Why is saffron so expensive?

May 02, 2019

Why is saffron so expensive?

Briefly about the plant

Saffron is made from the stigmas of the Crocus Sativus flower, belonging to the Iridaceae family. Perennial herbaceous plant, it can reach a height of 50 cm, it arises spontaneously in Asia and Eastern Europe, but it is also cultivated with excellent results in Italy, especially in the Marche, Abruzzo and Sardinia region.

It loves the sun, but does not fear frost: it finds it hard to grow in humid and foggy areas. The root is a spherical bulb-tuber, the leaves are numerous, thin, linear, similar to blades of grass and of green color with some shade of grey.

The very delicate flowers are funnel-shaped, of violet color, they appear in autumn better if the previous summer was warm. The flowers open when the sun rises and close when it is dark or rainy: inside its corolla, three bright red stigmas (or threads), from which the prized spice is obtained.

Harvest

The preciousness of this spice is linked, in particular, to the methods of cultivation and harvest, which takes place in the early hours of the morning, before the beautiful lilac flowers open: to keep all their properties unchanged, the stigmas must not be exposed to the sun's rays and therefore the harvesting operations must be done quickly, involving many people at the same time.

Once the flowers have been collected, the stigmas undergo a long and delicate process which allows these flowers to be turned into spice: the stigmas of saffron are first removed manually from the flower and then dried. A delicate and fundamental process to maintain the organoleptic properties of the spice, and it must take place the same day as the harvest.

Drying

The saffron is dried at a temperature of 45 degrees Celsius on the same day it is picked and removed from the flower, thanks to a process that still follows the ancient traditions: to preserve its properties the stigmas are packaged whole in sealed glass jars.

This steps are repeated over three weeks, or until there are no more flowers to pick. 

The numbers

To produce 1 gram of saffron, approximately 150 flowers are needed. To obtain one kilogram of pure Piceno saffron, it takes about 150,000 flowers 500 hours of manual labor.

And this is if it all goes well. Now, can you see why this is the most expensive spice on the planet?