Saffron: The Most Expensive Spice in the World
Saffron is made out of the dried stigmas of the purple autumn crocus and is used as a spice -very often added to rice to add flavor and color it a bright red. It is known globally as an unusually expensive spice, one that is highly sought after for its unique aroma and color, not to mention its health benefits. Our country of Iran is the primary cultivator of saffron; This spice is embedded deeply in our cuisine, and even as the economy worsens and more people fall into poverty, you’d be hard-pressed to find an Iranian household without some of the spice in their pantry.
In this article, we want to talk about everything there is to know about saffron: Where it came from, how it was introduced to the world, its cultivation and harvesting processes, its effects and benefits, and of course, its pricing. We’d love to talk to you about Iranian culture when you come to Sarv Hostel, and be sure to check our Instagram, because who knows what events we may have! Also, if you’re coming to Isfahan, you can read about the best things to do in the city following this link and Isfahan hostels following this one!
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The origin of this spice is said to have been in Iran, but regardless of where it came from first, it was introduced to the world by the Mediterranean region. Saffron made its way into China and the Far East via the Mongol Invasion of the 13th century AD, and it was introduced to and cultivated in Europe by the Arabs who conquered Spain. It is also believed that the spice was used not only as a spice but also as a perfume and a dye by the ancient Greeks and Romans before that. Finally, saffron made its way into the Americas by the Europeans who invaded the land.
Throughout its adventurous history, the constant that saffron has maintained has been its high price. As a result, it has always been used by royalty and the elite classes. Just as caviar is something the rich luxuriate in, so has this spice been used in baths, perfumes, and all manners of luxury goods and services. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, Buddhist monks have been wearing saffron-colored robes for a long time now, although since modesty is a core tenant of their creed, they don’t use actual saffron as the dye. Instead, they use cheap alternatives that produce a similar color.
Saffron has also been used for medicinal purposes by different cultures throughout history. While a lot of its supposed health benefits aren’t necessarily backed by reliable scientific sources, it is believed to help with anxiety, depression, or even Alzheimer’s disease and PMS. The spice does contain certain properties that are also used in anti-depression medicines, and anyone who has grown up in an Iranian household will tell you that smelling the spice makes you feel kind of light-headed and for lack of a better word, happy. What is certain about this spice, aside from its use in traditional medicine, is that it acts as a great antioxidant.
The Relevance of Saffron in Iran
As previously mentioned, Iran is the primary cultivator of saffron in the world, with over 90% of the global supply being provided right here. We also may just be the chief users of saffron! This spice is used in all sorts of Iranian sweet and savory dishes, most notably in rice, certain khoreshts, and a dessert called Shole Zard (a rice pudding of sorts that is usually cooked in mass volumes during religious events and given out as Nazri), among many other recipes. Since it’s a very flexible spice and can be used in numerous ways, it is perhaps the most common spice found in any Iranian household’s pantry.
The most common way to use this spice in cuisine is by activating it by having it make contact with a liquid. This can be achieved by pouring boiling water on it and letting it brew, or putting a cube of ice in a container that has some saffron in it. The primary source of this spice in Iran is the province of Khorasan, but it is widely harvested throughout the country.
Harvesting this spice is a long and arduous process -hence the price. It requires certain environmental conditions -the flower grows in dry and hot climates and requires silty soil. More importantly than that, however, there is only a 48-hour long time period between when the flower blooms and when it wilts at the beginning of each November when one can harvest the stigmas. In order to get one pound of saffron, one needs approximately 75,000 hand-picked crocus blossoms. You can imagine the rest. With your presumed newfound respect for the labor that goes into the production of saffron, you can probably understand better why it is so expensive.
What Makes Saffron a Good Souvenir
Although its pricing might turn you off of the idea of buying it as a souvenir, you can’t deny that it acts as a great one: It’s a great representation of Iran and it’s quite practical. As far as the price goes, you don’t have to buy a great deal of it! You’d be surprised to know how a small amount of saffron can be maintained for a long time, even with frequent use. The most high-quality saffron you can find out there is Mashhad saffron, but again, you can find the spice throughout Iran.
And that’s about all there is to know about saffron! Keep reading our blogs to learn more about Iran!