Every spring. There’s a lot of research that says you have to be up at 6:30 AM, and then it’s done.” A bit more serious is Kevin Akerlund, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. When people ask him what he thinks of these theories, he can’t help but take a stab at debunking them. “For example, I’m not really sure where the notion of people being able to harvest saffron has come from, because there’s an awful lot of evidence to the contrary,” he explains. “There are plenty of other forms of gold in nature, such as carnelian, ochre, and even precious stones.” He has a point. “And a lot of people—including mine—have made this claim,” he admits, but he has only heard about a small segment of the field’s proponents. “This is a little bit of a wild-west, wild-eyed idea.” He also agrees with the general idea that there are no plants in the world that you can’t easily ripen at home. “Not even those plants that are used in the food industry. I actually think there’s pretty convincing evidence to the contrary.” “I’m a pretty smart guy.” There are plenty of people in America who want to turn us all into gardeners. But, according to experts, there are still a lot more questions than answers about the origins of the spice.
Gardener Ronny Ostermann. Photo by Dave Lee Forbes
“I’m a fairly smart guy, so I’m very skeptical of the science,” says Michael Johnson, professor of anthropology at Texas A&M University, who has written a book about the history of saffron, which is also called saffron. “My sense would be that it’s either very old, or very old plants or it’s new.” His own research into the cultivation and trade of the spice suggests that it’s likely that a common plant called saffron was brought into Europe from India in the late 10th century and then spread to the Middle East. It was used in Arab cuisines around the same time, but Johnson and other experts argue that we’re talking centuries before the discovery of saffron by Christopher Columbus. In fact, the spice itself has been around for at least 1,000 years: “The oldest known use of the spice is in Egypt for a drink called Kola, brewed from it during the New Kingdom,” explains Johnson. Kola was a
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