July 29, 2021

The cultivation of saffron is a family affair in Morocco

The cultivation of saffron is a family affair in Morocco



The cultivation of saffron, that spice called "red gold", is still a family affair in Morocco, because it is practiced in small plots of mountainous regions by peasants who involve all their offspring for the delicate task of separating the strands useful of the flower.

In a very precise moment of autumn -final between October and the beginning of November- the harvest of this delicate and expensive product takes place, which usually ends in paellas and other exquisite dishes of the world gastronomy.

The harvest should be done shortly after dawn, with the first rays of the sun still shy in the sky, to prevent the flower from opening and "burning" the pistils, which should be dried later, already separated from the petals.

At that time, it is easy to see Berber peasants bending down to pick up one by one the mature flowers, of an intense lilac color, and to take them immediately home, where the whole family is put to the task of delicately separating the red pistils of the flower.

Then the pistils are dried, in the sun or with toasters, until reaching a very precise degree of humidity of between 7 and 15 percent. With less than 7, the threads are broken and are no longer marketable; with more than 15, they lose the aroma that is their only value.

It is striking to see in the humble houses of the Moroccan Anti Atlas, where the cultivation of saffron is concentrated, the presence of instruments such as high precision scales and special saffron roasters, in some houses where the appliances are still a rich dream.

They say that the price of saffron has skyrocketed in recent times and has gone in just ten years from 15 dirhams the gram to the current 35 (ie from 1.2 euros to 3.1 euros), in line with the evolution global price of the product.

But neither this fact nor the grouping of growers within a protected denomination called "Azafrán de Taliouine" has brought out of poverty a population accustomed to living with the basics and that in many cases does not even have paved roads connecting them. with civilization or a miserable medical post, the nearest hospital being several hours away.

The agricultural work is not mechanized and the peasants only have yuntas of mules or donkeys to work the land: they do not have money to buy a tractor, nor would a tractor enter the meager parcels open on the terraces of the mountains and valleys.

A woman from this region (because the work is mainly female) is able to extract an average of 15 grams per day of strands, and each gram involves separating the pistils of 150 flowers: that is, in one day, they pass through their hands. flowers and has a profit of 525 dirhams (about 46 euros).

There are some 5,000 families in the Taliouine region who live off the cultivation and packaging of saffron; it is a very poor land where only the almond trees and some subsistence vegetables thrive, since outside the small oases everything is stony mountains whipped by the sun and the wind.

Interestingly, the cuisine of the area does not usually use saffron in their dishes, but it is used to flavor the tea, omnipresent in their diet.

Saffron is sold more to the rest of Morocco, where it enters as an ingredient in some of the most delicious dishes that are dyed yellow, but it is so expensive that in the local market a substitute is sold in the form of powder that is a simple dye yellow and also called "saffron" (the same in Arabic), while the other, the true one, is called "pure saffron".

Morocco is currently the third world producer of saffron, far behind Iran (which dominates 90 percent of world production) and Spain; dedicates to the flower a total of 1,600 hectares distributed between the chains of the High and the Anti Atlas, and annually six tons of this red gold are harvested.

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