December 2, 2021

Raven Tribune

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Saffron Harvest in Turkey: From Purple Flowers to Precious Spices


Report

Status: 10/30/2021 3:21 pm

During the months of October and November, the fields around Saffronpole in northwestern Turkey glow a pale purple. One of the most expensive spices is extracted from flowering crocus: saffron. 100 grams cost several hundred euros.

Report by Karin Sense, ARD-Studio Istanbul

The autumn sun shines on the soft purple fields of the saffron. Patma Erdenis and other pickers spread out in the early morning between the long mud dams. She wore floral trousers and an orange sweater over flowers. “We practically cut them off with our fingernails,” he says. “It’s not difficult at all. Just knowing how to do it is enough.”

Karin Sense
ARD-Studio Istanbul

The saffron crocus needs a temperature of about eight degrees at night. Then it will bloom and Fatma can harvest it. One after another purple flowers enter your little evil basket. The 52-year-old’s fingers are all yellow. “It comes from the flower, it changes the color of the fingers. But it comes out again with soap or soap,” he says. “We like to do that. Our back only hurts because we’m always bent over. We need to stretch from time to time.”

Picking is only possible by hand

The pickers all come from the area, says Ismail Yilmas. He owns the fields. “You can’t pluck flowers by machine,” he says. “I saw some machines on the internet that also pluck green leaves. But they feed on onions. We only use machines when we take them out of the ground.”

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It works in a similar way to the potato harvest, explains the 50-year-old. His hands are playing with one of the flowers. As soon as it falls to the ground, he quickly picks it up again. “We love this flower. In addition, this product is very valuable to us,” he says. “It’s an economic and excellent value for us. That is our choice. We value flowers as much as our children.”

“We practically pluck flowers with our fingernails,” says Picker Fatma Erdenees. “It’s not difficult.”

Image: Karin Sense

Five euros per gram of saffron

It is mainly about the three red stamps. They make real saffron. Its tips are so precious that he gently taps them with his fingers. “A gram of saffron requires at least 100 flowers. The price of a gram is 50 lira or about five euros,” calculates Ismail Yilmas.

It is the largest of the 50 or more saffron producers in the region. He started doing it in 2015. Then a company approached him saying he wanted to sell his saffron worldwide. He worked with the professors who gave him tips: “They told me what I was doing wrong. Onions do not need a lot of water. It makes the soil harder and more difficult to pick flowers. In addition, the quality decreases,” he says. “Then, we started putting the dried cow dung into compost in small earthen dams. The quality improved quickly. The saffron was more fragrant. Since then, everyone in Saffron has planted this way.”

Most of the harvest is exported

Currently 80 per cent of his produce goes abroad, mainly to Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain. Iran is very popular in saffron production. But Yilmas proudly says the quality here is better, while again – this time carefully – playing with the flower.

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Repeated pickers empty their evil baskets into the big black plastic baskets next to him. They go to local families. In the evening they sit together and separate the red pistols, yellow pollen and purple petals, explains the company boss. “A family of 3 to 4 can only process up to two kilos of flowers in an evening. We pay for it. So we have labor costs. That’s why saffron is so expensive.”

In his small hall next to the fields, he sells all kinds of products made from saffron or saffron petals or pollen: massage oils, creams, regular Turkish cologne scented water or saffron noodles.

Ismail Yilmas 80 percent of the harvest goes abroad.

Image: Karin Sense

“We put it everywhere”

Fatma Erdenis worked through the next row of saffron crocuses. She also loves healthy spices. She exclaims: “I like the jam that comes from it. But you can add saffron with honey or to rice and pasta, like pork. We put it anywhere.” Although she had to deal with saffron all day at harvest time in October and November, it was not enough for her.