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A few months back, a bunch of grapes sold for ¥1,100,000 (S$14,682). With only 30 grapes in the bunch, each grape – the size of a ping pong ball – was worth ¥36,667 (S$490), an eye-watering price for what must surely be a mouth-watering taste. The Ruby Roman grapes, from Japan, now hold the record for the most expensive grapes ever sold, taking their place among the pantheon of extravagantly priced fruit.
With quest for perfection innate to their culture, it’s little wonder that the Japanese are responsible for all of the fruits on our list of the most expensive fruits, with a notable exception anglais. Fruits are given as gifts in Japan, for honour and social prestige, and therefore must be impeccable. In fact, Sembikiya, the luxury fruit store in Tokyo, looks more like a jewellery boutique than a fruit stall, where nine out of ten fruits sold are not for consumption, but admiration. (Sembikiya is also home to a very popular dessert parlour).
So from grand globes of grapes to splendid slices of sumo oranges, here are the world’s most expensive fruits, where every morsel is worth its weight in gold.
1. Dekopon Citrus
Record price: ¥1,300 (S$17)
Known in the US as the amusing ‘sumo orange’ – for its large, squat body and protruding bump resembling a sumo wrestler’s chonmage (topknot) – the dekopon is a hybrid of a kiyomi orange and a ponkan mandarin that was developed in Japan in 1971. Sweet with the firmest of flesh, the dekopon tastes like the brilliant sunshine of summer encased within an orange sphere.
2. Ruby Roman Grapes
Record price: ¥1,100,000 (S$14,680)
Grown in Ishikawa, Japan, Ruby Roman grapes do not have a long, prestigious history. It is, actually, incredibly young. Appearing only in 2008, Ruby Romans were the result of cultivating prized Fujiminori grapes for 16 years, creating a deep red, ping-pong ball-sized grape that is crisp and sweet. Each grape is checked to guarantee quality, weighing at least 20 grams and containing a minimum sugar content of 18 per cent to be called a Ruby Roman. A premium Ruby Roman class exists – at least 30 grams per grape, with the entire bunch weighing at least 700 grams – and it was a Ruby Roman bunch of this class that sold for a record ¥1,100,000 in July 2016.
3. Densuke Watermelon
Record price: ¥650,000 (S$8,675)
A jet black, stripeless watermelon grown only in Hokkaido, the Densuke watermelon has a crisp, crunchy texture quite unlike foamy mush that carries the fruit’s intense sweetness perfectly. Only about 10,000 examples are harvested each year, with the first 100 of the season being particularly prized; and fetching record prices.
4. Pineapples from the Lost Garden of Heligan
Record price: £10,000 (S$16,915)
The only non-Japanese fruit on our list, pineapples from the Lost Garden of Heligan have a curious history. In the days before steam power, transporting tropical fruit to Europe was prohibitive, with the fruit rotting before it arrived. The solution was to grow the fruits locally. How on earth does one plant tropical fruits in a temperate climate in the 18th century? For pineapples, Victorian gardeners in the UK found a solution – the pineapple pit, a trench warmed by enormous amounts of fresh manure and urine-soaked hay, requiring incredible amounts of manual labour. The only remaining pineapple pit in Europe is located in the Lost Garden of Heligan, a botanical garden in Cornwall. Its harvest is highly prized, and never sold, given instead to garden staff as thanks.
5. Sekai Ichi Apple
Record price: ¥2,100 (S$28)
Sekai, in Japanese, means ‘world’. Ichi means ‘one’ or ‘first’. Sekai ichi, combined, means the ‘best in the world.’ The apple that bears this name is not modestly named, and is no ordinary apple either. An apple cultivar that is a soft pale crimson tinged with flecks of gold, Sekai Ichi apples are noted not just for their crunch, sweetness and juice, but also for their size – growing up to a circumference of 45cm and weighing nearly a kilo.
6. Taiyo no Tamago Mango
Record price: ¥300,000 (S$4,000)for a pair
Now we come to a different stratum of fruit pricing, well into four digits per fruit. Although regular examples of these fruits are still costly, perfect specimens can fetch stratospheric prices. Take for example the Taiyo no Tamago Mango from Miyazaki in Japan. These mangoes must weigh at least 350 grams and have a minimum sugar content governed by the Miyazaki Agricultural Economic Federation’s guidelines to be sold as Taiyo no Tamago (Egg of the Sun). Why? Well, in 2014, a pair of these highly-prized Taiyo no Tamago was sold for ¥300,000 at the first auction of the season.
7. Yubari Melon
Record price: ¥3,000,000 (S$40,000)
A hybrid of Earl’s Favourite and Burpee’s ‘Spicy’ cantaloupes, the Yubari Melon is the flagbearer for expensive fruits. Cultivated in Yubari, Hokkaido, extreme care goes into tending each melon: during growing, all other buds are excised from the plant so all the nutrients go into intensifying a single fruit. The melons themselves must be perfectly spherical, and flawless examples are the ultimate form of gift in Japan. In May 2016, a pair of melons sold at auction for ¥3,000,000, eclipsing the previous record of ¥2,500,000 (S$32,000) set in 2008.