Iran anticipates saffron sales will soar after lifting of sanctions

The expensive spice, which can expense more by the ounce than gold, is to be exported to the US for the first time in 15 years

They say it brings a smile to your face. Saffron, monarch of all spices, is Irans red gold, and an ounce of it is even more expensive in some western supermarkets than the precious metal.

The lifting of sanctions against the country in mid-January is triggering a fresh demand worldwide as the spice is exported to the US for the first time in 15 years.

Saffron is a distinctive flavor in much Persian cuisine and has featured widely in recipes by some of the worlds most well known cooks, but its exports sank under a decade of sanctions as the west severed economic ties with Tehran.

Between 80% and 90% of the worlds saffron comes from Iran, but banking and trade restrictions entail Iranian companies faced huge challenges in exporting it abroad, particularly to the US and Europe.

Instead, sanctions created a large market for forgery, artificially coloured products, and other countries acted as intermediaries by importing the genuine spice from Iran and rebranding and exporting it to the wider world in their own name and at higher prices.


One gram of good quality saffron can expense PS45. Photograph: Geoffrey Kidd/ Alamy

Mohammad Javad Rezaie, the head of Irans saffron exports development money, has said that the first shipment will reach the US next week and predicted that the removal of sanctions and direct trade with Europe will boost its exports by 40% in the near future.

After the implementation of the nuclear deal between Iran and[ the west ], a number of countries such as Spain want to immediately buy saffron from Iran, Rezaie told the semi-official Isna news agency.

Under sanctions, saffron exports fell down significantly which induced it very difficult to send or receive foreign currency, he said. Weve had a request from the US and the first shipment of saffron, weighed at 20 kg, will be sent to the US for the first time in 15 years.

Iranians believe saffron serves as a natural antidepressant and helps fight Alzheimers and cancer. It is usually ground and mixed with hot water before being added to rice employed alongside a bowl of Persian stew, such as ghormeh sabzi , which is a mixture of sauteed herbs, kidney beans and lamb or beef. It is also liberally used in sholeh zard , a rice pudding which people cook and hand out to neighbours and the poor on religious occasions.

Saffrons high cost is due to the fact it takes more than 150,000 purple crocus blooms to make one kilogram suitable for sale. Saffron blooms, which have three tiny red stigma, blossom merely a few weeks every autumn and the best time to harvest them is early in the morning. According to a CNN report last year, one gram of good quality saffron can expense $65( PS45 ).

Gholamreza Miri, the vice-president of Irans national saffron council, said on Tuesday that Iran has exported $110 m worth of saffron in the past 10 months in spite of sanctions, which is 35% less than the same period last year, but he predicted the US sale and lifting of sanctions will spark a boost. Because of sanctions, we werent able to export saffron to the US but now we can, he said.

According to Iranian officials, Iran has made a record 310 metric tonnes of saffron this year so far, and a kilo has reached 72 m rials( PS1, 300 ). In 2014, Iran exported about 170 tonnes of saffron, worth $244 m, to a total of 53 countries. Much of it was produced in the northern Khorasan province.

In recent years, fluctuation in the local cost of saffron has become a huge obstacle to its export. Traditional cultivation and harvest techniques, as well as bulk sales, stand out as the drawbacks of the sector but officials say middlemen and speculators are an additional burden, according to Iran Daily.

Under sanctions, importing saffron to the US was banned and Reuters has reported that American officials have inspected Spanish farms in the past to make sure “theyre not” utilizing Iranian the differences in their own exports to the US.

Other Iranian products are also allowed for US sale in the post-sanctions epoch, including caviar, pistachios and carpets. Iran exported more than $600 m worth of carpets in 2011 before sanctions were tightened. Last year, Iran was also the worlds top producer of pistachios, ahead of the US.

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