Saffron is a coveted spice with a price tag that will make many do a double-take. One pound of this spice can cost anywhere between $500 and $5,000, depending on its quality.
What does the world’s most expensive spice taste like? Saffron has been described as subtle, something between a floral and honey flavor. Some think it is pungent. It is used primarily in rice, vegetables, and baked goods.
It has a long history of being the costliest spice per weight. While it has its origins in Southwest Asia, the Greeks were the first to harvest saffron. Estimates for the first uses of saffron began nearly 3,000 years ago.
Cleopatra is said to have bathed in a tub laced with the spice before she met men as she believed it would heighten sexual pleasure. Thousands of years later, when the Pennsylvania Dutch settled in the New World in the mid to late 18th century, they grew saffron with an exchange rate to that of gold.
Why is this spice so expensive?
For one, it is extremely labor intensive to harvest saffron. Secondly, it is very rare. Saffron flowers are composed of 3 stamens or threads. These flowers are picked and then meticulously de-threaded by hand.
For just one kilo of saffron, it requires 150,000 flowers. For this reason, as well as the intensive labor involved, saffron remains a valuable and costly spice.
Attempts to automate the process have proven unsuccessful. Also, saffron production across the globe is in decline due to a variety of reasons, including poor water management, and loss of fertile lands.
Currently, Iran is the largest producer of saffron. Saffron production is also found in India, parts of Spain, and New Zealand.
The market for saffron is full of imposters. Some vendors offer low-quality saffron (or something entirely different) at the same price as premium saffron. When purchasing this spice, it is essential to know where it comes from and where it was harvested.
If saffron is cheap, then it is possibly a fake version of the spice. One trick to know if you are handling real saffron is to sniff it. If it smells sweet but doesn’t taste sweet, then you most likely have the real deal in your hands.
Many will agree that real saffron is worth the price and can make or break a dish. Besides just creating a great-tasting meal, there are numerous health benefits that this spice contains.
It acts as a powerful antioxidant and can help improve inflammation in the body. Additionally, it is thought that saffron is an effective agent against mild to moderate depression. Perhaps this is where the nickname of “the sunshine spice” came from.
It’s no wonder that saffron is such a sought-after ingredient. As long as the demand for saffron remains and the process of harvesting and preparing this spice for production continues to be done by hand, saffron will maintain its status as the world’s most expensive spice.