Why is saffron so expensive?

May 6, 2020

You can taste it at your favourite Indian and Pakistani restaurant and you might even have some in your spice cupboard at home: we’re talking about saffron.


It’s known more for adding vibrant colour to dishes rather than its very subtle flavours and aromas. So why does a spice that adds little in the way of flavour cost more than £10,000 per kilo? The reason is twofold: labour intensiveness and rarity.


Saffron is harvested from the crocuses of the saffron crocus flower. Each individual flower produces just three single stigmas of Saffron. As there is no mechanical way of separating these single strands from the flower, they have to be carefully separated by hand before being carefully dried.


The process is so delicate and time consuming that it requires 80,000 crocus flowers to produce just one pound of saffron. These flowers must be grown, cared for and hand harvested to prevent damaging the flowers during the autumn season when the flowers bloom.


When you require the space of two football pitches to produce one single kilo, a product as small and delicate as saffron is going to become a rarity on the market. It is this rarity, plus the labour required to farm the product that drives the price so high.


Fortunately, saffron is grown today in large parts of Spain, India, Morocco, Italy, Iran and even the USA is starting to become a large grower of saffron after their importing levels rose dramatically between 2013 and 2016 from 25 tonnes to 46 tonnes.


Saffron is readily available at your local supermarket. Even if just 0.4g will set you back around £4, the demand for the rare spice still grows and home cooks and restaurants use the vibrant spice in a number of popular dishes.


Here at Royal Nawaab restaurant we try and source the very best quality saffron for a number of our dishes.