BY CARRIE SCHEDLER
When Mohammad Salehi left Afghanistan, he found a new passion as a saffron importer. Salehi’s start-up, Heray Spice, is now bringing top-quality saffron to the United States.
The question had been nagging Mohammad Salehi: Why was the saffron at his neighborhood grocery store so cheap?
It wasn’t as if the shop’s $4 per gram price tag was wallet-friendly. But Salehi, the son of farmers from the saffron-rich Afghanistan, knew that the cost to produce a gram of the spice was more like $7—100 grams requires 25,000 crocus flowers with the stamens and styles removed by hand to create threads. Something wasn’t adding up, so he opened his new container and ran some unscientific tests. It smelled like paint fumes instead of the usual woody herbaceousness. The color was bright red instead of a mellow orange-yellow. He placed a few threads in water alongside another glass with some higher-quality saffron, and the cheap stuff tinted the water an orange-red, while the more expensive saffron imparted a golden hue. Then he tasted the grocery store saffron: chemical and limp instead of delicately savory with notes of honey and lemon.