Greece’s economy has dried up — and it’s great for saffron sales

The saffron industry in northern Greece is growing rapidly even as the rest of the economy continues to shrink.

November 12, 2018

Although most economic opportunities in Greece have shriveled in the aftermath of the country’s debt crisis, one financial bright spot has blossomed: the saffron industry.

The number of saffron farmers in Greece has more than doubled since 2008, increasing the country’s saffron output by more 130x and creating a thriving export industry for the priciest spice.

The spice is right

Saffron is made from the dried, tiny red stigmas of crocus flowers, which bloom for just 2 harvestable weeks in an entire year. An entire football field of 70k flowers yields just 1 pound of that nice nice spice.

But, people love saffron enough to pay as much as $10k for a pound of the spice, making it one of the most valuable substances on the planet. 

Naturally, saffron is also sensitive to climate and grows only in a narrow band that stretches from Spain to India — and happens to cross through northern Greece.

Stopping to sell the flowers

After the financial crisis hit, the unemployment rate in northern Greece rose to 23.5%, inspiring Greeks working in stagnant industries to head north in search of ‘red gold.’ 

Greece’s annual saffron production grew from its old domestic average of 30 kg to more than 4k kg as the number of farmers in Greece’s saffron cooperative soared from 494 in 2008 to 1k today.

Now, Greece’s saffron farmers export more than 70% of their saffron. Greek saffron slingers already export the spice to the US, and they plan to start selling saffron in China.

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