerned because we often hear in the media that fat isn’t good for us. But the type of fat that’s in avocados is monounsaturated fat, which is actually often deemed healthy fat or heart-healthy fat, so while there is a lot of fat in avocados, it’s actually quite good fat.

Narrator: Avocado started its meteoric comeback at the turn of the millennium, and it was helped by an unlikely political decision. In 2005, the US Department of Agriculture lifted a 90-year-old ban to allow the importation of Mexican avocados to all 50 states. Initially, this decision angered Californian growers, who feared the move could slash local growers’ sales by as much as 20%.

Harold Edwards: What actually had transpired and took place was, as that Mexican supply became much more prevalent and available, retailers got behind marketing and selling avocados, food service providers, restaurants started putting it as permanent parts of their menus, and demand started to boom because the inconsistent supply chains before were now consistent, and consumers were allowed to enjoy avocados every day of the year.

Narrator: The biggest day of the avocado calendar became Super Bowl Sunday, when it’s now estimated that almost 200 million pounds of avocados are eaten during the big game in America. But if you take a moment to consider the resources needed to produce that amount, you can start to understand avocados’ elevated prices. According to experts, it takes roughly 270 liters of water to grow a pound of avocados. So 200 million pounds could require as much as 54 billion liters of water, which means droughts or heat waves can have devastating consequences on the avocado industry. In fact, that’s exactly what’s been happening in California for the last seven years, with the Sunshine State only recently being declared drought-free in 2019, which goes a long way to explaining record avocado prices. In some countries, like Chile, avocado cultivation is being blamed for exacerbating droughts, as lush green orchards overlook dry riverbeds.

Perhaps the biggest reason for avocados’ rise to dominance is the emergence of the clean-eating lifestyle. No longer just a chip dip for special occasions, this superfood can be found in a plethora of recipes in cafés and restaurants everywhere around the world. And those who are eating them are really keen for you to know about it. Just type #avocado into Instagram, and you’ll be hit with over 10 million search results. But is the glorification of avocado justified?

Wallace: There’s quite a big hype around avocados, but it actually is quite justified when it comes to how nutrient-dense this food is. There’s not many foods that actually replicate it in terms of a nutritional profile. When it comes to calling something a superfood, I’m not really for that label. Avocados are definitely a good food to include in your diet, but like I said, you’re not really missing out if you don’t like them or if you can’t eat them for any reason. Monounsaturated fats, we can find that in things like olive oil and olive, nuts, and seeds. The vitamins and minerals, we can find that in other green vegetables, so spinach and broccoli and things like that. So there’s ways of getting those nutrients in without having avocado.

Narrator: All of this produce requires an astonishing amount of labor. Even once grown, pruned, and picked, avocados need costly distribution methods in order to be delivered fresh and ripe to far-flung corners of the world.

Gunderson: If you’re living in Philadelphia, right? You wanna buy a ripe avocado in Philadelphia? What they do is they ship green avocados from California to Philadelphia, they send them to the ripening center, they warm them up and get ethylene in them, so they all ripen, and then, when they’re moved out to the retail stores, you’re actually buying something that’s almost ready to eat or ready to eat. ‘Cause if you were to buy a green avocado that’s shipped straight from California to your market, you would have to ripen it yourself over a seven- to 10-day period, and most consumers are a little more anxious for their avocado toast than waiting 10 days. [laughs]

Narrator: With prices so high, the commodity of avocados has attracted a spate of thefts from orchards and delivery trucks worldwide. In New Zealand, armed night patrols and electric fences have been introduced after a grower in Northland had 70% of his orchard stolen. There’s even further grim reading for avocado lovers. In Michoacán, where 80% of Mexico’s avocados originate, cartels run a so-called “blood avocado” trade, violently enforcing a nonnegotiable extortion fee from farmers based on the size of their land and the weight of their crop.

Some restaurants have begun an avocado boycott, as we all weigh the ethics behind our eating habits. Experts suggest that water shortages could affect 5 billion people by 2050, and rainfall in the so-called drought belt, which includes Mexico and South America, is predicted to decline. But whilst evidence of environmental degradation is mounting, the avocado industry is still growing along with consumer demand. In certain places, the sustainability of avocado production will become untenable.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Why Australian black opal is one of the most expensive gemstones in the world

  • High-quality black opal can cost $10,000 per carat.
  • But even for an expert, finding it isn’t easy.
  • After investing tens of thousands of dollars, a miner might not find a single gem.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: High-quality black opal can cost over $10,000 per carat, making it one of the world’s most expensive gemstones. But mining black opal isn’t easy. After investing tens of thousands of dollars, a miner might not find a single gem. So, what makes black opal so hard to find? And why is it so expensive?

