Behroush Sharifi, a New York-based spice merchant better known as the "Saffron King," has developed a growing business based on importing his good from Iran. But the trade sanctions imposed by Washington last year on Tehran have left the King with a dwindling supply of saffron. As he tells the Washington Post's "All We Can Eat" column:
“We’re about to run out of saffron, and it’s 80 percent of my business. Even the remaining 20 percent, we’ve already run out of a number of the other ingredients, and we can’t replace them. We do eventually want to source everything out of Turkey. As I said during the course of dinner, 70 percent of what we import from Iran is not of Iranian origin. From India, from China, from Syria, from Afghanistan, from Turkey. All of these items can still come into America, but not from Iran."
Sharifi, who has become a favored spice supplier for several high-end restaurants across the US, also explained to the Post why good saffron -- which can cost hundreds of dollars per ounce -- is so expensive:
“Saffron is very effective as an anti-depressant. Thirty milligrams of saffron is better than the [similar] dosage of Prozac. It’s said that if you eat too much saffron, you will die laughing. If you eat three to five grams of saffron, it will shut down your ... liver. Pregnant women are advised not to eat too much saffron, but to eat three to five grams [of saffron] would be very difficult to do. Saffron is from the full-flowering Crocus [sativus]. It’s a bulb. It’s planted at the end of the summer. You water the fields for a month or so, where you cover the tops with an inch or two of water. From mid-October to mid-November, you harvest. Since the world began, I can’t think of anything ... that retains such incredible value. Gold. Precious stones. Textiles. Real estate. Prostitution. ... Saffron has been so valuable because it requires such particular growing and climate and soil conditions. But it’s the labor. You plant the bulb, and each bulb will yield three or four flowers every day. The bulb will flower for a month. ...You have to pick the flowers before sunrise; otherwise the flower wilts. It’s the only the temperate spice. You can grow saffron anywhere. ... There’s a thread [on the Crocus flower] that’s white and goes through the middle of the plant. It’s white, then it becomes yellow, orange. ...That’s the only commercial part of the plant.”