Well, it depends on whom you ask.
The European Union has been buying saffron from Morocco’s Central Asian country of Turkmenistan for nearly 10 years now. It’s not only a lucrative source of food, its fragrant flowers, like the aromatic flowers of saffron, are excellent cosmetics, too.
The EU, which recently banned imports of certain saffron-flavored products because some of them contained mercury, has no plans to take the ban off.
“Since the EU has a deep interest in using saffron as a source of ingredients for food, the ban is not expected to affect our operations,” the Union told CNN in an email.
A handful of American, South American and African exporters also export to Turkey, and the ban is expected to affect those exports.
But for those who are interested in the origins of this colorful, delicate plant, that can be a little hard to find.
“It’s not something you can make at home,” said Paul Scharff, a saffron expert who runs the Sustainable Saftone business which offers saffron farming lessons among other businesses, such as floral arrangements.
“So that’s one of the reasons why it’s so sought after,” he said. Saffron is grown throughout the Middle East, and it’s one of those rare ingredients that has made a lot of things — wine, cosmetics, even chocolate — look better than they are.
The best way to consume saffron is to roast it, which involves putting it into a pan and heating it until it caramelizes, or turns orange, which produces a deep, rich flavor. It’s said that using the best saffron has a profound effect on your taste buds, so you’d be wise to try it, right?
Not necessarily. Saffron can be toxic to some people and may cause stomach issues in children.
The plant is not safe for use in food, though, even if it’s being grown on a large scale. The European Union does not import saffron.
So what’s in green?
“It’s actually quite an expensive crop,” Scharff said. “Most of the people who’ve been able to harvest it have had to resort to some pretty desperate measures — like covering trees with tinsel to keep the insects from taking it. The same happens if you’re growing it as a plant.” Most saffron is grown locally,
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