Black opal is one of the most enchanting stones in the world, sought after for its seemingly infinite display of colors. Compared to common opal, which is usually one color, black opal exhibits many different colors contrasted by a dark body tone.

Frederick: It’s simply the most stunning gemstone on the planet. It’s just remarkably beautiful. You can put the thing away for a week, pick it out and look at it, and you can still see things inside it that you’ve never, ever seen before.

Narrator: Opal is found in several parts of the world, including Ethiopia, Brazil, and Mexico. But over 90% of the world’s opal comes from Australia. And a lot of the black opal is found here, at Lightning Ridge. It’s located on the edge of the Outback, with a population of just over 2,000 people. Miners have been searching for opal here for over 100 years. But even for experts, finding black opal isn’t easy.

Frederick: If you were to start mining tomorrow, and once you learn mining skills — and I’ve been mining for 40 years — we’d be an equal chance, just because there’s nothing really that can tell you, “Oh, there is opal in that piece of ground” or “There’s not opal in that piece of ground.”

Narrator: Miners start by drilling a vertical shaft in an area that they think contains opal. Then they must clear out an underground room large enough to start digging at the rock.

Frederick: The basic idea of mining is basically extract the opal clay out from the ground, put it onto a truck, I take the truck to a puddling site in town, and check if there’s opal in that.

Narrator: The equipment needed to mine and the cost to register your claim can be extremely expensive.

Frederick: Really, if you wanted to rock up here and be serious, it’d probably … need $150,000 to $100,000 in your pocket to have a go.

Narrator: But buying the equipment doesn’t guarantee that miners will find black opal.

Frederick: Some people will go, “Oh, there’s definitely money there, because next door they got $200,000 and there was a bit of color drilled up here. It’s got to have come over.” And there’s a whole epic story of why there should be opal there, and you go and dig there, and it’s not.

Narrator: Miners search for areas in the rock with trace amounts of opal. They follow these spots, called “nobbies,” hoping to find more opal deeper in the rock.

Frederick: You’ll keep going in a straight line till the trace runs out, and then come back where there was trace in the wall, go left and right, and then if that stops, then you come back and do it again. And you can come back and do it again. So you’ve always got that in the back of your head, you know, “When do I leave, how long do I stay, have I stayed too long? I’m wasting time, I’m wasting money for my next patch.”

There’s a nobby there. When you’re in a really good pocket, see how these nobbies are sitting close like that together? They can be like a cluster, like a bunch of grapes. They’re all sitting around each other, and they’ve all got color. Hear that? [scraping] See that sound? It’s like glass. So, you get that big one out, there we go. Doesn’t have any value. Common black opal.

Narrator: Opal is formed when silica-rich groundwater hardens in rock over millions of years. Large silica spheres within the stone diffract light, creating vibrant colors. That play of color makes each gem unique. But for miners like Frederick, digging for black opal is a gamble.

Frederick: The human factor is the biggest factor in finding opal. If you’ve got a piggy bank of $10,000 or $20,000 and then all of a sudden in one month or two months you’ve blown all of that budget because you’ve had breakdowns and you’ve had things occur that you didn’t think of, and then you go, “Well, I’m $20,000 down. What do I do here?”

I’ve been full-time mining for about over 45 years, and quite often I say to myself, “How did you do it? How did you survive that long making it your only job?” I’ve done … I’ve done good. Not great. I haven’t been in the millions. I haven’t been up there in the fantasy pocket, you know?

Narrator: Once rough opal is extracted and processed from the dirt, it has to be cut and polished. This is when the real value of the gem is determined.

Jo Lindsay: A black opal can vary from … starting at maybe $1,000 a carat for run of your mill and going right up to tens of thousands of dollars for that really exquisite top quality. The main stone is 241 carats. A few thousand dollars a carat wouldn’t be unreasonable. A lot of money. [laughs]

Narrator: The color, brightness, and patterns can all influence the price of black opal.

Jo: What you’re looking for in the best-quality opal is a black stone with really bright color and as much red and other colors as possible. So, the most valuable black opal of all is a really bright red stone on a very black base that just glows. And you don’t see them very often at all.

Narrator: That lack of supply is a huge driver for the price of black opal. We can barely keep up with the demand at the moment. As soon as you find a gem-quality stone, you know you’ve got a buyer for it.

