Saffron Coming to the USA?

Saffron threads. Photo by Hubertl.

Researchers at the University of Vermont have been working to encourage the cultivation of the world’s most expensive spice, saffron. The exotic spice comes from a fall-flowering crocus, which is now grown mostly in Iran. U of V scientists have already been raising the flower and extracting the valuable spice, and now would like to see others get involved.

Interest is growing as potential cultivators discover that the spice is harvested in late fall, when most other crops have already died. It is also tolerant of extreme climates and the short growing season of the Northeast. It is also lucrative, selling for $19 per gram.

One woman who attended a U of V sold-out workshop, asked if “this is the red gold we’ve been looking for?” Potential growers of saffron attended the workshop from New England, Indiana, and even California.

U of V researchers said that yields can deliver about $4.03 a square foot, comparing favorably with tomatoes at $3.51 a square foot and $1.81 a square foot for winter leafy greens. Saffron grown in high tunnels, a greenhouse-like structure without heat, on an acre of land could bring in as much as $100,000 each season.

The crocus produces stigmas in the plants purple flowers, which are removed and dried into small red threads. The spice can be added to a large variety of foods like paella, bouillabaisse, and rice. It is also valued as a natural dye, used as a medicine, and even put in the warm baths of Cleopatra.

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