The work of saffron
October 2005, 6 a.m. We are in Taliouine, in the heart of the Berber country, in the mіԁԁlе of the Sirwa mountains, in the anti-atlas.
For the first time, I am participating in the saffron harvest.
Pale silhouettes in the tiny pale daylight, bundled up in wool djellabas, scarves twisted around their heads to protect them from the biting cold, fight against sleep, while piling up in vans that will take them to the mountains, a few tens of kilometers away, harvest saffron.
The small blue flowers have bloomed оѵеrnіght, and they must be collected before the sun is high enough to damage them and destroy the vitamins in the spice. The whole family is mobilized, because we only have two to three hours to pick all the flowers in the few hectares hanging on the mountainside.
It will then be necessary, throughout the day, in the half-light of a house, to separate the precious stigmas from the flower, and to dry them for several weeks, to finally obtain saffron. Next night, more flowers will grow, and picking will start again at dawn tomorrow.
All this is done only by hand . First, walk bent towards the ground to distinguish the small flowers, and remove them with a precise gesture of three fingers, without damaging the stigmas. Then for long hours, repeat the mechanical gesture, open the flower, pinch the stigmas, throw the petals, take a flower again, open, pinch…. It takes 140 flowers, therefore 420 stigmas to obtain a gram of dry saffron.
So saffron is prepared, the most expensive spice in the world , powdered gold in a way. Retail prices ranging from 16 to 30 euros per gram in Europe, depending on the qualities. He givesan incomparable taste to the dishes it flavours,a deep yellow colourto the saris of Indian monks and the cedar ceilings of the kasbahs of southern Morocco, where it is also recognized for its therapeutic virtues.
Taliouine and Sirwa: the land of saffron
Taliouine is located in the Sirwa Mountains, the traditional saffron cultivation area. A cooperative, Souktana, was created in the 1980s, and is responsible for quality control and marketing of the 2 to 3 tonnes produced annually.
You can find out more about the cooperativeby going to its page. It is a place where you can buy saffron in peace. Elsewhere, you have to be wary, because there are many counterfeits.La région de Taliouineis very beautiful, and you can easily spend several days there, and make splendid hikes in the mountains. The villages of Siroua, like Ighil n'Oro, Ifrinadnine or Afszimmer hide pretty surprises, and in particular very beautiful fortified agadirs.
Moroccan saffron: a national treasure
Saffron is one of the 39 products highlighted in the Maroc Vert plan. Taliouine saffron is now protected by a PDO and the entire sector has benefited from more than 140 million dirhams of investment.
The Ministry of Agriculture has supported the saffron sector , to combine an increase in cultivated areas and an improvement in quality. Thus the surfaces have tripled and the total production has multiplied by 4.4 between 2008 and 2019. It now exceeds 6.5 tonnes, making Morocco the 4th largest producer of saffron in the worldafter the traditional producers of Iran (430 tonnes) and India (22 tonnes), just behind Greece (7.2 tonnes). ) and ahead of Afghanistan (6 tonnes).
How to buy saffron
Because of its high price, saffron is undoubtedly one of the most adulterated food products there is , after alcohol.
The methods are many and varied, from the use of flower stigmas similar in appearance, but without the same qualities,like turmericor calendula, to weigh down the spice by adding an oil (which will give it a slightly sweet taste).
And above all, the mixture of different kinds of components in the spice which is sold in powder.
We even found brick dust sold like saffron!
You will be offered saffron in the souks, and even in the street. Some of the members of the cooperative keep part of their harvest for themselves, to sell it directly. Never buy powdered saffron, always whole saffron.
The stigmas should be thin and long, dark red in color . The smell should be strong, and the stigmas should stain the fingers. Packaging should be light tight . And above all, the price must be reasonable. A retail price of less than 20 dirhams per gram in Morocco, 4 to 5 euros per gram in Europe should alert you. It can only be an imitation!