Narrator: Between 2005 and 2006, approximately $30 million of opal was mined at Lightning Ridge. And for fans of black opal, there’s simply nothing else like it. It’s just a magic stone, and when I came to Lightning Ridge, just the beauty of it captivated me.

Frederick: It’s an awesome job. I would love to find two or three more good claims, like, one more good patch, get rid of the debts that we have, and set it up and offer the opportunity for my son to take over the job.

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Why pule donkey cheese is the most expensive cheese in the world

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Pule donkey cheese is the most expensive cheese in the world. Produced by only one farm in the world, pule will cost you about $600 for a single pound. Making it requires more time and effort than most other cheeses. You need over 6 1/2 gallons of donkey’s milk just to make 1 kilogram of cheese. That’s 2 1/2 times more than what you need to make mozzarella. So, how does pule compare to other types of cheese? And why is it so expensive?

Even in the diverse world of cheese, pule is unique. There’s only one place in the world that makes it, and that’s on this farm in the Zasavica Special Nature Reserve. Slobodan Simić founded the reserve 24 years ago in Serbia. It’s one of just three areas in all of former Yugoslavia that protects a special endangered breed of Balkan donkey. Pule is made with 60% donkey milk and 40% goat milk, and it requires months and many donkeys to produce it.

Slobodan Simić: Everything was by accident, and nothing was by accident. Our main idea about donkeys was to save this species, because the number of donkeys in Serbia was less than 1,000. That’s when I decided to build the first farm for dairy donkeys. The focus was on the dairy donkeys. And when we reached 200 donkeys, we had a surplus of milk, I thought that we should also make cheese.

Narrator: There are only about 20 donkeys that produce milk on the farm at a time. And even then, each one won’t produce much. Each donkey is milked carefully by hand three times a day. If the farmers don’t empty all of the milk, the donkeys won’t continue making it.

Slobodan Simić: We’ve tried to milk them by machine, but that has turned out to be impossible. Because a donkey is not made like a cow, to give milk, only her baby can suck it. So when we tried to put on the milking machine, it would block the milk.

Narrator: Today, farmers care for 250 donkeys, but they can’t always take milk from all of them. Similar to cows, a female donkey will only produce milk once it’s had a baby. And each one carries a baby for a year and two weeks. Then farmers must wait another three months, once the baby has taken milk for itself, before they can begin gathering their own to make cheese. They need 6.6 gallons of milk in total to make just 1 kilogram of cheese. And a donkey produces under 1 gallon of milk per day. That’s far less than what comes from a cow, which can produce as much as 15 gallons of milk a day.

Each donkey will only produce milk for six months. Then you must wait another year to collect milk from that same donkey again. Pule is only sold on this farm and a few others the reserve partners with, another factor that ups the final value. The farm can produce between 50 and 70 kilograms of cheese a year, but Slobodan only ever sells about a third of that. And it’s not just because of pule’s staggering price. You couldn’t legally buy pule cheese in some parts of the world, even if you wanted to.

Slobodan Simić: This milk is only consumed unboiled, fresh, which is an additional problem for the placement of this milk to the EU market, because unpasteurized milk can’t be sold in the EU. But if you pasteurize it, you’ll lose all of those precious ingredients, and then you have something that’s not valuable.

Narrator: Technically, pule cheese can be produced with milk from any type of donkey, and therefore any farm that raises donkeys. But there’s one major roadblock. Just having donkey’s milk doesn’t mean you have all you need to make this cheese. Pule is made in a very specific way, using a recipe only Slobodan and one other person in the world knows. It’s because donkey milk contains less fat than the milk of other animals, which means it holds less of the protein casein that allows many other cheeses to coagulate on their own.

The recipe requires goat milk and a secret mix of additives and bacteria. This is what allows the milk to form curds, an essential stage of any cheesemaking process. Without this, it wouldn’t be possible to make pule at all.

Slobodan Simić: No one can make it. Not just at home, but well-known milk experts from many countries have tried to make it, and they have failed. That’s because of the additional bacteria and substances invented by our expert that succeeded in coagulating the milk, which is known to have little casein for coagulation. Many have tried, but no one managed to make it.

Narrator: The cheese is finally placed into 50-gram molds to age for a few days. Once removed from the molds, it’s set in another room to age for at least a month more. The final product is crumbly and soft with a rich flavor.

Slobodan Simić: Genuine, unique, and special.

