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How the Worlds Most Expensive Spice "Red Gold" is Empowering Women in Afghanistan


Afghan Woman Holding Crocus petals
Afghan Woman Holding Crocus petals

In the breathtaking region of Herat, Afghanistan, a delicate and vibrant flower known as Crocus Sativus, or Saffron, is the source of the world's most expensive spice, saffron. The cultivation of saffron serves as an alternative to opium production, provides a livelihood for women & supplies eco-friendly ingredients for several uses.


image of cultivated saffron
Cultivated Saffron "Red Gold"

Saffron, often referred to as the "red gold," due to its high cost, demands precision and careful attention to cultivating, the majority of which is done by women. The delicate nature of saffron harvest is done by hand, making their work a vital role in production.


The stigmata of the ‘Crocus Sativus’ plant
The stigmata of the ‘Crocus Sativus’ plant

Beyond its cultural significance, saffron harvesting and production is a source of hope and empowerment for Afghan women. As the production of opium, with its detrimental consequences, gives way to saffron cultivation, women find new economic independence & positive impacts on their local communities.


The magic of saffron extends beyond its vibrant appearance and delicate flavor. Its distinct perfume-like aroma evokes a sense of joy, and Its versatile nature allows for its use in not only culinary delights but also the creation of a natural dye, adding vibrant, natural color to textiles.




In this article by Saffron supplier, Zohre Farzanegan, she explains how when the Crocus flower is used to produce saffron, there is considerable waste. However, it was discovered that the "waste" can be used as a natural fabric dye, creating a beautiful golden yellow color.



Photo of the Crocus Flower
Crocus Flower

Hasinaa, a dedicated member of the Saffron Quality Division, feels empowered by her work. She contributes to producing high-quality saffron and knows that through their work, they are enriching the lives of her families and her community.



As we dove into the history and impact of the amazing flower, we wanted to learn more about the use for fabric dying, so did a little more digging!


Image from Textilelearner.net


In the article: Eco-Friendly Dyes for Textiles, from Textilelearner.net they state: "Saffron, a bright rich yellow dye obtained from the stigmata of the ‘Crocus Sativus’ plant, was not only used as a textile dye but also, as a coloring and flavoring agents for foods and as a medicine. Monks of the middle ages discovered that by combining saffron with an Iron mordant they could produce ink for their illuminated manuscripts, which resembles Gold. Saffron was the most expensive yellow dyestuff of the ancients due to the fact that 4000 stigmata were required to produce one ounce of dye."


Here is a beautiful yellow swatch showing the results of saffron dye, from

Want to try your hand at dying with saffron? check out this tutorial here from slofoodgroup.com


Finding saffron powder for dying is not easy, but we found a source out of Australia, with their instructions below:

image of saffron powered from from https://www.kraftkolour.net.au/saffron-yellow-powder
Saffron-yellow-powder from Kraftkolour.net

image from kraftkolour.net.au


We celebrate the labor of love behind saffron, where women's skills are transforming lives. Watch for more in our Meet the Makers series, where we shine a spotlight on makers areound the world, working towards a more ethial and sustainable future.


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