From a del­i­cate flower comes a very pricy spice

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

It's a bril­liant patch­work of color. The women open the pur­ple petals of thou­sands of cro­cus flow­ers and, from each one, sep­a­rate out three deep crim­son threads that are tiny, del­i­cate, and ex­tremely valu­able. This is har­vest sea­son in Iran in the pro­duc­tion of saf­fron, lauded as the world's most ex­pen­sive spice. It gives a bright golden hue to rice and infuses a com­plex fla­vor into pael­las, bouil­l­abaisse or Per­sian dishes. Luck­ily only a tiny pinch is needed be­cause on store shelves around the world, a small packet of a few grams can eas­ily run for the equiv­a­lent of $5,000 a kilo­gram.

Iran pro­duces more than 90 per­cent of the world's saf­fron sup­ply, more than 300 tons the past year, and it's been ex­pand­ing ev­ery year. What it is hop­ing to do now is in­crease its ex­ports - and crack open new Amer­i­can and Euro­pean mar­kets - af­ter in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions were lifted un­der the nu­clear deal reached with the West last year. That has been slow to hap­pen, how­ever. The har­vest is la­bo­ri­ous and time con­sum­ing. All must be done by hand. Men, women and even chil­dren and the el­derly join the har­vest in places like Tor­bat Hey­dariyeh in north­west­ern Iran.

Saf­fron is the dried stigma of the cro­cus flower the three threads in­side the petals. The flow­ers are picked, and work­ers sit around ta­bles or on blan­kets with piles of flow­ers to gen­tly pluck out the stig­mas. The work­ers are paid around the equiv­a­lent of $10 a day. The strands are then dried in the sun. Thou­sands of flow­ers are needed for a sin­gle gram, or 1/30th of an ounce. A hectare of flow­ers, about the size of two foot­ball fields, yields about 3 kilo­grams (6.6 pounds) of saf­fron. The farm­ers can then sell it off to Ira­nian deal­ers at about $1,500 a kilo­gram. Ira­ni­ans, who use it to fla­vor ev­ery­thing from stews and rice to cook­ies and sweets, con­sume about 80 tons a year, the head of the of­fice for ex­pand­ing saf­fron ex­ports, Ali Shariati-Moghadam, told the Ira­nian state news agency IRNA. Now af­ter the nu­clear deal, the coun­try is hop­ing to boost ex­ports, which have lan­guished un­der sanc­tions, amount­ing last year to $165 mil­lion dol­lars, down from a year ear­lier. So far the first seven months of this year have seen an im­prove­ment, with $93 mil­lion in sales, up from the same pe­riod the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to IRNA. Here is a gallery of images by AP pho­tog­ra­pher Ebrahim Noroozi of the saf­fron har­vest in Tor­bat Hey­dariyeh.

— AP pho­tos

Ira­nian farm work­ers sep­a­rate the crim­son stig­mas from the pur­ple blos­soms in the court­yard of a house just out­side the city of Tor­bat Hey­dariyeh, south­east­ern Iran.

Ira­nian farm work­ers har­vest saf­fron flow­ers just out­side the city of Tor­bat Hey­dariyeh, north­east­ern Iran.

Po­ten­tial cus­tomers in­spect saf­fron flow­ers in the saf­fron flow­ers mar­ket in the city of Tor­bat Hey­dariyeh.

Ira­nian vil­lagers sep­a­rate the crim­son stig­mas from the pur­ple blos­soms on the roof of a house just out­side the city of Tor­bat Hey­dariyeh.

Ira­nian farm work­ers har­vest saf­fron flow­ers.

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