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Saffron-High Price Spice

Updated on February 1, 2011

What is Saffron?

What is Saffron? That’s the most obvious question to ask if you don’t already know. I guess most people think of saffron as some kind of spice or flavouring, though I doubt if many people use it very often in their cooking.

Saffron is indeed a spice and has long been the most expensive spice in the world, as I write this you can buy 100 grams for $41 at Amazon not including shipping. That’s over $400 per kilo; of course prices can vary depending on where the saffron comes from and if the weather has affected the harvest. The best saffron has been priced as high as $15 per gram! That’s an eye watering $15,000 per kilo.

Before you rush out to dig up the lawn and start planting crocuses I should tell you that to make one pound of saffron you need to take the stigmas from 75,000 saffron crocuses, that’s 225,000 hand picked stigmas. That’s a lot of crocuses and a lot of work in planting them, cultivating them and gathering the stigmas.

The saffron crocus (crocus sativus) is a native plant of Southwest Asia, though the one which is cultivated to produce saffron is the result of human selection. Another result of this intervention by humans is the fact that the saffron crocus is sterile, in other words it does not produce seeds. The only way in which the growers can produce new plants is by digging up the corms of the crocus; these are the bulb like growths which during the course of a season splits into ten “cormlets”. These cormlets are replanted to provide a continuing production cycle.

The saffron crocus produces flowers in varying shades of purple, anything from mauve to lilac. Each crocus flower produces a style which has three prongs, each prong ends in a stigma, it is these stigma which are picked and dried to make saffron, surprisingly the stigma are themselves crimson in color whereas saffron is famed for its ability to produce rich golden yellow colours when added to food.

If you want more scientific facts about the crocus then you can shake a stick at, check out this page at wikipedia

Some people are tempted to look for a saffron substitute due to the expense of the real thing and you will find all sorts of other spices or plant petals suggested as an alternative, such as Turmeric, but only for the colour not the flavour, also suggested are Annatto seeds Marigold blossoms or Safflower, you could of course use artificial food coloring and flavouring but nothing will come close to the real thing for that you will have to buy saffron.


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