Saffron is an exotic spice that has been used to elevate both simple and elaborate dishes in kitchens for centuries. It also holds a firm space in Ayurvedic medicinal practices to this day.
You might have seen it for sale with quite a hefty price tag in glass vials where you will see 10 – 15 long and delicate strands at a specialty store or perhaps even a supermarket. How much does saffron cost?
Well, it’s a lot, as saffron is more expensive than any other food item on the menu. In fact, it’s more valuable than gold!
How Much Does Saffron Cost?
Saffron has been known to fetch anywhere between $10 – $68 per gram. Depending on varying factors, including that particular year’s yield, import/export allowances, availability, quality, the type of crocus flower it comes from, and most importantly, the origin of the product, i.e., the country where it was produced.
Pound for pound, saffron is more expensive than the finest caviar, hand-picked truffles, foie gras, and wagyu beef. Yes, it really is that expensive, and yes, it really is worth more than gold! That’s why it’s also affectionately known as “Red Gold.”
Where Does Saffron Come From?
Saffron comes from the crocus flower. This flower, with its distinct royal purple leaves, when in bloom, houses three bright yellow stamen and three reddish-orange stigmas in its center. It’s these flame-like stigmas, the female part of the flower, that is carefully cultivated and sold as saffron.
Crocus is a notoriously difficult flower to grow. They only bloom for one week each year. And it is during this time that the three delicate stigmas must be handpicked from each flower. Then just as carefully dried so as not to break the delicate thread. This is a very laborious job, and it takes more than 200 flowers to produce one single gram of saffron or around 200,000 flowers for 1 kilogram! Hence it’s super high price tag.
Where Does The Best Saffron Grow?
The highest quality saffron comes from Iran, closely followed by Greece, India, Morroco, and Spain. The USA also grows its own saffron, as does Australia and other countries, but for the top most quality, basically, the real deal, you will want to stick with Iran and Spain.
When Was Saffron First Discovered?
Saffron has been growing in Iran for centuries, and it is here that the plant is thought to find its origins. It is believed that the first recorded usage of saffron comes from an ancient Assyrian text pertaining to botany written on a clay tablet which is housed in the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal.
Ashurbanipal was “The last Great King” of the Assyrian Empire, Mesopotamia, circa 7th Century BC. This stunning library consists of more than 30,000 clay tablets written in various languages and is housed in the city of Mosul, Iraq, aka modern-day Mesopotamia.
The ancient Assyrian text cites medicinal usage, and since then, for over 4,000 years, documentation on saffron has been uncovered from all over the world. Its uses include dying fabrics, used in makeup, adding rich flavor and coloring to food, as well as many medical purposes.
In fact, medically, it has been noted in the treatment of some ninety illnesses, everything from an upset stomach to a UTI, in the treatment of asthma to liver disease. Saffron is known to have sedative, antidepressant, aphrodisiac, diaphoretic, and appetite-stimulating properties, to name just a few.
Is There Fake Saffron On The Market?
Indeed there is. There are many “fake” or “adulterated” versions that have flooded the high-stakes saffron market. Sometimes, this product looks a lot like the real deal; however, if you can take the time to really look at and smell the product, you will be able to easily discern the real from the fake.
Properties of Real Saffron
Real saffron has a delicate yet strong aroma that can be smelt through the packaging. It smells quite sweet, a bit like a husky hay smell mixed with honey, and also has earthy, leathery undertones. Real saffron threads are usually very similar. They are unbroken, the same approximate size, shape, and a deep crimson-red color. The fine threads have one trumpet-shaped end and a small yellow tendril on the other.
Also, if you were to rub a real saffron thread between your fingers, it will leave a yellow stain on your skin. And if you happen to lick those fingers, there will be a slightly bitter taste left tingling on your tongue. You can also do the cold water test, which is placing saffron in a small amount of water. Real saffron with slowly color the water yellow, while the threads themselves will stay intact and keep their red coloring.
Properties of Fake Saffron
Meanwhile, fake or adulterated saffron can usually be spotted as having smaller, broken threads. Often the yellow tendril is missing or separated from the stem. The shape usually doesn’t consist of even thread with a trumpet shape at one end, either. The color is a more orange or golden color than red, and the aroma is distinctly different. Fake saffron smells like chemicals, tree bark, turmeric, or cinnamon (which is often what fake turmeric is made from), then that is a dead giveaway.
Adulterated saffron does one of two things when faced with the cold water test. Either it doesn’t change the color of the water at all, or it changes it immediately, but the threads also change color, unlike real saffron, which stays a deep red.
The other way to quickly identify fake saffron is by the price point…
As we have already discovered, saffron is very expensive and can be worth more per gram than gold! So if you are being sold saffron with a price point, that is too good to be true. It probably is…
For example, if you see saffron being sold for $12 for a 7g jar, then you know you are about to be duped! Another quick tip is never to buy ground saffron. This is usually either entirely fake or it will be cut with other additives, including bits of tree bark, turmeric, and other components, naturally occurring or otherwise.
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The price of saffron can cost you anywhere between $10 – $68 dollars per gram. Where you land at the price point depends on the quality of the spice, the size of each saffron thread, and the origins of the spice, with product from Iran and Greece fetching the highest prices worldwide.
It is a highly prized spice that has been used throughout history for medicinal purposes and to elevate traditional and modern cuisines. If you haven’t (knowingly) tried it yet, be sure to add this to your shopping list and create some delicious dishes at home.
Enjoy your Saffron!