Saffron harvest in Greece
It was autumn when we arrived in Kozani, the city in Northern Greece. Why Kozani? Many may not know that, the villages surrounding Kozani is famous for saffron cultivation for the last 300 years. Among all the surround towns, there is a town call, Krokos, it is the HQ of Cooperative De Safran. It is here, the cooperative works with the 1,000 saffron farmers in the surrounding villages around Kozani and is responsible for the collection, quality control, packaging and worldwide distribution of organic saffron under the brand “KROKOS KOZANIS PDO” (Protected Designation of Origin). Since 1997, the Cooperative de Safran has been a certified producer of organic saffron.
Apparently, krokos / crocus is saffron in Greek, which means "saffron town"
The weather was nice, a little chilly in the morning, slightly warm in the day. This is the perfect weather to be in the field collecting the saffron flower.
Saffron is also known as crocus sativus or saffron crocus. The history and human cultivation of saffron span from 3,500 years, and the earliest record was it is an autumn flower.
The first images of crocus sativus, saffron flowers we know of have been found on earthenware pots in Minoan palaces, which is approximately 3800 - 4000 years ago. It was also recorded that the ancient Minoans cultivated saffron during late bronze age Crete.
The cultivation of the plant disappeared from Greece until the 17th century, when Greek traders brought the plant from Austria to the region of Kozani. Since then Kozani has been cultivating saffron for the last 300 years.
Painting from the Minoan period showing 'Saffron Gatherers'. This fresco makes clear how important Saffron was to the Minoan civilization.
Saffron and Greece
Petals are separated by hand from the saffron stigmas and stamens, immediately after the day harvest. Nothing is left for the next day because the moisture from the petals will affected the quality of saffron. Drying of the filaments will take few months to achieve the optimum dryness which in return yield the best quality of the saffron.
Greek Saffron Quality
Greek saffron is known as red saffron because of its bright red colour, strong aroma and distinctive flavour. These 3 are the main grading gauge by lab testing. It has been know that Greek red saffron is Grade I, 250 points by industry standard. Greek red saffron moisture content is at its optimum between 8%-11%, below these moisture, saffron becomes too dry and brittle.
Greek saffron is endorsed by European Union as P.D.O [Protected Designation of Origin]. A framework to protect origin of agriculture, the culture, the quality of the product. Products bearing this P.D.O label must be produced, processed and prepared in a certain geographical area using a recognised and controlled method. They are audited by the E.U. annually. Henceforth, Greek red saffron is considered 100% pure, original and high quality standard.
Extreme back-breaking hard work.
Every process is hand-harvest, hand-picked and hand-packed. No machine can carry out such delicate work. That is why saffron is considered the most expensive spice in the world. Just imagine the amount of hand work, labour required from collecting the flowers to removing the threads from the flower and the final slow drying process to achieve its optimum dryness. Daily harvest saffron stigmas have to be removed from the petals that very day. Moisture from the petals will affect the quality and properties of saffron, therefore nothing is left for the next day.
Back-breaking work and stain from saffron that will last for weeks. This is not the kind of job for anyone.
All you need to know about Saffron
1. Saffron does not need fertiliser
Unlike other plants, saffron does not need any fertiliser to blossom. They are autumn flower, they blossom end Oct till early Nov for approximate 2 weeks.
2. Saffron needs extreme hot and extreme cold winter condition to bloom
In order for saffron to blossom, it needs extreme hot summer and extreme cold winter. It needs to be on certain high altitude. Kozani, Greece has the perfect climate and altitude that provides the best weather and geographical condition for saffron plantation.
3. Saffron needs well drain soil to blossom
For saffron to blossom, they need well drain soil, they will rot on wet and moist soil.
4. Saffron blossom wither after 3 days
Farmers will have 3 days to harvest once the flower blossom before they withered after 3 days.
5. Saffron is grown from crocus bulb / corm
Saffron is sterile and does not set viable seed. It is grown from crocus bulb / corm multiplication. They are dug out and clean in spring, replant in the summer and blossom in autumn.
6. Only the red thread / stigma / filament yield health benefits
After harvesting, the threads from the flower are removed, only the red stigma is removed. The yellow style does not contain any properties. However, some traders dye the yellow style to red and packed them with the rest of the saffron.
7. Greek saffron is known as red saffron and has very long stigma
Only Greek saffron is known as red saffron because of it bright red colour and extremely long red stigma.
8. Land that grow saffron can only use for 8 years
9. Harvest is done 100% by hand
10. Saffron production is based on weather condition
Due to global warming and climate change, yearly production of saffron has been declining gradually. It is important to buy saffron from reliable producer ensure authenticity and originality.
11. Saffron is sold by the grammage
Saffron is sold by grammage globally. We need 150,000 saffron flowers to yield 1kg of saffron. Saffron looses 20% of their initial weight during the drying process. Therefore to maximise profit, some traders dye the yellow style to red and add them to each packaging and sold them as saffron. Alternatively, traders can sell saffron that has higher moisture content, which is heavier, but lesser quantity in each 1g. These saffron with high moisture will turn bad / mouldy within 1 year after harvest and these saffron properties are not at their optimum.
Therefore, it is important to buy your saffron from certified farmers/co-operatives/brands. Do not fall prey to adulterated saffron by unscrupulous traders.
Read more about Organic Krokos Kozanis PDO and benefits of saffron here