It is rusty red, long and thin, exudes its very own aroma and only comes into its own when you dissolve it in water or cream: saffron, the red gold, the most expensive spice in the world. For Yasmin Goudarzi, saffron is more than just a spice. For them it means home. Her father comes from Iran. The food of her childhood is characterized by the red spice, just as caraway or savory may have influenced our childhood. Many years later she dedicated herself to the spice. Professionally. Also because it is part of their identity, their DNA. You could almost think that saffron flows through her blood.

“I felt the need to get to know Iran better. So I spent several months there. The country and people, my roots, became closer to me than ever before,” says Yasmin Goudarzi, founder of Orient Kontor, a small company that specializes in importing saffron. No other country in the world grows and exports as much saffron as Iran. Spain and Afghanistan still play a significant role in the saffron business. In total, the global export market in 2019 amounted to around 190 million euros.

Back in Germany, the Hamburg resident told her friends about the country and its people, not about what was written in the media, about a government that did not correspond to her values. Goudarzi cooked for her friends. He took them into a world of flavors that had previously remained hidden from them. She was able to break down prejudices through storytelling and especially through food. “It’s not for nothing that cooking is about international understanding. My friends asked a lot of questions and were interested in what ended up in my cooking pot,” says the Hamburg native with Iranian roots. That was the impetus for her company. She wanted to bring the spice that resonates so much with her to the German market.

“We chose saffron because you can’t find good quality in German supermarkets,” says Goudarzi. “And you still have to spend a lot of money on it.” Saffron is a member of the crocus family. The flower is made up of six leaves that end in the flower tube. Each plant produces a bright yellow style annually, which divides into several long red stigma branches at the top of the flower. They are usually between two and a half and four and a half centimeters long. This is the spice we are talking about here.

“You often find short saffron threads of lower quality, not the typically long ones that we get from Iran,” explains Goudarzi. “Ours are thicker and longer and have a more intense flavor.” If you don’t know a trusted dealer, you should always make sure to buy saffron in whole threads. Never ground, is Goudarzi’s tip. Because counterfeits or stretched products quickly creep in there. For example with turmeric. If you still want to use the powder, you can do the saffron test. To do this, dissolve the powder in water using baking soda. If it is pure saffron, the solution remains yellow; if it contains turmeric, it becomes cloudy and turns red. This test was common among spice traders centuries ago.

“Good saffron exudes a unique smell. You can smell it even through metal cans. Another quality feature is the color. It has to be deep red. The threads have to be clearly visible, sometimes flowers are mixed in. They have no place in it,” says Goudarzi. “Saffron is water-soluble. It dissolves particularly well in lukewarm water. If the water turns a strong yellow to orange, the saffron is fresh.”

Goudarzi works with small farmers in the Khorasan region, south of Mashhad. The plateaus in this area have the perfect climate for growing the saffron crocus. Harvesting the saffron threads is laborious. Once a year, usually towards the end of October, the fragile threads must be carefully plucked from the flower. Early in the morning, when the flowers are still closed, the stigmas are collected by hand and then dried in the traditional way. For one gram of saffron you need around 40 flowers. One reason why it is the most expensive spice in the world. “No machine has the sensitivity of human hands,” says the entrepreneur.

Goudarzi sells its saffron in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. She still runs her “Orient Kontor” part-time because her love for her father’s country is so great and because she wants to support the local people in Iran. In real life she is an education scientist. The saffron goes to private customers, but also to the catering industry. She sells around five kilograms of saffron every year. That doesn’t sound like much at first, but the farmers in Iran have to laboriously harvest 200,000 flowers. The Hamburg native sells one gram of these saffron threads for 8.99 euros in her online shop.

No spice is used as frequently in Persian cuisine as saffron. In rice, in sauces and also in tea. “Many people ask me what you can do with the spice,” says Goudarzi. “I recommend that absolute beginners use the spice in cream sauces, for example for pasta. To do this, you grind the threads finely with a mortar and flavor the sauce.” You should feel free to approach saffron. First just a pinch of a knife, if you like it stronger, use a little more.

Saffron tastes bitter-tart, floral, but also noble and delicate. Stored well closed, cool and dark, for example in a metal tin, saffron can easily last up to a year. It should not be forgotten that saffron is only harvested once a year. This means: Anyone who buys the expensive spice in September will get the goods from October of the previous year.

Goudarzi prefers to use saffron in black tea, then the spice develops its full aroma. With every sip she is a little closer to her roots.