How Much You'll Pay for Some of the World's Weirdest Commodities
Commodities trading is dominated by common materials you hear about every day: crude oil, gasoline, gold, silver, wheat, cattle, coffee... the list can get long.
In fact, some investors have made a fortune capitalizing on the price changes of "obscure" commodities with high demand trends.
That got us thinking, what are some of the most obscure commodities traded in the world, and how much are they worth? The question led us to some fascinating finds.
Here are 10 of the world's weirdest commodities, and their price per pound, for easy comparison.
Water -- $0.00018 / lb
Water is generally a bargain. The average price of water in the United States is about $1.50 for 1,000 gallons. After a little math wizardry, that comes out to about $0.00018/lb. What's so weird about that?
Believe or not, there is a bottle of water that actually costs $55. Bling H2O is a "luxury" bottled water developed by Hollywood writer and producer, Kevin Boyd. So what makes it so special?
Hint: Not the water.
Bling H2O is bottled from natural springs in Dandridge, Tennessee and undergoes a nine-stage refining process. Pretty impressive -- but not impressive enough to beat out Manhattan tap water in a taste test.
One look at the product's packaging answers your question. With bottles made out of frosted glass and crystals, even the company admits you're paying for the brand lifestyle and image. A bottle of The Dubai Collection "The Ten Thousand," made with Swarovski crystals, will set you back about $2,600.
Photo courtesy of Flickr: bbaunach.
Black Sunflower Seeds -- $0.60 / lb
Bird feeder enthusiasts and baseball players alike were in sticker shock this spring when the price of black sunflower seeds jumped +40% in a matter of months. In January, a 50-pound bag of seeds sold for $16. Today, that same bag sells for $30.
Price hikes for commodities like sunflower seeds can sneak up on retailers and consumers because it is such a small market. If stores don't keep large inventories on-hand, they will be hit by the price hike quickly and pass it on to their customers.
More than half of the U.S. sunflower crop is crushed and used to make oil and meal. The remaining crops are split between birdseed, baking products and snacks.
Photo courtesy of Flickr: Loop_oh.
Coca Leaves -- $0.68 to $1.08 / lb
Yes, coca leaves are the natural source of cocaine and are therefore outlawed in the U.S. But coca leaves are also used medicinally -- and legally -- by millions of people worldwide. Coca leaves can be chewed or brewed into tea, and they're used to combat everything from altitude sickness to hunger pangs.
At least 145,000 tons of coca leaves are grown and picked every year in South America, and is one of the key economic drivers of the entire continent. Most of the annual yield is used to produce up to 200 tons of cocaine.
But while cocaine is known for it's high street value (click here to see The 9 Most Surprising Things Worth More Than Their Weight in Gold), the raw material it is made from is anything but expensive. In highland Colombia, for example, it costs $27 for 25 pounds of coca leaves (about $1.08/lb), while a picker in the Ecuadorian Amazon can expect to be paid about $0.68 per pound.
Red Blood Cells -- $371 / lb
Once collected, whole blood is generally broken down into three components: platelets, plasma and red blood cells. The most expensive component is red blood cells, which are an important ingredient in transfusion medicine. In fact, the name "Red Blood Cells" (abbreviated RBC) is a standardized product in the United States.
RBCs are used to help restore the oxygen carrying capacity to the blood of a patient suffering from anemia, blood loss or other medical problems. Fresh RBCs are kept refrigerated for up to 42 days, while frozen RBCs can be stored for up to 10 years.
A survey by the National Institute of Health concluded that one unit of red blood cells averages about $210 in the U.S. Assuming the average unit contains 225 milliliters of RBCs, we can perform some rough conversions to reach a price per pound of about $371.36.
Photo courtesy of Flickr -- Figgy Studio Assistant.
Kopi Luwak Coffee -- $100 to $500 / lb
Most of us drink the $5.99/lb swill served up in our office break rooms, but for the true connoisseur, only coffee beans that have passed through the intestines of an Asian palm civet will do. Kopi Luwak is brewed from ripe coffee beans that have run through the digestive track of a civet, which is a catlike animal native to Southeast Asia.
