Every Autumn for about 4 to 5 weeks it’s Saffron Season in Iran. I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Iran at that time and learn a lot more than I thought I would learn about Saffron. To be honest, before my trip all I had known about Saffron was that it is the most expensive spice on earth! Why? I didn’t have a clue!
Saffron is what you get by picking out stigmas from the “Crocus sativus” flower and letting them dry. Sometimes you can find it as a powder, but most probably you will see saffron as fine dry red threads. And just to give you an idea about how expensive Saffron is, one gram of saffron costs between a 100 USD and a 1000 USD. It takes about 100-170 flowers to produce one gram, only one gram! Not only because these stigmas are so light, but also because of the high reduction in weight by (80%) after the drying process.
Every flower has to be handpicked because these flowers are very delicate; also the stigmas have to be hand picked out of every flower by hand. During the saffron season, Workers go to the fields and start picking out flowers everyday in the early morning just before sunrise. Everyday where a flower is picked another grows out in the exact same spot the next day. Going to the fields every day was an amazing experience in itself; we saw bands of violet color emerging through the yellow desert. However, on our way back we would see only yellow. These flowers had to be picked in the early morning because of temperature as well, It is preferred that they are picked fresh, before the sun goes up at noon and the flowers wilt. Otherwise, it would be more difficult to remove the stigmas from the flowers.
After the flowers are picked they are collected in large sacks and transferred to the local markets around noon. There, you can see people checking flowers and making sure they are fresh enough before they buy them. Stigmas have to be removed from the flowers on the same day or the day after at most. Then, they are left to dry on large white panels where their weight is reduced by 80%.
Saffron agriculture in Iran is taken very seriously. Saffron is considered a very important part of the culture. During the season you will see so many people from different age groups and educational backgrounds working together in the fields. You will see old men and women as well as very young kids, you will see university students as well as primary and secondary school students, you might even see teachers absent from school because of the Saffron season.
For Iranians, Saffron is not just another spice used for cooking. It is much more than that; they consider it a national treasure. Some people even prefer to have savings as Saffron instead of money or Gold. They call it Red Gold! If you were to visit Iran prepare yourself for a large dosage of Saffron used in different everyday dishes, tea, desserts and much more. They believe that it gives a lot of energy and protects from many diseases.
In the end, I just want to say that it was a great experience. I learned a lot about Iran, it’s culture and it’s people. Everybody we met was very nice, helpful and hospitable. I would like to thank all the organisers of the Saffron Photography Festival for all their efforts, and for giving us the great opportunity of experiencing Iran the way we did. Here is a quick one-minute video about the trip. I hope you enjoy it!