Historic document made us believe that saffron was first grew in Iranon the mountains of Zagros and Alvand area. Althongh some believe saffron is originated in Greece and Meditrianian countries, its real origin like most ancient plants is unknown. In ancient persian literature, saffron is known by the name of Korkom (an Arabic name with unknown root). It has been told that saffron got its name from Sahafaran meaning string or Zafaran meaning yellow. It seems that these words and other latin name like Croci or Karkom, Zaffer, Krokas all refer to the same thing which we know nowadays as saffron.
Historic documents had shown that Iranian had a great passion for gold and saffron. They used it in their celebrations and banquets in variety of sweets which were served beside golden coins to their special guests . Ancient Iranian exported this product to Greece, Italy, China and Arabic countries, by doing so they spread the word about medical benefits and characteristics of this herb. The oldest documents that we have in hand regarding saffron application takes us back to Iranian dynasty (Hakhamane shian period). In this period saffron was used in variety of Iranian dishes and foods in the palace kitchen; Mostely because of the distinct aroma and flavour of saffron.
Polygen a greek historian of the second century reported that amount of saffron consumption in Iranian dynasty kitchen was about one kilogram per day. Saffron was also used by the Hakhamaneshian (Achaemennids) in cosmetic products such as moisturizing oils.
Saffron doesn’t need much water that is why it is best grown in dry climate Depending on the weather conditions. Irrigation start between mid september and the end of october. The flowering stage of the product depends to a great extend on the first irrigation process. The field is irrigated in a way that rows of saffron do not reach their peak at the same time, which makes the harvesting process easier. The field is watered once every 12 to 24 days (depending on the weather conditions); except when the field receives sufficient supply of rain .
The third irrigation is done after ploughing, weeding and fertilizing the soil with chemical or organic fertilizers. Ploughing the field is done carefully so the bulbs are not damaged, meanwhile this process loosens the soil and makes it easier for bulbs to grow out of it. Fighting weeds is one of the main challenges of saffron growers They are using a combination of mechanical and chemical methods to control the weeds in the field .
Saffron flowers are harvested manually in mid autumn. As soon as flowers bloom, they are picked in the early morning hours. Then the flowers are carried to the farmers houses and there the saffron stigma is separated from other parts of the flower .The collection and transfer of the flowers should be carried out in clean and dry straw baskets, avoiding any mechanical pressure. It is important to know that the sooner the separation of saffron filament from the rest of the flower happens, the better quality obtained. The stigmas separated from the flowers should be dried as soon as possible.
Drying :Saffron stigmas collected from the flowers are spread over wire sieves. Special heaters are used under these sieves. The heat should be under control not to exceed 65o C. Saffron in this method is dried in 45 minutes.
Packaging :After drying and sorting, saffron is ready to be packaged. Factors that we should consider while preserving the products are:
1 – moisture content of dried saffron
2 – ambient temperature
3 – amount of sun light
4 – oxygen
Saffron type in the market
Saffron types are determined at the time of stigma separation from the flower. There are three type of saffron at the market.
1 – Sargol saffron: this saffron is only the red part of the stigma.
2 – Pushal: the red part along a few millimeter of the yellow part of the saffron stigma.
3 – Saffron bunch: Are the whole stigmas which are collected as a bunch (red and yellow saffron).
Saffron cultivation countries
Soil and weather conditions naturally vary in the saffron cultivating countries. Iran, s climate makes it suitable for saffron growth. Khorasan state has almost %90 of total saffron production in Iran. The area under saffron cultivation is almost 53,180 hectares and annual production is 180 ton (more than %85 of world production). Therefore Iran is the biggest producer of saffron and also provider of the best quality of saffron as well.
In the last few years, Iran’s saffron export market has expanded to almost 43 countries Iran’s saffronproduction has increased considerably and a large part of this is exported.