“The beauty of saffron is its colour, it can appear in a variety of colours and in a variety of situations,” said Arun Bhardwaj, the head of the division that deals with international markets at Spice Group, one of the India’s top producers of the spice – and the No. 1 spice globally. The colour comes from the colourless sulphur containing the saffron-like ingredient, chilis, which is left in the seeds as the chilhas can be smoked or fried. A small drop of this ingredient can have the same color as a drop of saffron-rich water.
“Saffron is so rare because India is predominantly a rice-growing country. The spice was first imported to the U.S. from Morocco in the late 1800s,” Bhardwaj explained in a phone interview. “It went through some stages of its production in India until the 1970s, when the crop became too expensive to make in India. Around 80 percent was in the U.S., with the remaining 20 percent in Europe.”
After the discovery of saffron in Vietnam in 1910, India began importing the yellow variety, while Europe became the key market for Asia’s finest saffron. “In Europe you have to have a license because it is a narcotic like poppy and its use has increased over the years,” explained Bhardwaj.
The problem was that the seeds are too small to be transported, so they were kept in their bag (called a “pita”) and had to be kept at room temperature.
Even a few grains in the ground would contaminate the saffron water. And in countries where the plants could not reach the growing seasons, the saffron water is sold as a delicacy.
“It has been very rare,” he said. “But I am sure over the next two to three years it will be around the same.”
The spice industry is also aware that it has a “problem” with the black or “black pepper” part of the saffron plant. That is the seeds that give it its colour, a problem for which there are so few suppliers in India. “The Indian saffron seed is grown in the U.S. and is imported,” the Spice Group said on its website. “In the U.S. there is a problem with black peppers.”
The “black pepper” problem has been a concern of the U.S
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