Saffron Price: Why It's The Most Expensive Spice And Using Saffron On A Budget

by Kindi Lantz July 12, 2018

Pound-for-pound, when it comes to spices, the price of saffron is the steepest in the world. In fact, the only culinary ingredient that surpasses the exotic spice monetarily is the European white truffle (a fungus). But while truffles are typically reserved for extravagant meals and fine dining experiences, saffron is a staple in traditional recipes around the world—dishes like paella, bouillabaisse, tagine, risotto Milanese, and biryani.

Beyond the use of saffron, there are a couple commonalities in all these dishes. All can be considered “comfort foods” and they are typically budget-friendly recipes prepared as traditional dishes for family and friends. But how can this be with the saffron price surpassing that of Wagyu beef and caviar? Let me explain.

While saffron is the most expensive spice in the world and it does find its way into several lavish dishes, it can also be incorporated into meals inexpensively. You see, the individual threads are so potent that it only takes a few strands to infuse a single recipe with an ample amount of that unparalleled flavor and bright color. So, while a gram of saffron usually costs between $5 and $10, that gram can be stretched a long way.

So now you can feel comfortable treating yourself to a culinary splurge but one question still remains: why is the price of saffron so high?

Saffron’s price isn’t reflective of the rarity of the spice or the difficulty of cultivation because that simply isn’t the case. The high price of saffron is attributed to a combination of how labor-intensive the harvest is and the acreage needed for growing the amount of crocus’ required to obtain enough threads to become profitable.

Saffron’s price is especially indicative of the way in which it has to be harvested. You see, saffron threads are actually the stigmas of a particular type of crocus, crocus sativus. They are a perennial bulb (or corm) flower, meaning they multiply and come back year after year, removing the need for yearly sowing. The difficulty comes in the reaping of the stigmas.

Due to the fact that each thread is incredibly delicate (as is the rest of the flower), the stigmas must be collected by hand. Furthermore, each flower houses only 3 stigmas, so it takes upwards of 150 flowers to amass a single gram of saffron and a full acre to obtain a pound. For comparison, a single acre of rice will yield an average of 8000 pounds.

Despite the labor and space required, though, saffron is grown and harvested in many regions globally, maintaining its status as “the most expensive spice in the world” and infusing recipes with a unique flavor and outstanding pop of color!

Saffron is such a remarkable spice! Now that you know why it is priced the way it is and can justify buying it for all those comforting dishes you’ve been hoping to make, it’s time to learn more about this wonderful spice. Check out our recent post about the health benefits of saffron (and read to the end to find a discount code to use on your next saffron purchase).





Kindi Lantz
Kindi Lantz

Author

Kindi Lantz discovered her love of cooking long before she could even reach the kitchen counters; her grandmother gave her access to nearly every ingredient in her kitchen for her (mostly inedible) experiments. Kindi’s culinary capabilities continued to grow even when she had reached her peak height at just under 5’. Her first job was as a Chef’s Assistant on her relatives’ farm at the age of 11. Throughout high school and college, she worked in a wide variety of restaurants—from American pub food to Japanese, Korean to Cajun, and down-home diners to Italian— and with each, she developed techniques and expanded her culinary expertise. For the better part of 10 years, Kindi managed and even took on part ownership of a gourmet catering company in the Portland, OR metro area—it was there, alongside some of the most talented chefs, planners, and entertainers, that Kindi’s passion developed the most. Kindi is obsessed with only using fresh and sustainably-sourced ingredients in the recipes she creates, which is what led her to SloFoodGroup!


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