Gourmet food is all about quality ingredients, detailed preparation and exquisite presentation. But if you’re a certified foodie who loves to eat out, it might surprise you to learn that many of the gourmet entrees and specialty condiments you order in restaurants contain inferior ingredients. Moreover, many of these dishes can be made for cheap at home.
Gourmet food is like most things in that you get what you pay for. But knowing what you’re paying for is important. Here’s a list of the most overpriced gourmet foods and ingredients.
1. Wedge Salad
This steakhouse staple comprised of iceberg lettuce, dressing, blue cheese, tomatoes and bacon is included on many gourmet restaurant menus. Given the minimal ingredients, the wedge salad’s approximate price of $10 is excessive. In fact, many eateries mark this item up at least 20 times, said Peter Chastain, executive chef of California’s Prima Ristorante, in an interview with Reader’s Digest.
Save several bucks, and make the iceberg wedge salad yourself by cutting an iceberg lettuce into quarters and adding homemade blue cheese dressing, applewood bacon crumbles and chopped sweet tomatoes. For the price of one wedge salad served in an upscale steakhouse, you’ll get four salads.
Unless you live near the Gulf of Maine, which nets 94 percent of the lobster in the U.S., enjoying this shellfish can be expensive. A typical lobster dinner will set you back about $45, and soups and pastas made with the seafood fetch high menu prices, as well.
It’s all a little comical when you consider the fact that lobsters were once fed to servants and prisoners in Colonial New England. However, the lobster’s image has evolved over the years, and now the once barely tolerated crustacean is considered a premium menu item.
The problem is, unless they’re serving whole lobsters in their shells, restaurants will sometimes substitute other seafood in dishes. Incredibly, a 2016 Inside Edition report uncovered that 35 percent of tested lobster dishes from 28 restaurants contained cheaper seafood, like pollock. Even Red Lobster’s lobster bisque included langostino and not lobster meat as the menu claimed.
Find Out: How to Eat Out and Still Save Money
3. Kobe Beef
Currently, only about 3,000 head of cattle can accurately be labeled Kobe, which means that many of the restaurants claiming to serve the premium beef, don’t. To be Kobe beef, meat must come from Tajima cattle, which are born and bred in Japan’s Hyogo region.
Known for its distinctive marbling, flavor and tenderness, authentic Kobe beef is served at only nine restaurants in the U.S. and costs up to $25 an ounce. Moreover, Popilskis said that whatever is labeled, sold and priced as Kobe in the other American restaurants is fake. More likely, the meat passed off as Kobe is Wagyu, a term that refers to all Japanese beef.
“Another item that’s a huge rip-off are Kobe sliders,” Popilskis said. “Restaurants typically sell Kobe hamburgers for $15 to $20, but these places are just using some other combination of beef. Someone at home can easily make sliders with the same taste as what’s being served as Kobe for a fraction of the price.”
Sure, you can eat them smoked, baked, stewed or steamed, but it’s raw oysters that garner the most culinary fans. However, with each oyster priced between $2 and $3, the cost of a dozen-oyster appetizer is not insignificant. Additionally, oysters are prone to substitutions, and diners often find themselves purchasing lesser-quality seafood without knowing it.
Take, for example, Blue Point Oysters harvested from the Long Island Sound in New York and Connecticut. Once a favored oyster due to its flavor profile, the Blue Point was sold at premium prices — and just as often substituted with lesser-quality oysters.
If you want to be sure you’re eating the oysters you ordered, ask the restaurant to see the shipping tag, which shows an oyster’s freshness and origin. Most quality restaurants will show these to you upon request.
5. Truffle Oil
A rare edible fungus, the truffle is a well-known delicacy often served shaved over dishes like risotto and other high-end entrees. However, instead of expensive fresh truffles, many restaurants offer truffle oil as a flavoring on french fries, potatoes and even pizza. The only problem is that most truffle oils don’t contain actual truffles.
“[Truffle oil] is a laboratory creation, made in the same manner as perfume, most often from a processed byproduct of formaldehyde,” said Larry Olmsted, the author of “Real Food, Fake Food,” in a recent interview with “The Diane Rehm Show.”
Find Out: How to Make Truffle Oil Guacamole
Given that fresh white truffles sell for about $200 an ounce, the availability of white truffle oil for less than $20 is certainly suspect. Many chefs reportedly despise the use of truffle oil in cooking because it lends an artificial smell and taste to food, but it continues to be used and passed off as gourmet to unsuspecting diners.
6. Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
Real parmigiano reggiano cheese is made in Northern Italy, and its production is subject to some pretty strict Italian laws and EU regulations. The resulting cheese is aged for at least one year and comes in a wheel measuring almost a foot in thickness and weighing between 80 pounds and 90 pounds. The real deal costs thousands of dollars and is easy to spot, thanks to its namesake rind and pin-dot pattern embedded in the crust.
However, this high-end cheese is often faked in both its whole and grated forms — and FDA testing even discovered that some counterfeit versions contained wood pulp.
To ensure you’re eating actual parmigiano reggiano cheese from Parma, Olmsted recommended looking for the Protected Destination of Origin (PDO) label, which guarantees the cheese’s authenticity.
If you don’t find the cheese you desire when eating out at your favorite restaurant, look for it at gourmet cheese shops or even your local supermarket. As long as you confirm the trademark rind and PDO seal, you can be relatively sure that you’re buying the real thing.