Narrator: The cost of preserving the donkey species is another element to keep in mind when considering pule’s huge value. Slobodan must maintain the land, buy food for the donkeys, and hire workers to care for them. In a year, he spends about $100,000 just to keep the farm running. And unless producing pule becomes easier or someone else in the world discovers how to make it, nothing is likely to bring down the price of this incredibly rare Serbian cheese.

Slobodan Simić: In life, there are moments when you discover something and you feel that it is the time to dedicate yourself to that cause. That’s what I’ve done. I’ve never regretted this decision, and I’m very happy that I was able to build a reserve like this, along with my friends and companions.

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A pound of cinnamon quills can cost $27 – here’s why it’s one of the most expensive spices

  • Ceylon cinnamon is made from the dried inner bark of a tree native to Sri Lanka.
  • One pound of these quills can cost $27. That’s because it’s difficult and costly to produce.
  • Even some of the most experienced cinnamon peelers can only make a few pounds of quills a day.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Following is a transcription of the video.

Narrator: Ceylon cinnamon is native to just one region of the world, and producing it requires hours of delicate work. Even the most skilled workers can make only a few pounds of quills a day. One pound of cinnamon quills can cost $27, but not all spices labeled cinnamon are the Ceylon variety. Many in the Western market are actually cheaper types of cinnamon called cassia. So what makes Ceylon cinnamon so favorable? And why is it so expensive?

Ceylon cinnamon is named after the old British name for Sri Lanka, and it is often considered “real” cinnamon. It is made from the dried inner bark of a tree called Cinnamomum verum. Growing these trees is an investment. Farmers must wait four years after a tree is planted before they can begin harvesting. At harvest, workers break down the branches early in the morning, when the bark is still moist. Ruwanpura must continuously care for the trees throughout the year, otherwise the branches won’t be suitable for making cinnamon at all. The rigorous nature of this job has only just begun.

Now peelers must do the delicate and essential work of stripping the inner bark of each branch by hand. This is the most labor-intensive part of the process, and it’s not as easy as simply shaving the outside of the bark as you would the skin from a potato. To produce the most valuable cinnamon, the bark must be made extremely thin. The thinner the quills are, the more costly they will be. Ruwanpura has spent 40 years mastering this skill. Soon after the bark is removed, each piece dries under the sun and curls up within a few minutes. After drying, the small pieces are stuffed inside a straight piece of bark, forming one 42-inch quill. By the end of a long day, workers will have only produced about 3 pounds of quills. Those then need to dry for three to four days before they’re packed into bales and sent off to a separate facility. That’s where there’ll be graded and officially priced based on their width.

PDRomanis and Sons buys bales of cinnamon from various peelers. At its facility, quills are graded over 10 scales. The most valuable quills are classified as Alba. It takes a peeler four times longer to produce one kilogram of Alba than to produce the same quantity of lower grades. The leftover, smaller cuts are turned into ground cinnamon and make up the cheapest form. But even the most valuable quills are often confused with a more widely accessible and cheaper variety of cinnamon.

Cassia comes from another kind of cinnamon tree, called Cinnamomum cassia, and it doesn’t require as much time or effort to make. Cassia bark is hard and sturdy, so quills are made as one curled piece of bark without the fillings. Ceylon cinnamon, on the other hand, is tender and soft and needs those inner layers to prevent the quill from breaking. Cassia is very fragrant and brown, whereas real cinnamon is paler, with a milder flavor. Cassia also contains, on average, higher levels of coumarin, an organic compound that can cause liver damage if consumed in large amounts. This is why researchers say Ceylon cinnamon is ultimately the healthier option. But if you’re buying cinnamon in the US, it can be hard to tell the difference between them.

Part of the confusion between the two comes from the use of the label cinnamon. In the US, it is legal to label both Ceylon and cassia cinnamon as cinnamon, while in the UK and other countries, cassia must be labeled cassia and cannot be classified simply as cinnamon. Regardless of what it’s called in the US, consumers worldwide prefer the real thing. In 2018, Ceylon cinnamon accounted for more global revenue than any other variety. And even as demand is expected to grow through 2025, climate change already poses a serious threat to cinnamon production. In recent years, Sri Lanka has experienced droughts over several months. And these long periods of dry weather can kill cinnamon trees, which need marshy, wet soil to survive. There’s also a shortage of cinnamon peelers, another threat to production that’s likely to drive up prices. This industry relies on experienced peelers who can practice the difficult work of making these quills over many years.

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