Saffron, red gold or queen of spices, is one of the most expensive spices in the world. It is a product of prime socio-economic importance for producers. This spice has given national and international glory to the Taliouine region, thanks to its exceptional characteristics.
1. Crop rotation
The turnaround rate for saffron bulbs to be removed and replaced by new plants varies between 5 and 9 years. To allow regeneration of the soil producers plant legumes, cereals or crucifers.
2. Soil preparation
Soil is prepared a month before flowering. Ploughing is done using rakes and by hand, when the surfaces are not extensive, or mechanical for some big modern plots.
Planting starts in September. The average density of planting is 50 to 70 bulbs per hectare. All bulbs are produced locally to ensure the authenticity of saffron of Taliouine.
The irrigation method used in almost all farms is gravity irrigation. Water saving technologies (drip irrigation) have been introduced recently in some modern saffron fields.
Fertilization is based exclusively on the addition of organic material in the form of manure or natural compost. No fertilizer or chemical treatment is used to grow saffron.
The removal of weeds begins in March. Weeding is done manually and the weeds are used to feed livestock.
7. Picking Flowers
➤To obtain high-quality saffron the flowers are picked before dawn because then the flowers are still closed and the stigmas are protected from the sun. The picking of flowers is done manually and can be considered an inconvenient task because the weather is cold and it is a delicate operation. Pickers are mostly women (about 70%).
➤To ensure high quality saffron, flowers are pruned the same day of the harvest because the stigmas lose their quality over time. Pruning is done on a clean surface in the houses of the villagers respecting hygiene conditions. This step is particularly delicate because the style part (or yellow part) should be cut just below the point of attachment of the 3 filaments. You should know that the style part brings nothing in flavor, aroma and taste, it only adds to the weight of saffron.
Drying saffron is an operation of critical importance to guarantee good quality. The extracted threads are dehydrated as quickly as possible in order to conserve the saffron’s quality. Through this operation the threads lose more than 80% of their fresh weight and the dried product contains only 10 to 12% of water. If properly dried and stored in good conditions, saffron can be kept for a long time. Indeed, humidity exceeding the limits (12% as specified in ISO 3632-1, 2011) could lead to the growth of mushrooms, yeasts and bacteria. Drying is mostly done in the open air, which promotes a high crocin concentration.
10. Cleaning or sorting of saffron and packaging
To guarantee the purest product possible, impurities that can affect the quality (flower leftovers or foreign materials) have to be removed by hand without damaging the stigmas. Packaging includes sorting, grading and wrapping of the final product. All operations are performed manually, from filling the containers to labeling, and they involve the use of tiny precision scales with 0.001g marks as well as cleaning and homogenizing of the lot.
• Storage of saffron is very important for the spice to retain its original quality and to reach the consumer with an optimal aroma, flavor and coloring strength. Thus saffron is kept:
• In suitable and sealable containers: food grade plastic bags, polyethylene containers, opaque glass jars or stainless steel boxes.
• In a dry place away from light.