Saffron

Saffron is a spice derived from the dried stigma of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) and by weight is the world’s most expensive spice. It is used in cooking for seasoning and colouring. About 300 tonnes of saffron is produced annually throughout the world. The major saffron-producing countries are Azerbaijan, Greece, Iran, Italy, India, Morocco and Spain. Many other countries produce minor amounts and one of these is Switzerland. The saffron crocus grows at 1200 metres altitude on the mountain slopes of the village of Mund in Canton Valais and this is now the only place in Switzerland where saffron is cultivated. It takes about 130,000 flowers to produce one kilogram of saffron. At the time of writing, a kilogram cost about 17,000 US dollars. But despite the price, no one here gets rich from cultivating crocuses: there’s too much effort for too little return. Nevertheless, there are those who are prepared to spend time in maintaining this local cultural asset. As saffron threatened to die out in Mund, a Saffron Trade Guild was founded in 1979. The Guild now has over 200 members, of whom about 135 are part-time planters cultivating a total area of around 18,000 m2. But it’s demanding work as the fields need tending virtually every day in autumn. And then there’s the tedious job of gently extracting the saffron stigmas from the freshly gathered flowers. After being air-dried for about 48 hours, the saffron is stored in tightly-sealed dark jars to retain its aroma. The total saffron harvest in Mund is clearly limited and top gastronomes are always eager to get their hands on this precious, aromatic spice from Switzerland.

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