Saffron the New Spanish Gold

It takes 250,000 of these flowers to make 1 kilo of saffron

Lovers of Paella will know that you need that most important spice, saffron, to give it the distinctive deep yellow colour and most critically the taste to die for.  However what is less well known is that despite Spain being one of the largest growers of the saffron crocus from which it comes, they cannot keep up with demand.

In La Mancha where it was first introduced by the Moors, whole families have for centuries grown, harvested and sold this sought after spice.  As with olive growing it is a family business that involves dedication and tradition not to mention patience.  Imagine how long it must take to strip the stigmas from the crocus flower with it needing 250,000 flowers to yield 1 kilo of threads.  At this point it is worth 3000€ per kilo.

In La Mancha they can only produce 1500 kilos per year and yet exports from Spain are about 190,000 kilos.  An amazing mismatch that can only be explained by the import of Iranian, Moroccan and Greek produce.  The growers of La Mancha are quick to point out that the largest exporters are the regions of Valencia and Murcia where saffron is not even grown.  Often these inferior products contain more than just the stigma and tests have even found a completely different spice such as cardamom being present.  It is claimed that lower quality foreign imports make up the difference with adulterated product being commonly sold as Spanish (apparently it is within the EU laws to label it as such).

Cooks who want the best should look for saffron with the official “Genuine La Mancha Saffron” label.

At Restaurante Cantueso we only cook Paella to order after 24 hours notice as it cannot be prepared in advance without losing lots of delicate flavours.  In a previous blog post we detailed the great influence that the Moors have had on Spanish culture, architecture, agriculture and of course cuisine. See “Sugar the lost crop in Periana”