Saffron is one of the most expensive and least known spices in the world. Few people know where saffron comes from and how it is harvested, even though we can retrace its presence in ancient works such as the Song of Songs and the Illiad.
Saffron comes from the stigma of a small crocus flower, the Crocus sativus, which is very adaptable, easy to cultivate, and originated in the eastern Mediterranean, including Macedonia, the Peloponnese, and parts of Asia Minor. Thanks to its versatility it has become part of the gastronomic and cultural traditions of many countries, including Spain.
Brought to the Iberian Peninsula more than 1,000 years ago by North African Arabs, saffron became an indispensable component in various traditional dishes. Like many spices imported to Europe in the age of discovery, saffron became a spice for the rich. It was so common that the upper classes used it to protect their clothes from moths and as a perfume. Since those days, the production of saffron has not changed much; halfway through October the saffron fields become a deep violet purple color tinged with dark red, which comes from the flower’s precious stigma: these are the “días de manto”, and signal to the farmer that the heavy work of harvesting is ready to be carried out. This process is daily and takes place over two-three weeks. First the flowers are picked, and then they are all laid out on a flat work surface. This is followed by desbriznado, the most important phase of the operation, when the three stigmas of the plant are separated from the blossom. To do this, the farmers hold the flower in one hand and delicately detach the three stigma from the blossom with index finger and thumb, working slowly to ensure that the flower does not break.
The Jiloca comarca in the province of Teruel has always been known for its saffron, locally known as oro de los pobres, or ‘poor man’s gold.’ This area has the ideal climactic conditions for saffron cultivation; it varies from 700 to 900 meters in altitude and has long cold winters and brief, hot summers. In the past, Jiloca farmers always reserved a part of their land for saffron cultivation.
Everyone participated in the harvest and its taxing rituals of harvest and saffron thread cleaning with the help of hundreds of azafraneras, who arrived from bordering areas to assist in this labor-intensive work. The intense days of work concluded with a dance in the town plaza to celebrate the harvest.
The presidium will work to connect the communication about this product with guided ta- stings and comparative samplings of various types of saffron, including those made from lesser spices and added aromas. Organizing tastings of saffron is by far the most efficient means of explaining why this spice is so precious, as few other foods can convey such sensual pleasure.
Jiloca, Teruel province, Aragon region
Asociación de Productores de Azafrán de Jiloca