In Afghanistan, saffron is respectfully called “Queen of the Spices” or “Red Gold.” That’s because it’s almost as expensive as gold, said Mohammad Salehi, CEO/co-founder of Heray Spice. “It’s very valuable, which is why it’s given that title.”
Saffron and other single-origin spices sourced by companies like Heray, POKS Spices, Spice Suite, Burlap & Barrel and even McCormick remain hot global topics as consumers continue to educate themselves about traceable supply chains. From learning more about sustainable measures and ethical labor practices to human-interest stories about the growers, there’s so much to consider.
Salehi’s Chicago-based Heray Spice sources approximately 95% of its ingredients from his homeland of Afghanistan. That includes wild mountain cumin, wild caraway seeds, coriander seeds and, of course, saffron. The latter is his pride and joy because along with his mother and siblings, he harvests saffron on the family farm. In all, he’s assembled 33 family-owned Afghan farms to form a cooperative (24 of those farms source saffron) to harvest and sell Heray’s products.
Through new innovations, successfully navigating a war-torn region and updating an antiquated food safety system, Heray Spice has mastered its supply chain structure for the benefit of its community. As a bonus, the co-op is also giving back 10% of its net income to the Heray Education Fund, which economically empowers women and educates children.
The meticulous process of cultivating Afghanistan’s saffron
According to Salehi, saffron’s official harvest season in Afghanistan is Nov. 20-Dec. 10. That’s when the Crocus sativus, a species of flowering plant in the iris family Iridaceae, is blooming.