In the remote village of Rostaye Ghol, located in the Khorasan region of Iran, saffron is sacred.
The name “Rostaye Ghol” literally means “Village of Flowers”, and as you might imagine, the locals take saffron very seriously.
They refuse to use middlemen to sell their saffron. And they shut down the roads around the farms during the harvest season.
They do this to limit access to the precious heirloom saffron bulbs that make Khorasan saffron the finest in the world. Those bulbs are not for outsiders. And they’re not for sale. They’re strictly a family affair: passed down from generation to generation.
But the inhabitants of Rostaye Ghol are not alone in treasuring saffron bulbs. On other small family farms that still dot the Khorasan region, heirloom bulbs are guarded just as jealousy. The Iranian government itself, in an effort to protect the agricultural heritage of the nation, has made it illegal to take saffron bulbs out of the country.
So what’s all the fuss about these bulbs? And what does it mean for the saffron buyer outside of Iran? That’s what we’ll cover in this article.
WHY SO VALUABLE?
First of all, you have to understand something about how saffron is grown. The saffron crocus is a flower with a long history of human cultivation. It’s not something that grows wild, and it doesn’t reproduce itself like other crops. The saffron crocus that we know today has to be grown from bulbs which are kept from year to year. Each plant is essentially a clone. The better the bulb, the better the saffron.
What’s more, saffron doesn’t grow well in many parts of the world (one of the reasons it’s so expensive). In fact, there are only a handful of places on Earth with the necessary soil, water, and air to grow really top-quality saffron.
That means that there’s big money in saffron bulbs—especially in parts of the world where they could be commercially farmed. Khorasan saffron bulbs in the north of England wouldn’t do you much good—despite the quality of the source, . But those same bulbs in the hands of a large commercial farming operation in Iran could be worth millions.
That’s why small-batch producers (the good guys, who still grow and harvest the natural way) are so serious about keeping the family treasure from falling into the hands of agribusiness.
So why does this matter to saffron buyers around the world? Because understanding these issues can help buyers source the best quality saffron—and weed out the imitators.
IT’S IN THE DNA
One thing to consider is that saffron bulbs are the product of their environment. And the climate where these bulbs have been cultivated, for decades or even centuries, has left its imprint on their DNA. To offer one example, South Khorasan saffron is genetically adapted to grow in, you guessed it, the southern part of Khorasan. And there aren’t many places on Earth with a similar climate: mild winters; hot, dry summers; soil with a high clay content that retains just enough water, but not too much; no permanent rivers, only seasonal waterways; enough clean groundwater to dig wells as needed.
So if someone does manage to smuggle those South Khorasan bulbs outside of Iran, and is trying to grow them in, for example, a much colder, wetter climate, that means one of two things. Either they’re going to wind up with an inferior product. Or they’re going to have to resort to GMO methods to get their saffron to grow in its new home.
Either way, that’s bad news for saffron buyers. Chefs looking for a potent, high-quality ingredient for their favourite dishes are likely to be disappointed by the flavour and purity of a plant forced to grow far from its natural habitat. And it’s even worse news for people interested in saffron for its many health benefits, who may end up, instead, with a GMO “Frankensaffron”.
Even though , there are some other places in the world with a history of saffron cultivation. But sadly, the realities of the modern world are causing problems for farmers there.
To offer one example, Indian saffron production has been hit hard by the ecological problems caused by a rapidly industrializing economy combined with insufficient government regulation.
The agricultural sector there, despite its thousands of years of history, has shifted heavily to large-scale farming and industrial techniques. And that means chemical fertilizers and harsh —some so dangerous that they’re actually banned in other countries. Because of this, much of the arable land and groundwater has been contaminated or is simply “burnt out” from overuse. That makes it hard for even traditional farmers to promise a pure and unadulterated product.
Hopefully, India’s government will be able to turn things around, curb the worst excesses of agribusiness, and guarantee small farmers access to clean soil and water. But until then, Iran will likely continue to dominate saffron production.
So what about our saffron? Saffronice sources its saffron from a handful of family farms in the South Khorasan region of Iran. We don’t do business with industrial farming outfits, middlemen, or even small farms that fail to meet our rigorous standards. And unlike most saffron exporters, our management team has a food and nutrition scientist to supervise every aspect of saffron production and make sure it makes the grade.
Our farmers are committed to doing things the old-fashioned way. They use heritage bulbs and grow their crop without chemical fertilizers or pesticides—only all-natural, old-school animal fertilizers on those farms. All cultivation and harvests are done by hand (with a little help from the local bulls when it’s time to plow). And the saffron is processed the traditional way—air-dried, without using heat or dehydration machines.
The results speak for themselves: rich, flavorful saffron that exceeds the ISO standard by up to 20% in lab tests.
Note: in South Khorasan province where Saffronice’s saffrons come from by the end of the harvest season farmers don’t take the Bulb out of the land due to the dry season and climate, and Saffron bulb will stay in the same farm for 5 – 7 years. Whereas in other parts of the world farmers have to take Bulbs out to keep them safe and to extend the Bulbs life spam while are out of the land they need to mix the bulbs with anti-fungus chemical components which is not a traditional way of farming!
South Khorasan province has a unique climate this province is surrounded by the high mountains and highlands which protect the most fertile clayish/sandy low area in the middle section of this state.
Since the southern Khorasan province is located in the desert climate, rivers in this area are seasonal, and there is no permanent river. However, Khorasan is sleeping over one of Iran’s most ancient and biggest Subterranean lake( Ganat= the ancient method of a horizontal well drilling), which is the primary reason for the state fertile, perfectly moist soil, mild and dry climate.