While it’s difficult to pinpoint the most popular saffron among traders, a significant part of the market is devoted to the premium saffron leaves.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a single cup of saffron is worth between $10 and $20 in certain markets. That’s in spite of the fact that saffron is not known for its medicinal value.
So why the obsession?
In China, saffron is considered sacred. After the Chinese had conquered the Hindu Kush in what is now modern-day Afghanistan, they used saffron leaves to decorate their gravesites.
“It was part of our mythology,” said one trader. “No one knew anything about it.”
This practice spread to Kashmir, then to India, as Hindu holy men used their lives to prepare their holy ashes for use.
According to a 2010 report from the International Centre for Research on Cancer, saffron was among the top ten most common cancer-causing substances in 2005.
“They (Hindu priests) thought they got their lives back from this,” said Robert Sutter, an associate professor of sociology and history at San Francisco State University. “It’s the equivalent of what happens when somebody tries to poison somebody with cigarettes. Your cancer becomes their cancer but you don’t see anything.”
Sutter pointed out the significance of saffron to Islamic traditions that believe saffron has therapeutic value.
“In some sects in India, saffron is considered a medicine, or as well,” he said. “It’s thought to be a protective amulet — a veil. It was given from God, it’s a talisman.”
The practice started with Hindus who used it as a protective amulet against evil, said Sutter. Today it’s seen as a way to make money.
In 2011, a British businessman named Robert Strydom purchased about 15,000 pounds worth of saffron. The proceeds were used to purchase a “luxury” house in London, a Rolls-Royce and cars. He bought up thousands of pounds worth of saffron in the United Kingdom’s second biggest city of Birmingham.
His wife gave him two saffron seed bags to give to friends and neighbors as gifts. According to court documents obtained by FoxNews.com, Strydom made no attempt to conceal the deal, though he also didn’t mention it in his personal journal. He
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