Saffron is considered as the highest- value or the costliest spice in the world. It is present in the form of threads and is derived from the flower of “Crocus Sativus”. The threads, when collected from the flower are dried and used as a seasoning and colouring agent in the food.
So, what is so special about saffron that makes it so expensive?
It is observed that saffron is expensive because it is a labour intensive crop. To produce saffron, the 3 delicate crimson stigmas located in the centre of the flower must be painstakingly handpicked, cut from the white style and then carefully laid on a sieve and cured over heat to deepen the flavor.
Saffron is produced is a number of countries like Iran, Spain, Afghanistan and India, of which Iran accounts for almost 90% of the production. The term Saffron has been derived from the Persian word “Zarparan” which means “the flower with golden petals”.
The growing and cultivation of saffron is a long and important process involving a number of climatic conditions. The plants fare poorly in shady conditions; they grow best in full sunlight. Planting for saffron is mostly done in June in the Northern Hemisphere, where corms are lodged 7–15 cm (3–6 in) deep and its roots, stems, and leaves can develop between October and February. In short, planting depth, corm spacing and climate are critical factors in determining the yields of saffron.
The sargol and negin are the highest quality parts of the saffron stigma. Picrocin is the compound that gives saffron its bitter taste whereas Safranal is responsible for saffron’s floral aroma.
One freshly picked flower yields an average 30 mg of fresh saffron or 7 mg dried saffron. So, it takes roughly 150 flowers to produce 1 gm of dry saffron; a kilogram requires 110,000–170,000 flowers. Forty hours of labour are needed to pick 150,000 flowers.
Dry saffron is highly sensitive to fluctuating pH levels, and rapidly breaks down chemically in the presence of light and oxidising agents. It must, therefore, be stored away in air-tight containers to minimise contact with atmospheric oxygen. Saffron is somewhat more resistant to heat. Vivid crimson colouring, slight moistness, elasticity, and lack of broken-off thread debris are all traits of fresh saffron.