remain mysterious. Our little blue flower, Crocus Sativus
L is a cultivar (that means it produces no seed and disseminates
only through corm division). The renewal rate is quite low, as the
plant needs two years to produce three to four corms bulbs big enough
to be separated. This very same bulb is worn out after five to six
years. One would need ten to twelve years to obtain a saffron gram,
when starting with only one bulb.
It is easy to imagine the number of years necessary to obtain a
good saffron field from a few initial bulbs, as that was done in
Middle-Age, and to understand why saffron was so expensive, and
so easily smuggled.
What is fascinating is that all saffron around the world share
the same genes and most certainly come from a single corm!
We’ll never know who invented saffron. Legends say the flower
is a gift coming from the gods, but which ones? Saffron is already
known in Summer, 5.000 years BC, and is nearly so ancient times,
||Near Chandarah, people speak of an old wise man that left his village
threatened by starvation, trying to find food. Instead of food, he
found nomads, who kept him prisoner. But he successfully healed their
very ill leader. They gave his freedom, then, instead of keeping him
a slave. And they even gave him their most precious treasure, saffron
corms, with instructions on how to cultivate and use it. But where
did these nomads get their saffron? Only their God knows…
enters Europe through Greece, in Crete. In the coming two thousand
years, it slowly conquers Mediterranean area.
Krokos, the friend of Hermes, gave his name to the Crocus. He was
playing discus with the God and was deadly hit in the head. The
blood that flow from his wound went into the ground. Later on, in
this very place, bloomed the first little blue-violet flower whose
three red stigmas remain a symbol of resurrection and vital strength
for the Greeks. The name of Krokos is linked to the Greek word meaning
“thread”. It gave its name to curcuma – or turmeric
– another crocus often used as counterfeited saffron.
|It seems saffron arrived too late in Greece for Alexander the Great
to hear about. It is said the greatest conqueror of Antiquity was
stopped by this humble little flower. As his army arrived on the Kashmir
plateaux, Alexander set his camp on what he did not know to be a saffron
field. Surrounded by flowers that bloomed during the night, he took
that for a charm, or a sign of the gods, and decided to go back.
In year 1.550 BC, saffron is in Egypt, where a medicinal papyrus
lists it as an ingredient. And Cleopatra was using it to preserve
her skin’s beauty.
In Assyria, there was a cult dedicated to saffron that represented
purity. In the night of the first blossoming, a procession led a
young virgin harvest the first flower, under the guidance of the
Romans consider it as a symbol of spiritual happiness coming from
renunciation and ascetic. It was burnt together with incense during
|Phoenicians trade it on a large scale, and might be
the ones who brought it to North Africa where they had counters in
Tunisia, Algeria and along the Moroccan coast. From there it goes
inside, and reaches our Sirwa Mountains.
It is supposed to arrive in Europe with the Arabs, from Spain. Or
with the first crusades. Or following both roads… Arabs gave
it its name, safar of asfar means yellow in Arabic.
Whatever, in the thirteenth century, it can be found everywhere,
in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, and England, where
it gives its name to the city of Saffron Walden, in Sweden, where
it is used in the traditional Sainte Lucy’s buns (and here
is again the antic symbol of resurrection).
saffron, a crocus like the poisonous meadow saffron, is an Iridiaceae.
Its bulb, or corm, of two to three centimetres diameter is slightly
flattened, globular, and wrapped into several browns foils, called
the tunic. Its leaves, narrow and long (30 to 40 centimetres) appear
a little bit before or at the same time as the flowers and survive
long enough to reconstitute the flower’s reserve, as it usual
for corm plants.
The plant gives up to height flowers, each of them with six blue-violet
petals and a small carp with a long yellow style. Out of it come three
yellow stamens and the so important three red-orange stigmas which
will give the spice.
Saffron contains five different colorants,
all of them carotenoids (crocetins) that have the very rare property
of being soluble into water, and hence can be used as colorant.
