It is a well known fact that saffron is the most costly spice in the world. It is worth almost as much as gold and you may wonder: why is saffron so expensive?
First, let’s explain what real saffron is, and why it is so special:
Saffron comes from the three-part red-orange stigma of a small fall-blooming crocus: crocus sativus.
Each flower is picked by hand on the day of its flowering, in the morning. Harvesters gingerly pluck the stigmas, making sure they remain intact. This is a very time consuming step.
Then, producers carefully dry the stigmas. There are different ways to perform this step, depending on traditions and cultures. For example in Iran and Morocco, stigmas are sun dried. In Spain they use silk sieves to display the stigmas over burning charcoal. Closer to us, local growers use electric ovens or dehydrators. This is another crucial step in the making of saffron. Then come storage and preservation, also very important for a good quality product.
One kilogram of dry saffron requires the harvest of approximately 150 000 flowers (70,000 for one pound)… which easily explains the price of this precious spice.
Saffron is grown in many countries (such as Iran, Morocco, Greece, India, Spain, Italy, France, and even Canada and the USA). Color and flavor differ depending on altitude, soil, temperature and rainfall and on how it is harvested and dried.
In the kitchen, real saffron is so tasty that you will only need a small pinch to give a very distinctive taste and beautiful color to a large dish.
Tip: in order to extract the most flavor from saffron, “bloom” it first! Put it in a warm liquid and let it infuse for 10 to 20 minutes. Then pour the solution with the saffron in your recipe.
Saffron has also been used for centuries for its many health benefits.
The high value of saffron has always attracted counterfeits. Indeed in the Middle Ages, the problem of saffron adulteration was so serious that there was a death sentence for fraudsters.
There are several different types of fraud: selling products that aren’t saffron and lying about the country of origin.
Frauds often sell the safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) as saffron. Safflower is an edible yellow-orange flower unrelated to crocus sativus. Once dried, the petals resemble saffron strands but they do not have the distinct smell of saffron, nor its properties.
Other counterfeiters use turmeric (Curcuma longa). Turmeric or “Saffron of Indies”, has an intense yellow color that reminds of saffron. It is a plant of the ginger family and its rhizome gives the yellow turmeric powder. We use turmeric as a spice, as a dyeing agent, in medicine or in chemistry. It is much cheaper than saffron. Although turmeric is a very interesting substance, it does not have the same properties than saffron and cannot replace it.
There are many other types of frauds, including dyed coconut hairs or corn silk, and even brick powder!
So now that you know the answer to why is saffron so expensive, avoid buying cheaper counterfeits and always shop for the real deal.
As for dietary supplements containing saffron, make sure it is organic and from an excellent source. You also want consistent high percentages of safranal and crocin. Those are the most important components in saffron.
As a matter of fact, in our VISTASAFFRON macular support for Baby boomers, we use 100% pure, organic Saffr’Activ®. Plus it is non GMO and standardized to 2% safranal an 3% crocin.