Conca de Barberà Saffron

Ark of taste
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Saffron has long been one of the world’s most expensive substances by weight, but nonetheless its production is gradually declining. Saffron cultivation has always been closely related to the most cultured civilizations of the Eastern world. From Anatolia, saffron reached the Mediterranean via the Arabs who travelled along the Silk Route, arriving in the Iberian peninsula in the 8th and 9th centuries.

Conca de Barberà saffron comes from the flowers of Crocus sativus, grown in this inland Catalonian region, particularly around Lleida, Barcelona and Tarragona.

The spice began to acquire significance in Spain in the Middle Ages with the centers of Montblanc and the Cistercian monastery of Poblet. Over time, however, production declined and by the 1920s it had almost completely disappeared. A project to revive saffron in Conca de Barberà was started in 2008, and in 2014 the producers united in the Safracat association. The spice has played a fundamental role in the region’s culinary traditions since the Middle Ages. Two of the most important medieval Catalan cookbooks—the Llibre de Sent Soví and the Llibre de Coc—cite it as one of the most commonly used ingredients.

In the Conca de Barberà region, the genetic material of the traditional saffron variety is preserved in small plots which have remained unchanged over the centuries, even though, in practical terms, organized cultivation died out around 90 years ago. This is why it is essential to work to maintain the varietal differences between the different types. An annual production of around 10 to 15 kilos of dried saffron is estimated, with variations depending on the weather conditions. Thanks to the Safracat association and collaboration with local restaurants, work is being done to raise the product’s profile.

Conca de Barberà saffron is at risk of extinction because, due to high labor costs, cultivation in the historic area has almost entirely disappeared.

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