Saffron was once considered a gift from the gods. In India, the color Saffron symbolizes fire that burns darkness and we have believed that for ages. Nowadays, saffron is not only used to add flavor and color to foods, it has become the focus of modern medicine. It is a luxury only meant for the super-rich and the need for the expensive spice is growing. It could be artificially produced in the not too distant future.
The final pinch of saffron only makes biryani, what it is. It is added to almost all milk-based sweets in India to give them the everlasting taste. However, the pinch of saffron is usually very small and the reason for this is its price.. One kilogram of the expensive spice is traded at between 2,50,000 and 3,50,000 rupees. However, the demand and with it the price is increasing every year. It is because saffron is not only used in foods but is also used in medicine. Its mood-enhancing effect makes it particularly interesting for pharmacy.
Why is Saffron so expensive?
The valuable threads are obtained from the dried pistils of the violet blooming crocus species Crocus sativus, which only grows in temperate climates such as Kashmir, Afghanistan, and the Mediterranean. 100,000 flowers have to be harvested by hand to get 1 kg of Saffron. Flower picking is a laborious job because a worker can only handle a maximum of 80 grams a day. Before anything blooms, farmers need a lot of money at hand. For one hectare, farmers have to plant around 4,000 kilograms of saffron bulbs. The investment itself discourages many farmers. Then, they have to wait three long years before they can harvest the first crop. That is why Saffron is so expensive. Of course, this also attracts counterfeiters, who grind the leaves and stems of the crocuses and sell them as saffron.
Well over 90 percent of the saffron worldwide comes from Iran, where the sensitive plants have optimal conditions. The Crocus sativus needs constant temperatures around 15 degrees and barren soils to develop a particularly intense aroma. Saffron is also grown in Spain and even in certain locations in Austria, but the quality cannot be compared to that of Iran. The summers in Spain are now simply too hot for the spice used to the mild climate. The high temperatures also destroy the aroma.
Dangerous label fraud
The reason why Saffron is so expensive is also the reason that it is the most counterfeit spice in the world. The traders lure innocent tourists into buying saffron-like safflower as a noble spice. This also gives off an intense, yellow color when cooking, but tastes nothing like it.
It is difficult to trick more professional clientele. The widespread practice of making inferior but real saffron appears deep red and therefore of higher quality with the help of a toxic dye is also extremely popular and at the same time harmful to health. This becomes obvious at the latest when cooking because the post-dyed fibers then lose their color completely. This would not happen with really high-quality saffron.
Artificial Saffron in the Future
At these prices, it is hardly surprising that saffron has often been under the microscope and its exact properties have been examined. For a long time, however, all attempts to determine the exact ingredients, the color and taste of the elite spice and then to reproduce them in the laboratory, led to nothing.
Yet, scientists have claimed to have made a groundbreaking discovery in producing artificial saffron. They analyzed it in an early development phase because this is when substances like crocin are created. They found that the CCD2 gene is particularly active at this stage. The team then introduced this gene into bacteria and maize plants to produce the same protein. The result was the typical saffron taste. Scientists now aim to fulfill the requirements in the medical field because applying the same method large quantities of crocins, picrocrocin, and safranal could be produced inexpensively.
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There is hope in the market that once the artificial production of saffron starts, the price will reduce as the naturally grown saffron will mostly be used for food. Though, the price will not drop drastically as saffron has been the most expensive spice in the world for a very long time and will remain in the future.