Economy, Domestic Economy

Iranian Saffron Exports Set to Bloom

Iranian Saffron Exports Set to BloomIranian Saffron Exports Set to Bloom

They say it brings a smile to your face. Saffron, king of all spices, is Iran’s 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, the Guardian wrote.

Saffron is a distinctive flavor in Persian cuisine and has featured widely in recipes by some of the world’s most famous chefs, but its exports sank under a decade of sanctions as the West severed economic ties with Tehran.

Between 80% and 90% of the world’s saffron originate from Iran, but banking and trade restrictions meant Iranian companies faced huge challenges in exporting it abroad, particularly to the US and Europe.

Instead, sanctions created a large market for counterfeit, artificially colored 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.

Mohammad Javad Rezaei, the head of Iran’s saffron exports development fund, 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 directly buy saffron from Iran,” Rezaei told ISNA agency.

“Under sanctions, saffron exports declined significantly … which made it very difficult to send or receive foreign currency,” he said. “We’ve 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 Alzheimer’s and cancer. It is usually ground and mixed with hot water before being added to rice used alongside most Persian stews. It is also generously used in Sholeh Zard, a rice pudding that people serve as dessert or distribute to neighbors and the poor on religious occasions.

Saffron’s high price is due to the fact that it takes more than 150,000 purple crocus flowers to make one kilogram suitable for sale. Saffron flowers, which have three tiny red stigmas, blossom only 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 cost $65 (£45).

Gholamreza Miri, the vice president of Iran’s National Saffron Council, said on Tuesday Iran has exported $110 million worth of saffron in the past 10 months in spite of sanctions, which is 35% less than the export in the same period of last year, but he predicted the US sale and lifting of sanctions will spark a boost.

“Because of sanctions, we weren’t able to export saffron to the US but now we can,” he said.

According to Iranian officials, Iran has produced a record 310 tons of saffron this year so far and a kilo has reached around $2,000 in 2014. Iran exported about 170 tons of saffron, worth $244 million, to a total of 53 countries. Much of it was produced in South Khorasan and Khorasan Razavi provinces.

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