In this article we ask the question… why is saffron so expensive? You may have heard it said that saffron, by weight is more expensive than gold, and you’d be correct. So, let’s find out why that is.
Why is saffron so expensive?
Many dishes from around the world are famous for their creative use of saffron. Lots of people recognise the glorious yellowish-orange colour associated with this incredible spice, as seen in many rice dishes, paella’s, saffron tea’s etc.
Typically, you need just a pinch of saffron for most recipes. Many reliable sources recommend three saffron strands (never powder) per serving, regardless of whether they are for tea, rice dishes, or even cake. (We’ve got recipes for all those right here on our blog, so don’t miss those.)
Saffron threads are super light, so you’ll get a fair amount in each gram
Saffron has an unusual taste and it can be a little bitter if you use too much of it. It’s just as well you only need a tiny amount because it can be expensive. Most genuine saffron is sold by the gram, but since the threads are super light, you’ll get a fair amount in each gram. You may have read that saffron by weight is pricier than real gold, and you’d be correct.
But why is that?
Harvesting saffron is incredibly labour intensive
While many crops are now harvested using sophisticated agricultural machinery and various automated, hands-off processes, the same cannot be said for saffron. It’s hard to imagine that will ever change, either.
For starters, the saffron threads or strands come from the crocus sativus flower. Crocuses flower in the autumn, so that’s when harvesting must occur. As the flowers open, the saffron strands are carefully plucked from inside the flower.
If you’ve ever looked closely at a crocus, you’ll know that each flower has just three stigmas – the proper term for the saffron strands. Once collected these stigmas or strands then need to be sorted and dried before they can be packaged and then sold.
When is the saffron harvest?
Now, imagine a field filled with thousands upon thousands of saffron crocuses. Come autumn, they all flower and open their petals to reveal the stigmas within. And the only way to get all those stigmas to sell as saffron is to manually pluck them from the flower by hand. No robots or automated machinery is involved because of the incredibly delicate nature of the process.
The short window for harvesting saffron is around three weeks
As with any other crop, there is a time for harvesting. Long days are common at this time of year, as the experienced saffron farmers start early and begin carefully taking the stigmas out of the flowers. The window for picking the stigmas is only around three weeks. Just three weeks to gain all the saffron strands they can possibly harvest for that entire year.
It takes around 75,000 flowers to make just one pound of saffron
With that amount of manual labour involved, you can see how farmers would need to pay hundreds of people to harvest the strands each year. To gain just one pound of saffron strands, you’d need to harvest them from around 75,000 flowers.
Is it worth paying for genuine saffron?
Absolutely. If you’ve ever tried it, you’ll know that genuine saffron’s delicate taste is hard to pin down, yet entirely unique. We all like to get a bargain, but if you ever see bargain saffron deals, you can be sure you’re not looking at the genuine article… there’s a good chance it’s very low quality or even fake saffron.
If the price of your saffron seems too good to be true… chances are, it’s probably fake.
Good quality, genuine saffron is expensive for good reason. When something is as labour intensive to pick as saffron strands are, you can expect to pay a reasonable price for everything involved.
Fortunately, that single gram of saffron could last you far longer than you think. Remember the rule of three strands per person and you’ll get plenty of use out of your high quality saffron supply.
Where can you buy saffron?
Sara Saffron offer a full range of authentic Persian saffron for incredible freshness, deep colour, pungent aroma and superb flavour. In our expert opinion this is the finest saffron you can buy.
Our saffron comes direct from the best farms in the Khorasan province of Iran and includes Pushal, Negin, Super Negin and Organic saffron.