History of saffron cultivation
From prehistoric times to the present day, this spice (also known as Red Gold) has been cultivated and used by most human civilisations: the Egyptians used it to embalm themselves, the Romans used it as an aphrodisiac and the Greeks perfumed their salons.
But it was not until the 8th century, after the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus), that saffron was introduced into Spain. From that moment on, it was gradually consolidated as a traditional crop, in which each generation knew how to pass on the know-how and knowledge that allowed their people to obtain a carefully cultivated, quality product that was unique in the world. It was during the 1970s and 1980s, the golden age of saffron in Spain, when cultivation reached its peak. With a cultivation area of almost 4,000 hectares, the country became the largest saffron producer in the world.
But these glorious years soon disappeared. From the 1990s onwards, the decline in saffron cultivation became evident, reaching an all-time low of 83 hectares in 2005.
In order to understand why this situation has come about, it is necessary to analyse the development of European society (including Spain) in recent years. There has been a tendency towards a predominance of the urban environment, migrating towards the cities and forgetting the villages and rural areas of our geography. This has led to a gradual but significant decline in agricultural activity and, consequently, in the rural population. In this sense, the saffron sector, as a small part of the agricultural sector, has not been unaffected by this "population crisis", resulting in a decrease in the number of hectares of saffron cultivated.
Today, despite the almost 300 hectares cultivated and with an upward trend, we are still far from those glorious years when saffron was one of the driving forces of the Spanish economy.
The high price that this spice reaches on the market is mainly due to its costly production process. Despite the existence of some machines that help during the whole process, even today it is still a completely manual cultivation, which requires a large number of people working long hours.
After sowing, which is done once every four years, the saffron production process is divided into 3 phases that are repeated daily for a full month of the year (October):
- Early in the morning
- Cutting the flowers at the base with the fingernails
- Placing them in small wicker baskets
- In a position that requires willpower and dedication
Peeled off the flower
- After having collected all the flowers from the field
- Sitting all the people around a table with the flowers in the centre of the table
- Separating, by hand, the stigmas from the rest of the flower
- Placing stigma by stigma in a bowl or dish
Drying the saffro
- When all the stigmas have been separated from the flowers
- In a fire or brazier (or in a dehydration cabinet)
- By subjecting the stigma to high temperatures for periods of 20 minutes.
- Dehydrating and finally obtaining dried saffron.
In Azafrán del Oasis we use all these traditional techniques to obtain saffron of the best quality, smell and taste. You can buy saffron in our online shop and enjoy it in your favourite recipes.