1º Saffron is highly valuable. Medicinal and aromatic plants have been increasing in importance to society continuously for the past 100 years. Saffron is made from the dried stigmas of the saffron flower (Crocus sativus Linn.), a triploid sterile plant that is vegetatively propagated by means of bulbs (or corms). Saffron is mostly used as spice and food colorant and, less extensively, as a textile dye or perfume. However, due to its analgesic and sedative properties folk herbal medicines have used saffron for the treatment of numerous illnesses for centuries. Saffron is considered to be the highest priced spice in the world (on average, 500 $ every saffron kg). Its high price is due to the much direct labour required for its cultivation, harvesting and handling. One stigma of saffron weights about 2 mg, each flower has three stigmata. 150,000 of flowers must be carefully picked one by one in order to produce 1 kg spice. Its high value makes saffron the object of frequent adulteration and fraud.
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2º Saffron is a European crop in danger of extinction. Saffron is currently being cultivated more or less intensely in Iran, India, Greece, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Turkey, France, Switzerland, Israel, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Japan and recently in Australia (Tasmania), Afghanistan and even Iraq. While the world's saffron production is estimated in 205 tons per year, Iran is said to produce 80 percent of this total, i.e . 160 tons. Khorasan province alone accounts for 46,000 hectares and 137 tons of the above-mentioned totals, respectively. The Kashmir region in India produces between 8 to 10 tons mostly dedicated to India 's self-consumption. Greek production (4/6 tons) is located exclusively in Macedonia (Kozani) and controlled by a single cooperative. Morocco produces between 0.8 and 1 ton.

Saffron production has decreased rapidly in many European countries, and is extinct in others such as England and Germany. Spain , the traditionally world leader and most reputed saffron producer for centuries, nowadays makes about 0.3/0.5 tons. Productions of Italy (Sardinia, Aquila, Cascia) 100 kg; Turkey (Davutobasi, Saffranbulli) 10 kg; France (Gâtinais, Quercy) 4/5 kg and Switzerland (Mund) 1 kg are nearly nominal. Other countries as Portugal and Azerbaijan produce negligible amounts of saffron. An illustrating fact: In early 1970s saffron cultivation in Spain and Iran were 6,000 and 3,000 hectares , respectively, while at present the surface areas are 200 hectares in Spain and near 50,000 hectares in Iran . Only 20 years ago Spain and Iran were producing the same quantity, about 35 to 40 tons.

affron crop disappeared in other European countries such as Germany , Austria and England , here it was grown in great quantities in Essex (especially near a town called Saffron Walden) and Cambridgeshire. After having been the leaders of saffron production at commercialisation at a worldwide scale for centuries, nowadays European countries only produce a scarce 3%, even tough the quality and the prestige in the marker still correspond to the European brands. The European Union has awarded the designation "appellation of origin" to the "Azafrán de la Mancha" (EC Reg. 464/2001), the Greek "red saffron" under the name "Krokos Kozanis"(EC Reg. 378/1999), and the Italian "Zafferano dell'Aquila" (C Reg. 2081/92).

The reasons of this decadency are various. An intensive (and expensive) hand labour of up to 15 working days per kilogram of dry saffron spice is required for flower picking and stigma separation. To the high cost of this labour it should be added the very uncomfortable stooping position of the flower pickers, and the very short picking period which comprises the early morning hours of the 20-30 days of duration of the flowering season. The mechanisation of flower picking in field grown saffron has proved difficult.

All saffron producers in the EU, also soon Turkey , suffer from increasing labour costs. Iran plans to increase its production to 200 tons whereas India could offer its Kashmir saffron to the world market in growing amounts. China will become a massive maker and there are serious projects of saffron production in Afghanistan and Iraq . A grey market of saffron has developed in some countries in the Caucasus , trading Iranian saffron through doubtful channels without quality control. Countries in North Africa are the primary origin of forged saffron, mostly Carthamus tinctorius or Curcuma. Hence, the saffron world market panorama is al least uncertain. Nevertheless, although the tendency of saffron diminution has been constant, they are symptoms of a revival in saffron crop in Europe . France , for instance, has shown the emergence of new associations of saffron farmers ("Les safraniers du Gâtinais" in 1987, and “Les Safraniers du Quercy” in 1999) after decades or even centuries of abandon of the crop. Other initiatives are flowering in Italy (Sicily) and in many other countries outside Eurasia such as Australia (Tasmania), New Zeeland, Argentina, Chile , even USA (Pennsylvania).

3º Other Crocuses are also economically important. The Crocus genus is known mainly for the cultivated species C. sativus , which is of prime economic importance. However, there are also other species belonging to this genus, which are highly prized for their colourful flowers, and thus used extensively in specialized gardening. These are horticultural varieties of C. vernus, C. versicolor and C. aerius, amongst others . Most of the Crocus species grow naturally in the fields between shrubs and grass or light woodlands. The plants in this family are herbs with rhizomes, corms or bulbs. The genus Crocus includes about 80 species distributed from south-western Europe, through central Europe to Turkey and south-western parts of Asia, as far east as western China.
Crocus 'E.A. Bowles'
4º Saffron use is increasing, but with some troubles. Saffron consumption is rising but not as fast as production. Moreover, consumers are confused with the differences in quality between saffron of different origins and the subsequent fluctuation of prices. The quality of saffron is certified in the international trade market following the ISO 3632 Normative since 1993. The most important parameter is colouring strength, calculated from UV-Vis measurements at 440 nm in aqueous extracts of this spice. Such measurements are related to the total carotenoid content. This regulation is currently under review and controversial since it leaves aside the most important properties of saffron (odour, flavour) and does not prevent fraud. Saffron commands a significant proportion of the international spice trade that results in its frequent adulteration by artificial colorants and by mixing genuine stigmas of saffron flower with other parts of plants (e.g. some species of grass) artificially coloured.
5º Saffron is subject to strong genetic erosion. As explained, the lost of land surface dedicated to saffron crop in many areas has resulted in a corresponding genetic erosion, the situation being dramatic at the present time. Traditional plant breeding techniques are based on a bulk selection of the best samples among natural or cultivated populations; genetic breeding with wild ancestral species; and spontaneous or induced mutations. Sterility in saffron limits the application of conventional breeding approaches for its further improvement. Besides different commercial products are known that could suggest the existence of different saffron ecotypes or commercial varieties, the actual genetic variability present in C. sativus at worldwide scale is currently unknown. They have been efforts by Indian researchers to increase genetic variability in saffron using non-conventional breeding techniques, such as induced mutagenesis employing physical irradiation and induction of polyploidy by colchinisation. Nevertheless, the preliminary results of induced genetic variability are not completely hopeful and probably would require further work.
Flor de perfil Autor_Antonio García