A family of farmers plucking stigmas from saffron flowers in the Kashmir Valley of India. Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and it comes from the crimson-colored stigma of the “crocus sativus” flower. The flowers bloom for a few weeks in late October and early November and are cultivated on small-scale family farms. The families pick their flowers by hand and then take them home to pluck out the stigma and styles (known as threads). Traditionally, the stigmas are dried in the shade to preserve their dark red color. A new saffron processing center built by the government offers local access to vacuum driers that remove the moisture, which is 80% of the stigma weight, and gives farmers the option to sell it via an online auction with transparent pricing. The vacuum drying process improves the flavor, and the drying center geotags the final product, certifying the origin which increases the sale price.
There are some 3,700 hectares of saffron planted in Jammu and Kashmir, and some 90% of it is here in the valleys around Pampore. India is the world’s second-largest producer of saffron after Iran, with 7% of global production. Local dealers sell packaged saffron for INR about $3/gm, or US$1,200/lb., but retail prices in the U.S. can average $5-10,000/lb.
- ©2021 George Steinmetz
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