Experience the Pure Luxury of Saffron with NetaSaff

Saffron Exporting Countries

Almost all saffron grows in a belt bounded by the Mediterranean in the west and mountainous Kashmir in the east. All other continents except Antarctica produce smaller amounts. In 1991, Some 300 t (300,000 kg) of whole threads and powder are gleaned yearly, of which 50 t (50,000 kg) is top-grade "coupe" saffron. Iran is by far the world's most important producer: in 2005 it grossed some 230 tonnes (230,000 kg) of dry threads, or 93.7 percent of the year's global total mass; much of the Iranian crop was bound for export.In the same year, second-ranked Greece produced 5.7 t (5,700.0 kg). Morocco and the disputed region of Kashmir, tied as the next-highest producers, each produced 2.3 t (2,300.0 kg). In decreasing order, Iran, Greece, Morocco, the Kashmir region in India, Azerbaijan, Spain, and Italy dominate the world harvest.

In Iran, the world's leading producer, the erstwhile and northeasterly Khorasan Province, which in 2004 was divided in three, grows 95 percent of Iranian saffron: the hinterlands of Birjand, Ghayen, Ferdows in South Khorasan Province, along with areas abutting Gonabad and Torbat-e Heydarieh in Razavi Khorasan Province, are its key cropping areas. Afghanistan has resumed cultivation in recent years; in restive Kashmir it has waned. Despite numerous cultivation efforts in such countries as Austria, England, Germany, and Switzerland, only select locales continue the harvest in northern and central Europe. Among these is the small Swiss village of Mund, in the Valais canton, whose annual saffron output amounts to several kilograms. Microscale cultivation occurs in Tasmania, China, Egypt, France, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Turkey (especially Safranbolu), California, and Central Africa.

The high cost of saffron is due to the difficulty of manually extracting large numbers of minute stigmas, which are the only part of the crocus with the desired aroma and flavour. An exorbitant number of flowers need to be processed in order to yield marketable amounts of saffron. Obtaining 1 lb (0.45 kg) of dry saffron requires the harvesting of some 50,000 flowers, the equivalent of an association football pitch's area of cultivation, or roughly 7,140 m2 (0.714 ha). By another estimate some 75,000 flowers are needed to produce one pound of dry saffron. This too depends on the typical stigma size of each saffron cultivar. Another complication arises in the flowers' simultaneous and transient blooming. Since so many crocus flowers are needed to yield even derisory quantities of dry saffron, the harvest can be a frenetic affair entailing about forty hours of intense labour. In Kashmir, the thousands of growers must work continuously in relays over the span of one or two weeks throughout both day and night.

Once extracted, the stigmas must be dried quickly, lest decomposition or mould ruin the batch's marketability. The traditional method of drying involves spreading the fresh stigmas over screens of fine mesh, which are then baked over hot coals or wood or in oven-heated rooms where temperatures reach 30–35 °C (86–95 °F) for 10–12 hours. Afterwards the dried spice is preferably sealed in airtight glass containers. Bulk quantities of lower-grade saffron can reach upwards of US$500 per pound; retail costs for small amounts may exceed ten times that rate. In Western countries the average retail price is approximately US$1,000 per pound. Prices vary widely elsewhere, but on average tend to be lower. The high price is somewhat offset by the small quantities needed in kitchens: a few grams at most in medicinal use and a few strands, at most, in culinary applications; there are between 70,000 and 200,000 strands in a pound.

Experienced saffron buyers often have rules of thumb when deliberating on their purchases. They may look for threads exhibiting a vivid crimson colouring, slight moistness, and elasticity. They reject threads displaying the telltale dull brick-red colouring—indicative of old stock—and broken-off debris collected at the container's bottom, indicative of age-related brittle dryness. Such aged samples are most likely encountered around the main June harvest season, when retailers attempt to clear out the previous season's old inventory and make room for the new season's crop. Buyers recommend that only the current season's threads be used. Reputable saffron wholesalers and retailers will indicate the year of harvest or the two years that bracket the harvest date; a late 2002 harvest would thus be shown as "2002/2003".