Saffron: French red gold rises from its ashes

Saffron: French red gold rises from its ashes
Saffron: French red gold rises from its ashes

The most expensive spice in the world, saffron, is experiencing a spectacular revival in France. Formerly cultivated throughout the country, its production had almost disappeared in the 20th century. But in recent years, local initiatives and enthusiasts have revived this ancestral culture, restoring French saffron to its former glory.

Saffron, called “red gold” for its color and exorbitant price, is a spice derived from the pistil of the crocus sativus flower. Its cultivation requires meticulous and delicate work: the flowers are harvested at dawn, manually, and it takes around 250,000 flowers to obtain one kilo of dried saffron. These requirements explain its astronomical price, which can reach 30,000 euros per kilo.

Saffron: an ancient journey across continents and cuisines

The history of saffron is closely linked to that of civilizations and commercial exchanges. Originally from Asia Minor, saffron has been cultivated for over 3,500 years. Since Antiquity, saffron has been used for its medicinal and dyeing properties. In the Middle Ages, saffron became a valuable spice throughout Europe, used both in cooking and medicine. In France, its introduction dates back to the 10th century, thanks to the Arabs and the Crusaders. From this time on, its culture developed rapidly throughout the country. French saffron is quickly becoming renowned for its quality and finesse.

However, from the 17th century, saffron production in France declined. Competition from other spices, such as pepper and paprika, contribute to its scarcity. In fact, in the 20th century, the cultivation of saffron became almost non-existent in France.

A promising revival: the rise of French saffron plantations

Since the 2000s, there has been a renewed interest in French saffron. New saffron plantations are emerging in different regions. Today in France, there are saffron growers in around forty French departments with significant production in the Loiret (Gâtinais saffron), the Lot (Quercy saffron) and in the Creuse (a large saffron plantation of 1 ha is the largest). important exploitation in France). In terms of volumes, France remains a small producer of saffron. In fact, its annual harvest does not exceed 100 kilos! A very modest harvest compared to 150 to 200 tonnes produced each year in Iran which in fact supplies 90 to 95% of the world market. In Europe, only Greece stands out with 4 to 8 tonnes per year.

Niche market opportunities

Despite a uniform presence in the territory, this culture remains confidential. Sold at a price of €30/gram, the delicate spice is intended more for niche markets. The methods of marketing this spice are short circuits: direct sales in markets, farms, delicatessens, to restaurateurs. In fact, one of them decided to create a dedicated establishment. Michelin-starred chef Claude-Emmanuel Robin opened his restaurant L’Allée des Vignes in Cajarc, renamed La Maison du Safran. Centered on saffron, the concept offers innovative dishes and products, as well as culinary workshops. The objective is twofold: to democratize haute cuisine and to promote local saffron. An inventive menu that is aimed at everyone.

And if saffron fascinates you, you can buy bulbs from specialists. For around forty euros, you can plant around a hundred bulbs in your vegetable garden. With this quantity, you will harvest at best one gram! Courage !

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