The Most Expensive Spice in the World

Crocus sativus is the scientific name of the plant native to Central Asia, whose violet flowers house the small reddish threads we know as saffron. Saffron is considered the most expensive spice in the world; the price of a pure portion of it can reach up to $10,000 USD per kilo. It contains unique chemical compounds, such as safranal, which is an anticonvulsant, antioxidant, and anticarcinogenic (and is also speculated to have antidepressant properties).

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Saffron is commonly used to give certain dishes their golden hue, like paellas in Spain. Its high market value is due to the delicate harvesting process. There have even been cases of fraud in which a similar herb is sold for the high price of the original spice.

The word saffron has changed little in spite of having been adopted by many languages, although most historians agree that it comes from the Arabic-Spanish al-zafaran, which is also the word for the color yellow. Other sources affirm that it comes from the Persian zaferan, which means feather. This may be because inside the flower, saffron appears as small, delicate filaments, which are then extracted and dried.

Photo: © Archeophoto via

It is said that saffron has been used since ancient Egyptian times, where it was called karcom or krokum. In ancient Greece, it was considered a luxury item, and dyeing one’s clothes yellow with it was a symbol of status, while its perfume was considered a sensual aroma that was misted throughout courtyards, streets, baths, and vestibules. It would later be mentioned in the Iliad and the Old Testament.

Currently, the largest exporters of saffron are Iran, Afghanistan, and Spain, where it is always in demand, as it is a fundamental ingredient of Aragonese and Valencian cuisines.

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