Why Is Saffron So Expensive? See The Real Facts!


Saffron is a unique spice that combines many beneficial properties. Regular consumption of saffron cleanses the liver, blood, soothes skin, improves mood and overall health. Saffron is the most unique herbal remedy and the most expensive spice in the world. But why is saffron so expensive? What is so special about it?

Why is saffron so expensive? Saffron is so expensive because it is costly and time-consuming to harvest. It takes 7 years and 1.5 million flowers to get 10 kg of saffron as they only bloom for 7-10 years per year. Saffron can be collected and processed only by hand, so expensive labor also contributes to its high price. 

How much does 1 gram of saffron cost? As of now, 1 g of finest saffron costs $11.00, but the average high-quality saffron price ranges from $7.30 to $8.50. Saffron that costs less than $6.50 per gram is just a low-quality or fake saffron made of corn silk threads, safflower, coconut filaments, dyed horsehair, or even shredded paper.

See also: What Does Saffron Taste Like? Learn The Truth

Why Is Saffron So Expensive? See The Real Facts!

Here are the 7 main reasons why saffron is so expensive: 

  1. Rarity. Saffron flower blooms only for 7-10 days a year
  2. Expensive labor. All harvesting is done by hand, which requires a lot of time and effort
  3. Difficult cultivation and harvesting. Saffron is a delicate flower that requires a lot of care
  4. Weather. Saffron is very sensitive to weather changes
  5. Scarcity. To get 1 pound of saffron threads, you need to collect 75,000 flowers
  6. High demand. Since only 300 tones of saffron are produced annually, the demand exceeds the supply
  7. Value. Saffron has a lot of health benefits and a long history of use.

A lot of people think that saffron is not only the most expensive spice and food in the world, but that it is also more expensive than gold. But is saffron really worth more than gold? Saffron is not worth more than gold, since 1 kg of finest saffron can cost you up to $11,000, while 1 kg of gold costs $55,000-$57,000 (1 g of saffron costs $11, and 1 g of gold costs $55-$57). However, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world and is often dubbed as “red gold”. Now that you know the main reasons why saffron is so expensive, let’s dive into the details and learn what is so special about it.

What’s so special about saffron? At a price of up to $11,000 per kg, saffron is by far the most expensive food in the world. It has a sweet, honey-like, floral flavor with hints of bitterness and spiciness, a mild grassy, earthy, sweet aroma similar to vanilla. To get 10 kg of saffron, you need 1.5 million flowers and 10 years.

See also: Cooking With Saffron – What You Need To Know

According to legends, Alexander the Great used saffron to heal wounds received in battle. Cleopatra used saffron tincture as an elixir of youth and beauty. The dried saffron was also used as a fabric dye. Clothes made of it were considered very expensive, and only the upper strata of society of the times of Antiquity and the Middle Ages could afford them. Nowadays, saffron is actively used in pharmacology, perfumery, and cooking. Saffron has anticarcinogenic properties and is used to treat cancer and brain diseases. Also, a saffron tincture is used in the production of eye drops. Saffron extract is included in many elite perfumes as it gives the perfume woody and bittersweet notes.

Saffron consumption produces the “happiness hormone” – serotonin. Saffron is rich in phosphorus, calcium, carotene, riboflavin. In cooking, saffron is used for coloring sweets, sausages, and cheeses. In the Middle East and South Asia, saffron is added to pilaf, broths, and lamb dishes. At the same time, if you use saffron, you should not add any other seasoning as saffron is too strong and will fade the taste and aroma of other herbs and spices.

Why Is Saffron So Expensive? Main Reasons Explained

Intensive Labor

One of the reasons for the high cost of saffron is its labor-intensive production. Unlike other plants, the purple crocus from which the spice is extracted does not grow by itself. Economists claim that to plant a territory of 1 hectare with purple crocus, you will need to invest $28,000. Saffron has been known for at least 3000 years. It originated in Iraq but was later grown in Italy, Spain, India, and Iran, too. Today, most of the saffron crop comes from Iran, one-tenth is produced in Kashmir, and the rest comes from Greece, Italy, and even Afghanistan. A small portion of the saffron crop also comes from New Zealand, Argentina, and Switzerland. It takes 7 years to get 10 kg of saffron. For thousands of years, saffron has been used in cooking combined with three ingredients: milk, fish, and rice. It is added to risotto, Marseillaise fish soup, and the best sweets of India.

