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Saffron, the Most Expensive Spice

May 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

This article was written by Phineas Upham

Saffron was popular throughout the western world because of its color, flavor and fragrance. It’s a plant that’s native to the eastern region of the Mediterranean, but evidence also suggests it was cultivated in Persia and Mesopotamia as well.

Saffron was an abundant spice in the ancient days. It was used as an ointment in ancient Persia, and the Egyptians believed that the plant had the power to heal. Saffron was prized primarily for its deep gold color with its reddish hue. Both of these colors were known extensively throughout early civilizations to denote status.

The Romans used saffron, but there is no evidence suggesting they brought it with them into Europe. It seems not every Roman treat was important enough to bring with the army. It wasn’t until the fourteenth century that medieval Europe began to import the spice and start an industry based around it.

There is some evidence that suggests it was the Phoenicians who introduced the Spanish to saffron. The herb had been used extensively for cooking prior to then, but Spain would eventually become the world leader in saffron production.

So what makes saffron expensive?

Saffron is the dried stigma of the flower Crocus sativus. These blossoms must be handpicked by flower, which is an incredible undertaking. As a result of the required man power and painstaking labor, saffron is still one of the highest cost herbs. During the Renaissance, it was common to garnish a guest’s plate with saffron as a show of wealth. When the herb became more affordable, it actually suffered a hit to its popularity.


About the Author: Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phineas Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media & Technology group. You may contact Phineas on his Twitter page.

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