LAST year Spain produced 1,500 kilos of saffron but exported a contradictory 190,000 kilos thanks to packing and labelling loopholes. Saffron bought in other countries, principally Iran but also Morocco, India and Greece, is increasingly sold as Spanish to meet soaring demand.
Each kilo of saffron requires 250,000 flowers, with just three pistils removed from the middle of each saffron crocus to produce the spice that gives paella its yellow colour.
Saffron awarded the La Mancha denomination of origin fetches around €3,000 a kilo, tempting companies to market a product which the ASAJA agricultural union claims is not genuine.
Around 90 per cent of Spain’s saffron exports were probably fraudulent, claimed ASAJA and one producer, who asked not to be named said prices charged by some exporters were disgraceful “especially when they know it’s s—t.”
Much of the saffron sold as Spanish comes from Iran and costs between €1000 and €1500 a kilo but is of inferior quality, said Antonio Garcia, president of the La Mancha denomination of origin committee.
“It comes from intensive plantations where the ground is never allowed to rest and the strands are finer,” Garcia explained.
Several Iranian companies now have bases in Spain where Spanish companies take advantage of labelling ambiguities. “It’s not illegal, the product has been processed in Spain,” protested one exporter.
Spain requires only the name of the packer or exporter to appear on merchandise and although the country of origin is supposed to be shown “if its omission could confuse the consumer”, this is not obligatory.
At present Spanish saffron is a prestige product but as La Mancha struggles to meet the demands of companies with huge export orders, its reputation is becoming tarnished.
Analysis of Spanish saffron showed that between 40 per cent and 90 per cent of the strands came from other parts of the flower, according to a report printed in The Independent.
And although neither the Valencian Community nor Murcia grow saffron, they are nevertheless its biggest exporters, pointed out Antonio Garcia in La Mancha.