We all need food for sustenance and good health. But it’s also something that we all rely on for enjoyment. Even if your city isn’t revered as a global hub of food diversity, (maybe there’s only one or two ethnic restaurants), something we all can recognize is a means of connection. We develop relationships and build ties with other communities through food.
In the very least, it’s clear how each culture has a distinct take on food. Different cuisines. Different tastes. Perhaps, it’s the shared experience of food which makes one of the greatest gestures of humanity.
Furthermore, it’s interesting that each ethnic/national cuisine (typically) has a specialty food item. Some type of rare or exotic food which gives added definition to their meals. Here we review 8 of the rarest, most exotic, or culturally unique foods in the world.
This special review comes handy with a great health fact (or 2) about each one on the list. And granted, more than one of these come from Japan (including a very rare form of matcha)! But trust us, there’s some surprises here! You’ll be sure to learn something...
In no particular order:
We’ll start, and end in Japan. First is one of the world’s most unique, and most expensive varietals of watermelon. There are fewer than 10,000 of the black Densuke watermelon grown each year. In demand for their short supply, they’re also favored for their dark color, void of any of the melon’s typical outer characteristics.
Harvested exclusively in Hokkaido, these are some of the most expensive in Japan, and likely the world. Starting at around $250, these melons have no stripes, no spots. Where size and lack of blemishes can raise prices past $6k.
Luxury aside, these well-cared for fruits are also healthy to eat. Though many of us won’t get the opportunity with this exact variety, the Densuke Watermelon shares many of the same benefits of all watermelon.
High levels of polyphenols, lycopene and other carotenoids. Along with other nutritional benefits, these make watermelon great sources of antioxidants. 
Across the world there’s a wealth of unique spices and seasonings. Some of which approach, or exceed the weight-for-weight cost of gold. Fennel Pollen is one example where rarity (and price) stem from the labor-intensive, hand-picking of the delicate pollen. Costs range upwards of $250 by the pound.
Cultivation is precise, and crops have a limited yield. Fennel pollen started as a regional spice in the areas surrounding Italy. Though, its robust flavor grows more essential each day to chefs around the world. Renown has grown steadily, now a popular choice to adorn the flavor in a range of cuisine, commonly seafood.
And yes, the flavor is akin to the actual fennel seed, though the pollen itself has more depth, and more concentrated effects on the food. In terms of health benefits, fennel pollen has great potential. Extracts from fennel seeds are regarded for antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties.
And it’s suggested that the pollen is more potent in these ways. Suggested to represent a greater concentration of those same health benefits, including as a digestive aid. 
Yubari King Cantaloupe
We’re back in Japan for yet another rare melon. Weird, right? The Yubari King melon is a hybridized form of cantaloupe. This varietal is limited in supply, grown only under greenhouse conditions. They are cultivated only in Yubari, a town near the better known city of Sapporo.
The Yubari King has a critically acclaimed sweetness, and an unusually smooth appearance. It’s unique flavor profile is argued to stem from the volcanic, nutrient rich soil in the area. This rare fruit also surpasses the Densuke watermelon in terms of sale value and limited supply.
It’s also believed to contain higher concentrations of nutrients/natural health compounds than the average melon. Due to the nutrient rich soil and special care, that includes tocopherols, lutein, healthy fatty acids, antioxidants, and more. 
Moving into the realm of vegetables, hop-asparagus (or ‘hop-shoots’) are a type of young, off-shoot of hop bines. Unlike ‘hops’ which are flowers used as a bittering and stabilizing agent in brewing beer, these asparagus-like offshoots are a culinary item which can be pickled, steamed, or sauted. Of the latter two, they may be served doused in lemon sauce.
Their rarity comes per the limited yield of hop bines, and the slow, meticulous hand-harvesting. Such limited supply gives them a hefty price tag, reports ranging up to $1,000 per pound.
Such an odd vegetable, many of us may’ve never heard of it. So what might be in it for our health? At least one study evaluated the profile of natural compounds. It found that hop-asparagus contain high levels of flavonoids and other potent antioxidants. And concluded that they offer a novel source for bioactive nutraceuticals. 
Perhaps better-known to the above, truffles decorate the culinary world with powerful flavor. They were originally foraged with the aid of pigs, which would identify the fungus’ fruiting body beneath the soil.
This type of mushroom comes as a dense, nugget-like delectable. And is revered for the ability to confer powerful flavor to dishes worldwide. Common uses include the flavoring of cooking oils, or in the creation of decadent sauces.
Its versatility and difficult cultivation are what rank it on this list. Furthermore, it’s come under study by agricultural and health researchers. Numerous therapeutic compounds have been identified in the fungus. Reported with potential for immune-regulating, antioxidant, and antimicrobial activities within the body. 
You may have guessed it, but saffron also makes this list. It’s similar to Fennel Pollen in that it’s harvested from the inside of the plant’s flower. It also happens to be the spice in reference when comparing its weight to gold.
It’s available world-wide, but at a steep cost. A single ounce of the spice can range between $500 and $1,000. And it’s estimated that more than 50,000 individual flowers are required to cultivate 1lb of the spice.
Such demand refers to its pleasant flavor, where it’s a vital component of many seasonings. Including traditional curry sauces in India. Yet, with flavor aside, the potential health properties are also exciting.
Its rich history has made it the subject of many studies. Numerous which have identified saffron’s therapeutic potential for many common diseases. Now, it’s believed to support the reduction of high cholesterol, inflammation, and risk of cardiovascular disease. 
Circling back to Japan for these final two. We’ll first ask, are you a fan of wasabi? This essential accompaniment to sushi has a surprising background. Starting with the likely fact that you’ve never tried the real thing.
The vast majority of wasabi served in the U.S. is actually a blend of powdered horseradish and food coloring. This cooling, yet spicy flavor is mere mimicry to the real deal.
In actuality, wasabi ranks as one of (maybe #1) the most expensive crops to produce, worldwide! Commercial cultivation has mostly failed to bring down the cost. As the growing conditions are near impossible to reproduce on a large-scale.
That means the supply of true wasabi is bound to just a few, very limited commercial operations and natural foraging. Hopefully that changes in the future, as those who’ve compared the impostor wasabi to the real-deal tell us how delicious it is.
While another great reason to hope for wider access lies in potential health benefits. The wide cultural acclaim in Japan has made it the highlight of a number of studies. Some which identify and test for health properties.
Findings include unique polyphenols, as well as certain compounds which can inhibit the synthesis of nitric oxide (NO). This feature has applications in disease management, and more. 
Master's Blend Matcha
The absolute highest grades of matcha green tea rank near the top of the world’s most exotic and rare foods. The highest quality matcha is classified as ‘Ceremonial Grade,’ literally meaning fit for ceremony.
In Japan, the history of tea ceremony dates back nearly 1,000 years. Ceremonial quality was reserved for these ritual purposes, though the formal ceremony has become less frequent. Now this high quality of matcha is available for daily drinking, and a very limited amount is exported annually from Japan.
Further, the term ‘Ceremonial Grade’ still represents a range of quality from high, to the absolute best in the world. Also called Master’s Blend, this matcha is tirelessly cultivated by only the most esteemed tea-growers.
Each leaf chosen to be part of this blend is individually reviewed; a representation in itself of ancient tradition. Including Zen mindfulness which dates back to 1100AD.
This quality of tea can range up to $1,500 by the pound. And it also symbolizes the highest form of green tea’s health benefits.