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Saffron: The Red Gold

The saffron or crocus (Crocus sativus) is, by the hand of the businessman Joaquim Coelho, the region where it found the ideal conditions to thrive. After also trying the fertile lands of the coast of Oporto, Joaquim Coelho concluded that production in the poorest and sandy lands of Freixedas in Pinhel ensured a better quality production with lower costs.And it is natural that saffron is adapting well to this region of the country, since its right cousins ??Crocus carpentanus and Crocus serotinus (wild saffron) appear spontaneously throughout the northern and central interior and in Spain, La Mancha, where it has been traditional culture for centuries.

Joaquim Coelho graduated in France in the field of mechanical industrialization, transposing to agriculture the rigorous demands of productivities of the metallurgical industry where he made his career. Gradually he made the transition, and for about a year he dedicated himself to beekeeping as the main activity, betting on the production of saffron, creating for this purpose the brand “Saffron Honey”, being sure that, soon, will win export to Spain and France (large consumer markets for saffron).Despite knowing the culture of saffron, and trusting that it is a safe bet, Joaquim Coelho, started with a small investment with imported bulbs, trying to gradually get to know the market and the adaptation of culture.

In this plant only the pistils are harnessed (bulb and leaves are toxic), that is, the small red filaments of the center of the flower. They are used as a condiment (the most expensive on the market) and once as a dye (the safflower quality will come from the Arabic in which it will mean yellow).

The planting of the crop takes place between June and the beginning of September, for which soil mobilizations are carried out up to 20 centimeters. It has been a good practice to carry out the practice of “false sowing” a few months earlier in order to reduce the weeds and seed bank. Once the terrain is prepared, the bulbs can be planted in 7x10cm lines, or in beds (bands) with a tighter compass.

Depending on the diameter of the bulbs, after two to three months (October to November), the flowers appear (one to two per foot).

After harvesting the flowers of the crocus this will keep the leaves until May of the following year, when the plant dries completely, returning to burst from October, without having to do any new planting or soil revolving. In this crop, practically no fertilizer is used, and a little phosphorus and potassium can be applied before planting and nitrogen after harvesting the flowers so that the bulbs gain more volume and produce vigorous new bulbs.

Attention should be given to weed plants, and since the saws are not viable in the line, only chemical and manual weeds are allowed, as well as the passage of weeding during the rest period.

Only a few fungi can damage the crop, but generally appear only from the 3rd year, when it is recommended to remove the bulbs from the soil, to be sorted by diameters, and planted in a new plot.

The multiplication of the plant is made by dividing the new bulbs that appear around the older ones, usually 1 to 3 new bulbs per old bulb per year. This exponential multiplication allows to rapidly increase the cultivated area.

Given such simplicity of cultivation, one wonders: Why is this condiment so valuable? Two reasons only: Fully manual harvesting and sorting and low productivity.

In the harvesting operation, the most demanding step of the crop, the flowers are harvested in the early hours of the morning so that they do not wilt, otherwise it becomes more difficult to remove the stamens which are then separated from the anthers, which are then dehydrated.

It should be noted that to obtain a kilo of saffron it is necessary to harvest at least 150 to 200,000 flowers, requiring the entire cultivation (for 150,000 flowers) up to 400 hours of work. In compensation one hectare can produce up to 25 kg of saffron.

In the international market the price of saffron (bulk) varies between € 1,000 / kg (Iranian saffron) and € 3,000 / kg (Spanish saffron), which are related to the quality of the product.

Saffron is classified by its purity, degree of safranina, dye power, acidity and aromatic power, differences that make vary the value of the product.

Although traditional in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Indian cuisine (saffron rice, paella, Valencian rice, risotto, curry, sarapatel), and once with great use, it is disappearing from the Portuguese kitchens (some by now or even know it) , replacing it by the false saffron (commercially called saffron of the Indies, and that is nothing more than the powder extracted from the roots curcuma).

The difference in flavor is huge and the color too. While turmeric gives the dishes a yellow color, the saffron adds to the subtlety of its aroma the refinement of an extremely bright reddish-yellow color.

And the difference is noted in the doses, and it is necessary a tablespoon of turmeric to give the same result as a single gram of saffron. However, when you buy curcuma (Indian saffron) at the supermarket for a price between 10 and 20 € / kg, Joaquim Coelho sells only one gram of his best real saffron for € 14! But if ordinary Portuguese no longer has money to enjoy saffron, in central Europe, especially in France (where Joaquim Coelho intends to expand his sales), the demand is great and very demanding, surpassing the 5 million euros of annual imports .

Be a farmer for a day!

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