Saffron Stocks Hit by Climate Change


One of my favourite recent feature stories on our site has been ‘Climate Change’s First Refugees,‘ by Ben Bohane. It’s timely, and I’m impressed by the way Ben was able to bring together these unique and urgent voices of locals on the remote Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea.

This weekend I came across another interesting climate change-related article (‘Kashmir’s climate frontline‘) by Rebecca Byerly, reporting from the Kashmir region. It seems that there too, droughts resulting from changing weather patterns are hitting crops produced by Kashmiri farmers, who, amongst other things grow the world’s most expensive spice, saffron. The highly-coveted delicacy has been produced in the area for over 1000 years–the Kashmir region is one of the largest producers of saffron in the world. But it is now facing an uncertain future, and it seems that the only promising solution to Kashmir’s current farming issues is to, according to Kashmir University Department of Geology and Geophysics Professor Shakil Romshoo, ‘combat it by changing our crops from rice paddies that are highly water intensive to crops that need less water.’ However, this means while crops like walnut trees will be more viable options in the future, saffron won’t.

Somebody who may be let down by such news is Michelin-starred chef Paul Kitching, who recently stated his love for the ingredient, revealing that his restaurants use 30-40 pots of it a week, and that as an ‘essential part’ of his cooking, saffron has become his salt and pepper: ‘I love it because it’s a very forgiving spice. Flavour-wise it’s wonderful–so sympathetic, mild and gentle–but still a real luxury. It’s like the sun, that energy and brightness is very special.’

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Saffron, oft compared to gold with its high value (currently going at rates of anywhere from $1100 to $11,000 per kilogram), is known for its slightly bitter and hay-like taste. Though in culinary terms it’s commonly used in paella, Indians also use it in curry, rice dishes and desserts. In Tibet, meanwhile, monks use it during prayer, while it’s also still used as fabric dye for Hindu and Buddhist monks’ robes.

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