Saffron is a plant from Iridaceae family which is grown in desert soils. That’s why it is known as the red gold or desert gold. It is a perennial and stemless plant that has a bulb and it is added to the Iranian dishes to enhance the taste and create a beautiful color. To obtain one kilogram of dried saffron, you need 110,000 to 170,000 saffron flowers. Furthermore, a worker needs to work 40 hours to pick 150,000 flowers. With an average production of 90 to 93% of saffron global production (between 200 to 300 tons per year), Iran ranks first in this regard. Spain ranks second with an average production of 25 tons.
Saffron is a colorful and precious plant that grows up to 30 cm in height. It has purple flowers with six petals. Saffron flowers have three stamens and a gynoecium leading to the stigma in red. The part of the plant that we use is end of the style and the stigma which is known as saffron.
Saffron can grow in harsh environmental conditions. The plant needs water only at the beginning of Aban (the second month of fall) and rain and snow will be sufficient for it until the beginning of spring. However, the plant is produced in different cities of Iran and it is regarded as one of the Iranian spices exported to other countries.
Saffron cultivation in Iran dates back to 3000 years ago and it is grown in low rainfall regions of Iran with cold winters and hot summers. In fact, its origin was the hillside of Alvand Mountain (Hamedan). The first saffron fields in the world were built near Hamedan and Kermanshah and then reached to different parts of Iran, including Khorasan. Out of about 230 tons of saffron which is produced in the world every year, about 170 tons belong to Khorasan. Among the cities that are involved in saffron cultivation in Razavi Khorasan province and South Khorasan province, Qayen is the most famous one and it is known as the Iranian saffron capital. According to the Chamber of Commerce of the province, the history of saffron cultivation in Qayen dates back to about 700 years ago. Qayen saffron currently ranks first in the world in terms of quality. The vast majority of people in Khorasan region are engaged in the cultivation of the red gold; therefore, it plays a significant role in people’s lives in Northeastern Iran. In terms of transportation, the red gold does not cost a lot of money and it is economical.
Regarding the limitations of its cultivation and production, the red gold is considered as one of the most expensive Iranian spices. Due to its excellent color, aroma and delicious taste, saffron is widely used to produce food, pharmaceutical and chemical products. The plant also has some nutritional and medicinal values. One of its medicinal properties is that it makes you feel exhilarated and it is considered as a depression medicine. It is used as a natural and herbal medicine to calm your nerves.
There are different kinds of saffron that vary in terms of their usage and properties. Here are four different types of this popular Iranian spice.
1) Negin Saffron
Among the categories considered for different kinds of the red gold, Negin saffron has the highest grade. Its high grade is due to its thickness and coloring strength. It is also known as Super-Negin. It is the best Iranian saffron and the most expensive one found in Iran.
2) Sargol Saffron
It is the most common type of saffron that people use. In Sargol saffron, there is no yellow or white part of the plant and the consumer only sees the red part of the plant. That’s why it is known as “All Red” in other countries. The threads in this type of saffron are separated, detached and clean. Sargol saffron is also known as “Sar risheh”, “Sar ghalam” and “Mumtaz”. It can be used for medical and industrial purposes, as well as household ones and best of all, it is used in cooking.
3) Pushal Saffron
Pushal saffron is some kind of the red gold that has red stigmas with the style (between three to five millimeters). Production of this kind of saffron is at the beginning of the harvest season. This flower also has more duration than the other saffron flowers because it has the style along with its stigmas. one Kilogram of Pushal saffron is approximately harvested by 101 Kilogram of saffron flowers. It is less expensive than Negin saffron.
4) Dasteh (bunch) Saffron
Although it is now considered somewhat obsolete, in the old days farmers and people used this kind of saffron. Regarding Bunch saffron, the stigmas are supplied together with the style which is a complete thread of saffron between 3 to 5 cm. It is also known as Dokhtarpich saffron and compared with other kinds of Iranian saffron, it is the cheapest.