Why Is Saffron So Expensive?
Image Credit: Saffron | Image Credit: Unsplash.com

Saffron is the most expensive and valuable spice in the world today. It is a spice with a long history, and the cultivation of saffron dates back more than 3000 years. As an exotic spice, its crimson strands have been prized for centuries. Its use has been traced to the ancient Indus, Egyptian, and Persian civilizations, and its history has been documented by manuscripts. This spice finds mention in history all the way back in 1500 BCE in classical literature and also in the Bible.

The name Saffron is derived from the spice’s Arabic name zafaran. The other names for saffron include safran, which comes from the Medieval Latin safranum, and safroun from Middle English. Its biological name, Crocus Sativus, name comes from a moving Greek mythological tale where Crocos, a mortal, fell in love with the beautiful nymph Smilax, and was turned into a purple crocus flower by her. 

This ancient spice is hard to grow and must be carefully harvested in order to reap its benefits. Saffron grows mainly in Iran and the Mediterranean region, and is a member of the lily family. It has long, thin leaves and grows purple flowers containing three stigmas. It is harvested by hand and has a distinctive flavor that has been a constant favorite in food and beverages around the world for aeons.

In addition to its culinary uses, saffron has medicinal and cosmetic properties and is great source of antioxidants. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and may even help with nervous system disorders. Many people drink saffron tea as a means of relieving depression, easing anxiety, and boosting heart health.

One of the reasons saffron is so expensive is the delicate process of harvesting the saffron flower. The tiny stigmas on each flower must be manually separated from the flower in order to harvest the saffron. The labor-intensive process of harvesting involves the stigmas being hand-plucked and dried before they are sold. Each flower has only a few weeks of blooming time, and it is essential to pick them as soon as they begin to wilt. This limits its supply, making the spice incredibly expensive, and something of a luxury. To get a gram of saffron, you need 70,000 to 250,000 stigmas from the crocus sativus plant. This is a laborious process, and a worker can only handle about 80 grams per day on average. It's also important to note that the flower must be picked early in the morning, since the stigmas will lose their aromatic quality if they are left in the plant for too long.

Syntheticsaffron is not a great replacement for the real thing, as connoisseurs will tell you. It neither imparts the same refined taste to your dishes nor does it add that distinctly intense color. Saffron is used in several traditional Indian dishes, drinks, and as a key ingredient in saffron rice. Kheer and Palak are two famous recipes that feature the spice. In addition to these traditional recipes, saffron can be used in making ice cream and cakes.  

Saffron is an important spice with a variety of health benefits. It can inhibit the formation of toxic amyloid structures and improve brain function. One study found that saffron helped improve the cognitive function of Alzheimer's patients. In addition, it prevented the buildup of beta-amyloid, one of the potential causes of the disease. The spice is often sold in supplements doses of 30mg.

Studies have found that saffron also has anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce the risk of heart diseases. Its antioxidant properties help lower blood cholesterol and prevent blood vessels from becoming clogged. It can also raise insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels. Some other research shows correlation between saffron usage and improved eyesight in adults with age-related macular degeneration. It may also help improve memory and protect the brain from free radical damage.Saffron is also good for our skin. It improves the appearance of skin and may reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and menstrual cramps. 

Saffron has been shown to reduce the pain associated with nerve damage in rats. It also improved symptoms of morphine withdrawal in mice. Such studies suggest that saffron may also have anti-depressant properties. Moreover, saffron increases the activity of the beta-2 receptors and inhibits histamine 1 receptors. Lab tests indicate that saffron could play a beneficial role in protecting the liver against damage from drugs.

Saffron is grown in limited quantities in Afghanistan, New Zealand and Mexico but Iran is the world's largest producer and exporter of this spice. Because Iran is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), it is able to sell saffron at lower prices to other nations. Its rich soil and cold climate make it an ideal growing region for saffron.

In Afghanistan, DACAAR is an example of a non-governmental organization that is working to train women in the field of saffron farming. It has trained 120 women in the region to harvest saffron. The organization pays them 250 Afs ($5) for each day that they work. The growth of the cosmetics industry and a growing global population is expected to only increase the demand for saffron.