Written by – Kaitlynn from MIgardener
Saffron is one of the oldest and most culturally rich spices around today. People have used saffron for centuries for dyeing textiles, cooking, and even perfumery. It is also the worlds most expensive spice on the market. What is it about saffron that could possibly make it worth up to $3,800 dollars a pound?
Let’s take a look at what goes into the harvesting process of saffron. How has it been making people rich for centuries?
A Brief History:
Saffron was first recorded in a 7th century Assyrian botanical treatise and has been passed down in many traditional recipes. Iran now accounts for 93% of the worlds production of saffron. Native to Greece, saffron is the product of the harvesting the Crocus sativus, or saffron crocus. Each crocus produces three long red stigmas that receive nutrients to the flower. These stigmas are dried for their woodsy honey flavor and intoxicating aroma.
The saffron crocus is referenced in some Ancient Greek legends. Saffron was introduced to China and Eastern Asia in the 3rd century where it grew into a culturally iconic product. Saffron was making traders rich quick, which was bad for the aristocracy. The result of these tensions was a thirteen week long war, “The Saffron War”. Consequently, 13th century pirates were then inspired to target ships carrying saffron over gold any day. Later, in the 14th century saffron was used for it’s medicinal properties as an attempt to unsuccessfully treat the Black Death. However, chemicals that have been discovered in saffron are used in some modern medicines.
The process of production of the saffron crocus is complicated. To begin with, weather conditions must be just right in order for the delicate flowers to bloom. Heavy rain in springtime, hot sunny summers, and cold autumns are ideal conditions for growing these crocuses. Planting is ideal in early June. Secondly, the depth of planting and the space between each plant are both crucial steps to follow in order to receive the best harvest. The recommended measurements to plant the bulbs are 6 inches deep, with 0.8-1.2 inches between each flower. It is important that the soil is extremely rich with compost and other organic material. This holds moisture to the bulbs during hot weather.
Crocus’s are established throughout spring and summer in order to properly bloom during the chill of autumn, and will not reach a full blooming maturity until mid-October. When the crocus’s are in full bloom, they will normally fade as the day progresses and will only be in bloom for a maximum of two weeks. At midmorning when the flower is in full bloom as soon as the red stigmas are showing it is finally time to harvest the saffron. It takes approximately 50,000 flowers to harvest just a single pound of dried saffron. That’s about forty hours of labour. Because of the delicate structure and temperament of the flower, attempts to harvest saffron commercially have been unsuccessful over the years. This means it must be done by hand, which is no easy tast considering each flower must be plucked one by one.
As you can see, saffron is incredible difficult to grow and harvest. The reasons we don’t give up on it have everything to do with the traditions, history, and culture it represents. In something as seemingly insignificant as the stigmas on a crocus, this spice has certainly left it’s mark on the world.
Have you ever tried saffron? What were your thoughts, worth the price? Looking for a recipe to use saffron?
2 cups jasmine rice
1 cup water
2 whole garlic cloves peeled
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
10 saffron stigmas
2 Tbs. oil of choice
1/4 Tsp. salt
Add all the ingredients into a pot or rice cooker and steam until rice is tender (17-19 minutes). Fluff with a fork and enjoy.