On Taste: Why is Saffron so Expensive?

“The most expensive food on earth costs more per ounce than silver.” This is how Max Falkowitz puts the preciousness of real saffron into perspective in his recent article on TASTE.

As soon as we read this TASTE article, one thing came to mind: Gualtiero Marchesi’s iconic “Risotto Oro e Zafferano” dish, which actually includes a real gold leaf. We like to think Maestro Marchesi did this to emphasize the rarity and uniqueness of saffron.

“It’s always been treated as a delicacy: a fabric dye for royalty, a perfume compound for the wealthy, an ingredient reserved for special meals that immediately signify luxury.” But why? “Consider what saffron actually is and where it comes from. Saffron threads are the stamens of the crocus sativus flower, a tricky-to-grow plant that demands careful human cultivation. The crocus only fully blooms for a few hours a day, and each flower yields just three tiny saffron threads. It takes over 50,000 flowers to produce just one pound of saffron—laborious work that requires skilled labor to do right.” Ben detto Falkowitz!

Take our producer of saffron, the Altopiano Cooperative of Navelli, for example. They are a group of fewer than 100 crocus farmers who harvest and process entirely by hand what is considered the best saffron in the world. Their tiring and painstaking work generates a product that is off the charts for its preciousness and strength. Just a tiny thread will bring a waterfall of inimitable flavor, color, elegance, and personality to an unthinkable number of recipes, both savory and sweet.

So how does anyone afford to cook with saffron? The answer is that if you use real saffron, a little goes a long way. We say “real” because saffron is one of the most commonly frauded spices in the world. One of the ways you know a saffron might not be pure is because of its weak flavor. When you have real, true saffron you just need a few threads to spice your entire meal.

Here’s the link to read “Why is Saffron so Expensive?” on TASTE.