Saffron, the most expensive and sought after spice in the world, commonly known as a “red gold”. The undisputed capital for saffron production is Iran, where the tradition dates back over 3,000 years.
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of the saffron crocus. Some 300 tons of dried whole threads and powder are gleaned worldwide annually, of which 50 tons are top-grade saffron.
Iran produces more saffron than other saffron growing countries while its saffron is the world’s finest in quality. Iran produces a truly organic saffron and grown in a traditional way with absolutely no chemical fertilizers. Its strength as a coloring agent also makes it world famous.
Iran produces around 95% of the spice described as “red gold” which is laboriously collected from flimsy threads of crocus blooms. The crimson filaments are dried and used as seasoning or coloring in food.
Saffron cultivation has a history of more than 3,000 years in the Middle Eastern country but Iran gets a meager payback from the trade due to its cheap sales of the costly produce which are made in bulk.
Around 85% of Iran’s saffron exports go to the UAE, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and India which process and re-export the crop in sleek packaging with better value-added.
Each kilo of saffron fetches up to $2,000 in global markets but for local Iranian producers, it barely pays for the labor.
Traditional cultivation and harvest methods as well as bulk sales stand out as the drawbacks of the sector but officials say middlemen and speculators are an additional burden. Middlemen and speculators play a key role in price fluctuations which seriously hamper steady exports.
While Iran dominates the global market for production of saffron, its share of the trade, put around $1.5 billion, barely surpasses $250 million.
The country produces over 95% of the 250 tons produced worldwide each year, boosted by unique ecological conditions that deliver a strong-flavored, aromatic crop that is a staple of local cuisine, cosmetics and traditional medicine.
Classification of Saffron
- Sargol (All Red)
This Grade of Stigmas is joined in 2’s or 3’s at the end of portion of the style.
The Threads or stigma of the flower is the actual source of saffron. 105-115 kg of saffron flowers produces 1kg of Sargol saffron. Persian Sargol saffron in Iran exceeding ISO 3632 Grade 1 standard and has very high quality. In Spain it is called cope saffron.
Color potency of Sargol grade is very high and the score in Iranian saffron is between 220-270usp.
- Pushal (Mancha)
Pushal saffron contains the stigma with an approximate 3-5 mm style. This kind of saffron has lower color strength respect to Sargol saffron.
It is produced at the early stages of harvesting season. This saffron grade is not cut like sargol and therefore contains more yellow parts from the style of the plant and higher floral waste. It contains 5% flower waste.
- Dasteh (Bunche)
This kind of saffron contains the stigma with the whole style.
Bunch saffron includes the entire saffron thread (red part) as well as the style (whitish yellow part), which are bunched together with a string
Fraudulent market in saffron
The saffron itself is often diluted or replaced with something else entirely. In saffron there are three different compounds which affect three different senses of ours differently. There’s the color, which is a nice orange, but there’s also the flavor which gives us this slightly bittersweet flavor, and then the aroma of the floral vanilla notes that one has. Normally if you buy the cheap or ground saffron, the flavor and aroma won’t be there.
The customers who buy the fraudulent saffron are not getting all the goodness, the aroma and the flavor.
There are several different types of fraud. One is selling things that aren’t saffron and another is selling saffron as though it is produced in one country and not in another. Clearly Iran’s production has been much higher than that of any other country in the world, partially because it is unusually fitted to the climate and the availability to the labor. It does mean the Iranian saffron has been at a lower price and therefore it’s been shipped and unscrupulous people have relabeled it as coming from a different country; Spain or Greece or indeed India.