It started out as a crazy idea, but in three years Silvia Mutlu from the Swedish province of Skåne discovered that it is indeed very possible to grow saffron in southern Sweden. Her saffron nursery has the largest open field area in all of northern Europe.
Saffron comes from the stamens of the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus. Saffron is used as an herb, fragrance and coloring agent, and also has medicinal applications. Every year 300 tons of saffron is grown around the world, with more than half coming from Iran.
It is also an important ingredient in traditional Swedish cuisine in the month of December. Sweet saffron buns called Luciakatter are consumed in large amounts during this period, especially during the celebration of Sankta Lucia on December 13.
Mutlu started out six years ago when her parents bought the company to start a vineyard. When illness came in the way of that plan, they came up with the idea of starting a saffron nursery after watching a Turkish TV program. They ordered 8,000 saffron crocuses from the Netherlands and they had a good yield in their first year already. During the following years production continued to increase.
100,000 flowers are needed for a kilogram of saffron. This year Mutlu planted 80,000 to 100,000 bulbs from Iran and another 50,000 from Bulgaria. The bulbs are planted during fall. The saffron crocus clearly doesn't suffer from the cold Swedish winter, and even frost isn't a problem. When it gets too cold, the crocus simply stops growing until the temperature rises above zero. In addition to weeding, Mutlu also has to keep the birds away from the flowers. If all goes well, each bulb will give three or four flowers. These are hand-picked, after which the stamens are removed. The price varies, but is currently around six euros per gram in Europe.