I won't give you the details of the whole "production process," but suffice it to say the beans are washed five times and dried in the sun for six days before they're roasted.
According to those brave enough to try Kopi Luwak (and pay the $30 per cup for the privilege), it has a rich, earthy flavor attributed to the civet's desire to snack on only the juiciest coffee beans, which then undergo a 15-hour fermentation process in the civet's stomach.
Photo courtesy of www.culinarylicious.com.
Black Printer Ink -- $356 / lb
We've seen it throughout the age of modern manufacturing: sell the main item for dirt cheap and then jack up the prices of all its accessories. It’s a century-old business model that is still used today with razors and razor blades, cell phones and subscription plans, and video game consoles and video games.
But one of the most outrageous, and successful, applications of this model is with printer ink cartridges. While printers are practically given away, printer ink cartridges are sold at obscene prices.
In fact, the going rate for black ink is about 1.42 ounces for $32.99, or a whopping $356/lb. So think twice the next time you want to print out that 17-page business email.
Photo courtesy of Flickr: osde8info.
U.S. One-Dollar Bills -- $454 / lb
Made of 75% cotton and 25% linen, the U.S. one-dollar bill features George Washington and our national motto, "In God We Trust."
And while a one-dollar bill can barely buy you a bottle of water these days (see Slide #1), a pound of one-dollar bills will buy you a swimming pool's worth of water (unless it's Bling H2O).
That's because a U.S. $1 bill weighs about one gram. There are 453.5924 grams in a pound, so after a wave of our math wand, one pound of one-dollar bills equals approximately $453.59.
Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
Arsenic -- $1,450 / lb
Arsenic is a highly toxic chemical element that occurs naturally in minerals and as a pure elemental crystal. In even small doses, it is poisonous to multi-cellular life.
Despite its high toxicity, however, arsenic is an essential element for human physiology, with a level of 0.00001% needed for growth and a healthy nervous system. It has also been a versatile element utilized in society.
Arsenic, in its many forms, is currently used in wood preservatives, insecticides, animal food, medicines, ammunition, chemical warfare, semiconductors, and alloys to strengthen metals. Most arsenic is obtained as a by-product of processing gold, silver and copper.
Though you'll probably have to answer a bunch of questions, it is possible to buy arsenic in the U.S. The going rate is about $320 for a 99.5%-pure, 100 gram sample of arsenic, which converts to about $1,450 per pound.
Photo courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org.
Saffron -- $500 to $5,000 / lb
The world's most expensive spice by weight, saffron is derived from the flower saffron crocus, a specimen native to Southwest Asia.
The spice is found specifically in the red stigmas located in the plant's stalks. The red stigmas are picked by hand, dried quickly and sealed in airtight containers. Dried stigmas are used as seasoning and coloring agents in cooking, and have a distinctive bitter taste.
To get one pound of dry saffron, it requires 50,000-75,000 flowers, the equivalent of an area the size of a football field. 20 hours of labor are needed to pick a pound's worth of saffron. Due to this labor intensive process, saffron prices at wholesale and retail rates range from $500-$5,000/lb.
Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
Caviar -- $3,855 to $5,783 / lb
Caviar, or sieved and lightly salted Sturgeon roe (fish eggs), is a commercially marketed, luxury delicacy that is eaten as a garnish or spread. The production process is simple: Stun the fish by clubbing it over the head and extract its ovaries. Yummy!
Traditionally, the term caviar is only used to describe sturgeon roe derived from the wild sturgeon species living in the Caspian and Black Sea. These authentic caviar types are called Beluga, Ossetra and Sevruga.
Significantly cheaper, non-traditional versions of caviar are sold nearly everywhere around the world, but according to the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization, "roe from any fish not belonging to the Acipenseriformes species are not caviar, but substitutes of caviar."
Depending on the quality, a pound of authentic caviar can reach prices between $3,855 and $5,783 per pound.
Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.