The town of Krokos is the base of the Cooperative of Saffron Producers of Kozani, a cooperative that counts 2000 members spread between 40 small villages. Annual production, depending on weather conditions, ranges from 6 to 12 tons of pure red saffron each year. Much of this production is certified organic. All of it is Protected Designation of Origin (PDO); no other region of Greece can produce Greek Red Saffron.
In ancient Greece, the saffron crocus was considered a rare pharmaceutical plant. Mentions of it in medical writings date from classical Greek and Roman times all the way through the Middle Ages. Hippocrates and others have noted saffron’s uses as a natural painkiller, aphrodisiac, wound healer and remedy for upset stomach or insomnia.
In late summer or early fall, farmers here plant the crocus’s small bulbs when the temperature is just right. The flowers reach full blossom in mid-October, carpeting the fields of Kozani with spectacular blue-purple blossoms.
Harvesting saffron is not an easy task. At first daylight, flowers pop up, and workers carefully walk through the fields, methodically bending over to collect plants for hours, placing them first in cloth bags and then in large baskets. A skilled worker can collect up to 20,000 flowers in a single day. When the sun sets, the workers leave to rest and return the next morning to harvest again.
Not all the workers get to go home, however; the stigmas must be extracted and dried on the same day the plants are harvested. Though saffron producers are in the fields at 7:30 a.m. and pick all day, farmers stay up until 2 a.m. every night, taking the plants to dedicated warehouses, where a centrifuge separates the flower petals from the stigmas. They handpick the stigmas and separate them by color: bright red stigmas are first class, while lighter-colored orange-yellow ones are second. Not all stigmas make it to market. All the stigmas are transferred onto a wooden plank in order to dry overnight in a well-ventilated room. They then sleep for a few hours and return to the fields at 7:30 a.m. They repeat this intense cycle for three to four weeks.
It takes 150,000 flowers to produce 1 kilogram of dried crocus stigmas, which makes saffron the most expensive spice in the world. Saffron is exported everywhere around the world to use not only in cooking, but also as a natural textile dye, in the cosmetics industry and also for religious purposes in China and India. Interestingly enough, saffron is not much used in Greek cooking, not even in Macedonia, where it might be used only to flavor some coffee or tsipouro.
The large quantities of Kozani’s saffron are sold in stigmas which are packaged and sold in the market in small packs of 0.5, 1, 2, 4 and 28gr. Saffron in such packages is intended for use as flavouring in various foods.
Consumer countries are:
Spain, Italy, France, U.S.A., Switzerland, England, Germany, Scandinavia, Netherlands, U.A.E. and Japan.