Do you know which is world's most expensive spice? It is saffron, (botanical name Crocus Sativus). Derived from the dried reddish-purple stigmas of the saffron crocus, it takes anything from 70,000 to 250,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron.
The flowers have to be individually handpicked in autumn when they are fully bloomed. The delicate flowers are harvested only in mid-autumn. The flowers begin to grow after the first rains and the blooming period is usually mid-October when the temperature is just right.
It is mainly cultivated in Kashmir, Iran, and southern Europe, particularly Spain.
Iran is the world's top producer of the spice. It supplies more than 80 per cent of the world's demand with a plantation area of about 36,724 to 41,325 hectares and an annual production of 150 to 170 tons.
Iran's saffron production has in the past decade been increasing steadily, most of which is exported overseas, mostly to the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Japan, Turkmenistan, France, Italy and even the US.
Saffron farmers in Kashmir, for example, say they are losing out in the international market due to tough competition from Iran.
Even Afghanistan is emerging as a potential rival given that it has a low-paid workforce and good climatic conditions for growing saffron.
Although Iran has less land under cultivation for saffron than Kashmir, but the yield there is four times as high because of irrigation.