The Guardian recently had an article in their Life & Style section about the spice saffron. Their tagline for the piece was “It’s hard to produce and more costly than gold“.
These things are undoubtably true: each stem of saffron started life as a stigma on a crocus. Each bulb flowers only once each year, producing just two or three stigma which must then be harvested by hand. The writer of the article was provided, by Harrods, with a sample: 2g of saffron produced by over 400 flowers and costing £25 (at the time of writing about 30€ or $37).
Saffron’s usage, and cultivation, goes back an incredibly long way:
For as long as there have been people, people have known about saffron. A dye from its stigmas colours 50,000-year-old cave paintings in what is now Iraq. Ancient frescoes on the Greek island of Santorini depict a goddess watching – or perhaps blessing – a woman picking saffron, presumably for medicine. No one knows how old this painting is: a volcano buried it in around 1500BC, and the work could have been hundreds of years old even then.
Now here’s the oddity: saffron, and many other herbs and spices, are surprisingly inexpensive in Cyprus. That’s not to say that it’s possible to buy premium grade saffron cheaply but it is certainly cheaper than the UK.
At the time of writing Carrefour are selling 30g of Syrian saffron for 3€; that is about 7% of the price of the saffron sold by Harrods.
For anyone coming on holiday to Cyprus it would be a great shame not to reserve a corner of the suitcase for a supply of herbs and spices bought from any of the supermarkets. In the space it would take to re-pack a novel it should be possible to re-stock the kitchen stocks of herbs and spices for a year.
Saffron, peppercorns, coriander, mustard seeds and crushed chillis are all great buys here.