Saffron, the spice that costs more than gold

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Spoons, saffron

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. But why? Like gold, the price of this spice is determined each day. Iran typically determines the saffron price because Persian lands cultivate 95% of the world’s “red-gold.” Persian cultivation takes up approximately 6,000 hectares of Iran’s agricultural land. They export more than 70% of the crops to countries across the world. Saffron can cost as much as $5,000 for one pound; however, the quality plays a significant role in the price.

Producing saffron is a labor-intensive process

Producing saffron is a labor-intensive process.

Growing a rosemary plant in a pot on your patio, or a shrub in your garden is easy. Furthermore, you can dry rosemary on parchment paper in your oven. In contrast, laborers do the entire process from planting saffron to harvesting by hand. The red threads are the stigma of the Crocus sativus flower, usually three per glower. An estimated 170,000 flowers produce about one pound of these valuable  threads. Workers must pull every single stigma thread from the flowers; however, this is not where the process ends.

Field, Crocus flowers
170,000 Crocus flowers yield about 1 pound of saffron threads

Cultivating saffron

Morocco and Afghanistan also cultivate saffron but not in the same volumes as in Iran.

Let us start at the beginning. After each harvesting, the soil must rest for an entire season before the planting of new flowers. During that time, no other crops can grow there, leaving the grower with no income until the start of the next season. When the time is right, planting begins, and laborers plant each individual seed — called corns — by hand. The grains are fragile, and planting is a gentle, time-consuming process.


Each corn produces two or three flowers. During harvesting, workers carefully remove the flowers one by one, taking care to avoid damage to the stigma. An additional cost factor is that the Crocus flower blooms for no longer than one week per year. That could be any week during October or November, which is summertime in that part of the world. Saffron flowers need direct sun and hot weather to grow. However, the blooms are sensitive to heat. Exposure to the rays of the sun damages the quality of the flowers. Therefore, harvesting occurs at dawn. It typically takes about 40 hours of carefully removing the flowers from the plants to yield only one pound of saffron.

Crocus Flower, stigma
The valuable ” red gold” threads

Removing the red stigma

From the field, the harvested flowers go to tables where workers carefully remove the delicate saffron threads. Each flower has three red saffron stigma. Not even a tiny piece of the stigma may stay behind. Why? Because two pounds of Crocus flowers yield only 8-10 grams of saffron. Consider the fact that one ounce is equal to 28 grams. Now, that emphasizes the number of laborers and hours of work it requires. Remember, it takes about 170,000 flowers to get only one pound of this “red gold.”

In conclusion, it becomes clear why the price is determined daily, like gold.


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