Saffron, the thin thread-like stigmas from a crocus flower (crocus sativus linnaeus), has been cultivated for thousands of years. It’s origins are likely Persian, at least the Persian word za’ferân is where the French word safran is thought to have originated. Iran is still where the majority of saffron is grown (around 90 percent today). It’s quite interesting to see the similarities in the word in almost any language, which shows the impressive movement of this one product throughout the world.
Saffron was always an expensive spice, invoking piracy and even preferable to gold for pirates…I can only imagine as it was easier to carry than gold coin. During the pandemic of bubonic plague a war ensued called the ‘Saffron War’. It was so valued as a cure for the suffering that stocks in Europe were depleted, so more was ordered from the East. A load of saffron worth around 500,000 EURO today was on it’s way West when it was captured and fought over in Basel, Switzerland in the 12th century. Ultimately, this would create a booming crocus industry in Basel, making it a very rich city and the epicenter for saffron trade.
Its history in France is also rich, a product that made it’s way to Europe through the many trails from the East since the Romans. Almost forgotten in the centuries following, it is thought to have been reintroduced by the Moors during their siege into Southern France, ending at Poitiers, Aquitaine in the 8th century. Used as a spice in foods, but also for inks, dyes and medicine, this highly prized spice is still sought after for cures to common aliments. Monks used to use it in their artwork, the golden color was a perfect substitute for actual gold. Saffron production was at a climax during the 16th century, when it was grown all over Mediterranean Europe, until a gradual decline over the coming centuries due to the creation of cheaper, fake substitutes and the inability to mechanize labor.
Things have been changing for the better, the end of the 20th century saw a massive increase in demand and production, particularly in Spain (largest producer and consumer in Europe). Chefs now want a local, high quality product, and saffron farms are once again taking off in France with people passionate about production and hand harvesting. There’s a list of producers in Nouvelle Aquitaine towards the end of this post.
How to Buy :
You might wonder how to tell the good saffron from the bad safflower, why are some threads costing three times as much as other ‘saffron’. Why doesn’t my saffron smell or color my food? Well, as with many expensive food items, besides the quality, you also have to question the authenticity. It takes around 200,000 threads of saffron to make a kilo, which sells for anywhere from 3,000-6,000 EURO (it’s much more in the USA). If you consider that each crocus will only have three threads of saffron per flower, this is a serious labor intensive harvest. When purchasing, there is true saffron that is still much less expensive than the really high quality, so price isn’t always the easiest way to tell the authenticity.
The Safranschou code was created in the 15th century to punish those selling fake or altered saffron. Today, the fines are less, but the problem persists. If you want to make sure what you bought is the real thing, first look at the shape of your threads. Is there a bulge at one end? Does the color come off on your fingers? Is the smell intense, earthy and sweet? If not, you don’t have saffron.
Here is a good video How To Tell Real Saffron From Fake | Saffron Purity Test (2019) – YouTube which explains so much more.
Where to buy :
Gironde – Safran de Garonne* – Can buy saffron, but also products made with saffron like jellies and syrups. Chantal Arnaud gives a great tour offered for 6-9 EURO pp filled with history and delicious saffron tastings (book in advance) / 33410 Beguey / +33 (0)5 56 62 16 64 / Safran de Garonne – Site de safrandegaronne ! (jimdofree.com) / email@example.com
Terr’a Safran is a family farm, bio certified since 2013. You can order online and they do offer visits for groups / 161 PASS Mathieu Eyraud, 33750 Nerigean / +33 (0)6 62 65 15 14 / Plantation et vente de safran près de Bordeaux – Terr’a Safran / firstname.lastname@example.org
Dordogne – Safraniere la Borie Blanche / Lieu dit la Borie Blanche, 46300 Le Vigan / Safran et produits safranés – Safranière La Borie Blanche (safranierelaborieblanche.fr)
Lot-et-Garonne – De La Roserie d’Angel / Lieu dit Piquemil, 47200 Marmande / https://www.delaroseraieangel.com/
Landes – Rougetrompette sells not only saffron, but the bulbs to grow your own flowers. Tours are not offered, but check out Vanessa Roussille’s beautiful Instagram with images like the ones above / 40390 Saint André de Seignanx / email@example.com / Rougetrompette
Persian Tehdeeg Rice might be one of my favorite dishes, here is a great recipe by Chef Bardia Ilbeiggi https://www.bardiailbeiggi.ca/blog/the-beloved-tehdeeg-or-persian-crispy-rice
We can take you to saffron farms, however, the best time of year to see them is in September/October/November when the flowers are out. The harvesting has to take place in early morning and quickly to preserve the flavor. Contact us to plan your visit at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more :
A Bite Sized History of France by Stephane Henaut
*this is the only farm I have purchased from personally, I cannot testify to the quality of other farms but welcome your feedback if you should buy locally or have any personal experience with others!