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Worth more than gold

Saffron is one of the world’s most expensive substances – no wonder it’s having a resurgence in the south of France

Worth more than gold

It’s been cultivated in Europe for 2,000 years, and for most of that time has been one of the world’s most expensive substances by weight, fetching around NOK750 per gram. It can dye fabric, relieve pain and just a few filaments are enough to give a potent flavour and rich yellow-orange colour to dishes such as risotto and bouillabaisse.

But until recently the laborious practise of cultivating saffron stigmas was dying in France, which used to be the world’s major saffron producer until it was usurped by cheaper produce from places like Kashmir and Iran. By the 1990s, there were just a few growers left in the country.

Now, a group of small-scale growers has resurrected the old technique. There are 90 saffron growers in Provence today – like Agnès and Renaud Papone, market gardeners from close to Puget-Théniers, a market town 60km north of Nice, who were given 6,000 saffron bulbs as a wedding gift, and now sell organic saffron at between €25-30 (NOK250) a gram on the nearby French Riviera.
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