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Why Is Saffron So Expensive?

Decoding the price of the golden spice.

Wooden poon full of saffron.

Saffron, often referred to as the "golden spice," has captivated human senses for centuries with its vibrant color, unique flavor, and myriad of uses. Yet, its allure is matched only by its price tag. Saffron holds the title of being the world's most expensive spice, costing upwards of $5,000 per pound. The question that naturally arises is: Why is it so expensive?

Saffron comes from the Crocus sativus flower which blooms in the fall. Each flower produces three delicate, thread-like stigma, which are harvested and dried to create saffron. However, the labor-intensive cultivation process contributes significantly to its cost. Each stigma must be carefully plucked from the flower by hand, making it a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. The delicate saffron stigma can be easily damaged if not handled carefully, making the harvesting process even more intricate. The need for precision contributes to the overall labor costs associated with saffron production. It takes about 75,000 to 150,000 flowers to yield just one pound of saffron.

Crocus sativus flowers.
Crocus sativus flowers.

The saffron flower blooms for only a short period each year, often lasting just a few weeks, and only in specific regions known for their conducive climate and conditions. The majority of saffron is produced in Iran, followed by countries like Spain, India, and Greece. The geographical constraints and regional specialization also play a role in saffron's high price.

Check out our interview with Mohammad Salehi of Heray Spice, a company dedicated to offering consumers premium quality, sustainably-sourced saffron.


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