Growing Conditions

The most favorable conditions for growing purple crocus are the soil that does not accumulate moisture, abundant rainfall during the germination period, and their complete absence during blooming. Iran is a perfect location for growing saffron, that is why it is accountable for about half of the world’s saffron production. 1/10 saffron is produced in the disputed province of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The rest comes from Greece, Spain, Afghanistan, Italy. The most expensive saffron comes from Spain, and the cheapest comes from Iran.

Rarity

Saffron blooms only 2 times a year, and the blooming duration of each flower does not exceed 3 days. You need to have time to collect the stamens at dawn on the first day of flowering and quickly dry them to get high-quality saffron. To obtain 500 g of saffron threads, it is necessary to process about 75 thousand saffron flowers. In Kashmir, for example, during the flowering season of the purple crocus, the entire village population comes out onto the fields. During harvesting, the locals can make enough money to live comfortably throughout the year, however, most saffron pickers are women, earning a maximum of $5 per day. For some, saffron cultivation and harvesting are the only jobs available.

See also: 8 Best Saffron Substitutes That Will Go Well With Any Dish

Scarcity

Kashmiri saffron is the most fragrant spice in the world. 90% of the world’s saffron is produced in Iran, but the threads of the Kashmiri saffron are thicker and more aromatic, which significantly increases its value. Kashmiri saffron is very difficult to cultivate. 30 years ago, saffron harvests were so massive that it took farmers up to six to seven months to harvest and pack the valuable flowers. However, in the 1990s, the armed conflict between India and Pakistan escalated in Kashmir. Then the area was hit by a drought, and even later by floods. Today the harvests are so poor that farmers leave in search of a better life. And those who stayed pray that the situation will improve, while they themselves can afford saffron only on holidays.

Due to the difficulty of saffron cultivation and harvesting, there is a lot of low-quality and fake saffron. So, how to tell if saffron is real? To tell if saffron is real, put one saffron thread in water. Real saffron will not change its color and remain dark orange, while fake or low-quality one will turn white. You can also taste it – real saffron has a sweet smell, but the taste is slightly bitter.

That said, harvesting saffron requires a lot of manual labor to transport flowers from the field to processing and final packaging. The harvesting process, as well as its distinct taste, smell, and color make saffron the most expensive spice in the world. It is used in kitchens around the world as a fabric and leather dye and may soon find wider medicinal uses.

Why Is Saffron So Expensive? Saffron Price FAQ

Is saffron the most expensive spice? How much is a pound of saffron worth? Saffron is by far the most expensive spice and food in the world. One pound of saffron is worth anywhere between $6,000 to $9,000, but the saffron price per pound can go up to $11,000 if the harvest was poor.

How much should I pay for saffron? Expect to pay between $6.70-$8.90 for 1 g of high-quality saffron. Saffron price can go up to $11,000 per kg or $110 per 1 g. Anything cheaper than $6 per 1 g is either low-quality or fake saffron made of corn silk threads, safflower, coconut filaments, dyed horsehair, or shredded paper.

What is so special about saffron? Saffon is special as it combines essential and fatty oils that give it a unique aroma, taste, and coloring properties. It acts as an analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and bactericidal agent. Saffron calms the nervous system, cleanses the blood, and promotes tissue rejuvenation.

What is saffron most commonly used for? Saffran is most commonly used as a seasoning for risotto, vegetable stews, soups, some sauces, and salads. It can also be added to the meat(pork, beef, veal), and seafood dishes (bouillabaisse, paella), pies, bread, cold and hot drinks (lemonades, tea, coffee). Saffron is also used as perfumes, food colorings, and fragrances.

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