What's the strangest currency in the world?

Anna Allgaier

Think of this article as the currency equivalent of a David Attenborough documentary. But instead of going on an exploration to unearth a rare species of lizard, we’re going to take a look at some of the strangest and rarest currencies in the world. Does that make me David in this scenario? My ego likes to think so.

You may not have known (sorry for assuming) that some everyday items in your possession could be used as currency. You heard me. Whether it's cheese, bottle caps, or the minutes you have on your mobile phone, you could be a secret millionaire. Well, probably not, but here’s to hoping.

So join me as we take a look at some of the weird and wonderful ways people pay for things across the globe.

£ From parmigiano to pounds £

Strange, weird, wonderful currencies


It may not surprise you to know that we’ve been trading with food for centuries. The word for salary even comes from the Latin word for salt, “salarium.” Why? Because salt is one of the oldest ways we used to splash the cash in the Roman era and the Middle Ages.

But believe it or not, we still use food as money. In Italy, the Bredito Emiliano bank takes wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano as a security deposit for loans. This practice started in 1953 and still takes place to this day, with their warehouse holding up to 17,000 tons of the smelly wonder, at a value of around £144 million. Think about that next time you tell your waiter to keep going when they smother your pasta in the lovely stuff.

Cheese isn’t the only strange food currency out there. In the Solomon Islands, you can trade with a ball of turmeric wrapped in coconut fibres and in Mexico cacao can sit alongside coins in your wallet. Yummy.

The Canadian $10 bill

If you’ve ever popped over to the land that birthed two of the world’s favourite Justin’s (Bieber and Trudeau, of course) then you may have noticed that Canadians have very colourful money.

But the fact their cash looks like magic money aside, the country is home to a bill that sets itself apart from other money. In 2019, a $10 bill was introduced with a vertical design. Rogue. We love it.

Bottle caps in Cameroon

The year 2005 gave us The Black Eyed Peas classic “My Humps”, it gave us Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and it gave us Cameroon’s bottle caps currency.

Ok so, hear me out, sure, this one is on par with Mcdonald’s Monopoly and the prizes you get on Coca Cola caps, but in Cameroon in 2005 a local brewery kicked off a competition where people could win luxurious prizes like cars on their bottle caps.

Loads of other companies started to pick this up, and Cameroon quickly became a place where you could even pay for cab fare with a bottle cap. What a time to be alive.

Shell money in the Solomon Islands

Heard of a place called Langa Langa Lagoon? I hadn’t either, but my god do I want to say that name ten times.

This Solomon Island location has been using shell money as currency since 1200 BC according to archaeologists. In fact, one string of the stuff is the equivalent to 1,000 Solomon dollars with their value increasing as the shells become more and more rare.

Be right back, just digging through my jewellery drawer to find my gift shop bling.

Mobile phone minutes

If you haven’t topped up your phone since your teens, you may have forgotten mobile phone minutes were a thing. But, if like me, you’re still on Pay-as-you-go you’ll be pleased to know that in parts of the world you can trade your mobile phone minutes for goods, services and even cash.

Where you ask? Well, head on over to Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Zimbabwe and Romania.

The Quid Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination (QUID)

Since we’ll all likely be living on the Moon or Mars in a few years time you may want to get familiar with QUID. The Quid Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination is a space currency that the National Space Centre and the University of Leicester introduced in 2007.

The intergalactic coins are smooth in design so you don't damage your spacecraft and are made with teflon so they’re nice and sturdy.

2017 Norwegian krone

Slightly one-upping the Canadian vertical banknote (in my humble opinion), Norway introduced a pixelated banknote series in 2017 with a “sea” theme linking back to their Viking heritage. How avant garde.

Rai stones in Micronesia

About 500 years ago, Rai stones started to be used as currency on a beautiful little island called Yap. The stones that were traded often reached sizes as big as 12 ft and could weigh 1259,784 stone. Try getting that out of an ATM.

Hungary’s 100 Quintillion Pengo

Like a lot of countries, following the Second World War, Hungry faced inflation. So in 1946 when they faced their highest ever inflation rate, the country introduced what was referred to as the 100 Quintillion Pengo which was the largest valued banknote it ever introduced. In case you don’t know what a Quintillion looks like, it’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000. Now multiply that by 100. Lovely.

The value of 100 Quintillion Pengo was valued at approximately £0.15.

You can’t convert bottle caps to euros just yet using Wise, but you can send money across borders for less . Check it out here.

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