Outsourcing saffron and saffron bulbs continues to be a fast, direct route to improved quality, cost effectiveness and customer satisfaction. Our Saffron bulbs come from Dutch farms and are all certified by the Dutch inspection service.
We are the company that is helping and understand farmers with growing en selling saffron and saffron bulbs, in order to understand commercial saffron, it is important to understand how the bulbs grow. More importantly, we are saffron bulbs growers in the Netherlands that know what is needed for perfect bulbs for the best saffron.
Saffron: An introduction to cultivation
Saffron is a spice that is derived from the flower of a bulb called Crocus sativus. Inside the flower, we find the deep read (crimson) stigmas that give us the most expensive spice in the world.
Saffron was probably first cultivated in or around Greece. On frescoes in the Minoan palaces of Crete and Thera (Santorini) dating back 3500 to 4000 years, the Crocus sativus and Saffron are depicted.
The Crocus sativus is domesticated and is not growing in the wild. The Saffron crocus that we know today has emerged after thorough and prolonged selection by growers seeking longer stigmas for maximum results.
Preferred Climate and lifecycle
Saffron has been widely cultivated in the Mediterranean environment, where the climate is characterised by:
• cool to cold winters
• autumn, winter and generous spring rains
• warm to hot summers that are dry (very little or no rainfall).
The Crocus sativus bulb can withstand frost with temperatures as low as -15ºC and snow. In the summer, when the green foliage dies off, it likes temperatures that can top 40ºC.
The lifecycle of Saffron looks as follows:
Multiplication of Crocus sativus
The Crocus sativus Saffron bulb (also referred to as corm) is sterile and the purple flowers do not produce viable seeds. Therefore, the crop must be multiplied by tuber multiplication.
The saffron bulb blooms in autumn around October, November shortly after planting. The flowers appear before, along with or after the appearance of the leaf. The rest of the growing season consists of leaves and tubers that ripen for beautiful new flower bulbs at the beginning of the summer.
The reproduction process takes place underground in Spring time (March-April-May) and requires human assistance. Clusters of corms, underground, bulb-like, starch-storing organs, must be dug up, divided, and replanted.
The tuber that blooms lasts only one season. The mother can produce between 1 and 10 new tubers, depending on the original size of the mother bulb. The mother bulb is consumed by its own daughters. The new Saffron bulbs are harvested in June.
This process enables the Saffron grower to increase the production area step-by-step as the number of bulbs available increases with the years
The use of fertilisers
It is of great importance to prepare the soil before planting. We advise to have a soil sample tested. Our experts send the samples to Eurofins Scientific (https://www.eurofins.com/about-us/eurofins-fact-sheet/), an organisation with 400 laboratories in 42 countries in Europe, North and South America and Asia-Pacific. Based on a detailed analysis of the soil, a specific schedule can be made to enrich the soil so that the Crocus sativus corms will get the best reception and a better chance to produce Saffron.
Traditionally, Saffron growers applied large quantities of old manure to the Saffron fields before planting. Some 30-40 tons per hectare are processed. This step has more than one purpose:
• not only does the manure provide nutrients, but it also
• improves the moisture holding capacity and structure at times when no irrigation takes place.
The traditional growing methods did not include any use of artificial fertiliser after this initial stage. Based on the soil analysis, we advise on a programme for fertilisation at different times during the annual production cycles.
Harvesting and Drying Saffron
Towards the end of October or the beginning of November, the Crocus sativus Saffron bulbs are blooming and the grower can harvest his crop. Harvesting is still for the major part a labour-intensive, manual job. Traditionally, families in countries like Spain, Morocco, India, Iran and elsewhere start picking the flowers after the morning dew has evaporated. The flowers have to be plucked before they wither. Workers make very long days as they first work in the fields to pick the flowers and subsequently remove the stigma from the flowers they have harvested earlier in the day.
The common technique to harvest Saffron is to remove the flower at the base of the flower stem. This can be done by twisting the stem slightly, or cutting the stem with the help of one’s nails or with tweezers. Not all the Crocus sativus flowers are harvested on the same day. Only the flowers that open up must be harvested the same day. Harvesting can take up to 3 weeks of daily inspecting and harvesting the opening Saffron flowers. The green foliage must not be removed as it will have to stay for several months until it turns yellow and dies off in late spring.
Once the stigma have been removed, a very important stage has to begin as soon as possible: the drying of the Saffron. In different areas, different drying techniques have developed. With the advent of modern technology and machinery, more options have become available.
There are a number of techniques that we can briefly mention here:
• Experiments have shown that it is possible to dry the Saffron stigma at a temperature of 115ºC for 4 minutes. Especially at such high temperatures, but basically with all drying techniques, it is absolutely critical to submit the Saffron to heating and drying processes for no longer than possible.
• In another research cycle, it was established that when the Saffron is dried with a
hot air flow at a temperature of 70ºC for 6 minutes, a food quality Saffron will be achieved.
• A quick drying cycle at high temperature helps to maintain a brightness of colour of the Saffron which is adding to the value and is appreciated by Saffron lovers.
• A slow drying process in general gives a lower quality Saffron.
• Another method that is being used is to dry Saffron in a dehydrator at a temperature of 50ºC for 3 hours.
No matter which drying method is used, it is of great importance not to let the Saffron become too dry. This is also very important because the Saffron often has to be stored for a longer period of time. Therefore, it is advised to aim at a moisture level close to 8%.