Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world which can cost over USD 10,000/kg.
For ages it has been used as a spice, dye & medicine, roughly 150 flowers are required to make one gram of saffron.
The spice has been used by royals throughout history. In the 14th century, it was even thought to be the cure for the plague.
It is the red stigma of the crocus sativus consisting of three small stigmas whose flowers are picked manually. The amount obtained from each flower is roughly 0.006 grams where all the work is done by hand which takes 40hrs of labor to produce 1kg of high-quality spice.
Growing the plant is also not very easy. It largely depends on the Climatic conditions as well as how the flowers are grown and looked after. Once the crops start flowering harvest is done fast to pick all the flowers in perfect time.
For a crop like this, the key factor that matters is the quality where its taste depends on rainfall, temperature & soil. Kashmir produces the highest quality saffron in the world as the spice is grown naturally in the red soil found in the region. So, there is a good reason why saffron is so expensive.
The stigma of saffron is divided into four grades where the lowest grade is the Bunch, above Bunch comes Pushal then comes Negin & Sargol respectively above Pushal.
The most expensive highest-grade saffron is made of the very tips of the stigma. Thus, one kilo of saffron could be made of 450,000 strands which come from 150,000 flowers which take up a lot of growing space. In 1 acre of land, only 1.8kg of spice can be cultivated.
The demand for spice is continuously increasing with 30 billion flowers, 200 MT is harvested every year globally.
The demand is so high that unethical practices of adulteration have become very common in the saffron market. Threads made of corn silk, coconut fibers are largely used.
Thus, what is the real way to differentiate between the real ones from the fake ones? There are five common ways to differentiate the same. Those are Smell, Appearance, Taste, Time for color released in water, and the price.
In 2019 a fake saffron crime ring was uncovered in the UK leading to a two-year international investigation in 2010. On the other hand, 90% of saffron exports from Spain were fraudulent in 2010.
The major problem with saffron production is Climate change. In Kashmir production has dropped significantly and farmers choose to sell their land rather than growing saffron. Just in 2017-18, the production fell over 70% due to conditions of drought and the harvest can become rarer.
Nevertheless, The global saffron market is ever increasing based on the fact that though it is rare and expensive the spice has numerous applications in multibillion dollar industries such as FMCG & Pharmaceuticals .