It is also a very odorant flower, with around 35 identified aromas,
of which safranal, the most important and characteristic, that develops
during the drying phase .
||The plant multiplies only through division; the corm produces every
year three or four new little corms. Their development starts just
after the blossom, and they will reach a size big enough to produce
new flowers in one or two years. Till February, the growth is very
slow; the corm builds up its reserves and needs low temperature. Leaves
toss during spring, when corms are formed, usually in April, and saffron
enters its dormancy phase, till end o August, when it produces its
first leaves, followed by the flowers.
second specificity of saffron it unusual summertime dormancy,
and its yielding in autumn.
This rustic plant appreciates moderate altitude (between 650 and
1.200 metres) and can resist severe frosts (up to -10° / -15°)
for several days, as well as heat over 40°. The soil must not
be too light, neither contain too much argyle, which will asphyxiate
the corm. It must be strongly prepared with a deep ploughing of
30 to 40 centimetres, after having removed the stones and built
the terraces. The first ploughing is made two month before planting
the bulbs, the second one just before, to incorporate fertiliser.
In Morocco this is hand-plough work, like the regular gratings that
remove herbs and spare water by breaking the ground crust. Only
natural fertilisers are used in Taliouine, cow and lambs dung.
The plant needs water, around 600 to 700 mm per year that must
be evenly distributed over time. Therefore, in Mediterranean area,
it is necessary to irrigate. In Morocco, around fifteen irrigations
per year are made.
|Harvest takes four to six weeks,
with a peak at end of October, when 60% of the flowers bloom at the
same time, over two weeks. It is done every morning in two to three
hours, at dawn, because sun damages the stigma. These stigmas must
be prepared very quickly, not to be swollen by the flowers’
weight, which would start fermentation and diminish the quality of
the final saffron.
After collection of the stigmas, saffron is dried in dark rooms,
or over a low fire. For the next harvest, Taliouine people will
start heat drying, as in Europe and Iran. The final product will
have stronger saffron fragrances, versus an air-dried saffron that
is spicier. Both are excellent.
During drying process, saffron looses 80% of its weight. It can
be kept 2 to 3 years without any problems, when stored in a dry
place and preserved from light
Freshly harvested saffron
|During the first year, a good saffron field will give
around 2 kilos/hectare and up to six kilos on the second year. Yields
will then diminish, and stabilize between one and a half and three
kilos per hectare. When the saffron fields are renewed, it starts
with digging out the corms. Then the foils are removed and only one
is kept. Corms are sorted, according to size and quality. Only corms
over 2,5 centimetres are planted, the others are preserved to continue
The renewal takes place between end of August and beginning of September.
Fifty to seventy corms per square meter are plants, either by groups
of three-four corms, either alone, in a hole fifteen centimetre deep.
Lines are spaced of 25 centimetres.
In Morocco, saffron fields are renewed every seven years. In other
areas of more intensive production, the renewal must be made every
Dried saffron ready to be sold
amounts to 300 tons a year, 8°% of it coming from Iran. Other
producers are Spain, Greece, and Morocco. Kashmir is actually the
largest producer, but uses nearly everything for its internal consumption.
Iran exports half of its 80 tons a year yield.
Spain was formerly a very large producer, with 120 tons a year. But
the cultivation has nearly stopped, except in a few sites like Monreal
del Campo, and does not amount to more than 3 tons a year. But its
distribution network is still very active, and a large part of the
“Spanish” saffron actually comes from Iran.
Greece produces around 6 tons a year, in Kosani, Morocco, 3 tons
in Taliouine. Other European producers (France, Switzerland and
England) are marginal. Other countries, like New-Zealand and Australia
have started some saffron fields.
The largest buyers are Saudi Arabia, Emirates and the States, which
buy around three tons a year. Prices on New York market are between
1.000 and 8.000 dollar for a kilo.
As the origin of the corms is the same all around the world, quality
differences come only from ground, harvesting conditions and drying
has an excellent cultivation. It is ECOCERT certified. And it is
going to start this year to implement heat-drying.
This is for us the best saffron in the world!