The world’s most expensive spice is many things: an irreplaceable staple of various cuisines, the focal point of a multibillion-dollar industry, a hot topic in the realm of geopolitics, a victim of fraudulent trading. But it’s also an ingredient that’s been used in everyday cooking for as long as it’s been cultivated. There is, in other words, a lot to say about saffron, so let’s get started.
What is saffron?
Saffron comes from the stigmas of the purple Crocus sativus flower, also known as the saffron crocus because of its prized crimson threads. The trumpet-shaped stigmas are long and deep red, and typically have orange and yellow hues near their base. The saffron crocus typically appears six to eight weeks after planting, and produces up to three stigmas once it blooms.
Where does saffron grow?
The majority of saffron production takes place in warm Mediterranean and semiarid climates, spanning from Spain to Kashmir. Other major producers include Afghanistan, Morocco, and Greece. There are also micro producers loosely scattered around the United States, such as Cyprus Saffron in central Washington and Calabash Gardens in Vermont; the Pennsylvania Dutch even have a long-held tradition of cultivating saffron in their communities. But regardless of attempts to diversify the global saffron market, the world’s leading producer is indisputably Iran, which controls about 85 percent of the entire industry, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Association.
Heray Spice, The Saffron Specialistby Sophia F. Gottfried Jan 28, 2021, 11:47am EST Illustration by Joules GarciaSaffron is one of the world’s most famous, and famously expensive, spices. But Mohammad Salehi has found, beyond that, Americans don’t know all that much about what he calls the “queen of spices.” When he first tried selling the delicate crimson threads from his family’s farm in Afghanistan to grocery stores, they didn’t bite.MORE ON EATER
Mohammad Salehi sells saffron to more than 100 professional chefs and an increasing number of home cooks, but he’s hesitant to call Heray Spice — the company he founded in Chicago in 2017 — a business. To be sure, Heray is a business, and a fast-growing one at that, but Salehi’s vision reaches beyond turning a profit or introducing Americans to some of the best saffron in the world.
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It is a warm spring afternoon in Herat Province in western Afghanistan. The winter was unseasonably short, and Mohammad Salehi is concerned that might have affected the sun-loving crops.
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Sustainably Sourced Spices
Sourced Directly, Fairly & Transparently From Heray Farmers Cooperative in Herat Afghanistan.