The word saffron derives from the Arab word zafaran, meaning yellow. Saffron and Iran are uniquely linked together. Despite its small size, this spice is quite expensive, and is suitable for many applications. The undisputed capital for saffron production is Iran, where the tradition dates back over 3000 years. The country produces over 90% of the 250 tons produced worldwide each year, boosted by unique ecological conditions that deliver a strong-flavored, aromatic crop that is a staple of local cuisine, cosmetics and traditional medicine. Persian saffron is a natural spice also called Red Gold. It is globally known for its incomparable quality, fascinating fragrance, pleasant flavor, and superb coloring strength.
The scientific name for saffron is crocus sativus. It is both a bulbous and herbal plant. The lifespan of the saffron plant is 7 to 10 years. The brown bulb of the saffron plant belongs to the corm family. Each bulb grows into 6 to 9 thin, herbal leaves. In the autumn, one or two pink or purple colored flowers bloom from each corm. The pistil of the saffron flower is in the center and contains the ovary and the thin, yellow style growing inside. Saffron flowers have bright, red stigmas that are 20 to 30 mm in length. The stigma is the edible and commercial part of saffron. The stigma has many chemical components, such as: carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, pigment (especially crocin), essence (especially safranal) and flavorings (especially picrocin).
Saffron seeds are planted in May or August, then irrigated with care, before the bright pink or violet flowers bloom for about three weeks from mid-October. The stigmas are separated and left to dry in sheds, or hung from the roof in special containers, and then crushed into powder. It takes a staggering 2000 to 3000 flowers to make about 15 g of saffron powder.
The main saffron cultivation areas in Iran are in eastern and southeastern parts of the country, the Khorassan Province region has managed to achieve an excellent position on the production and export of saffron over the years, to the extent that some 90% of saffron production in Iran is obtained from there. The Qayen region in this province is well-known for its quality saffron.
There are other regions in Iran with a history of cultivation but their production has been mainly for domestic consumption with minor role in the country’s export. These regions are in Fars Province, the EStajbanat mainly, and part of Kerman Province whose production is presently on the rise. In general, since the cultivation of saffron requires strong sunshine and warm climate with clayey or sandy land, the eastern part of Iran has a specially suitable environment for its cultivation. The land area under cultivation in Kerman is estimated at 6000 hectares.