Many varieties of saffron are cultivated in India and Pakistan for the red dye in clothing, jewellery, and other commodities. In the south of India you can find it in dried form—saaffron dew. In Pakistan, it’s a dried powder, which you can buy in powder form. The powder will turn a very dark brown, and even darker in a dark container. A good way to find saffron dew in Pakistan is in the area of Kashmir. You can also buy it locally and it becomes very rich. In India you can get dried saffron powder from various spice shops. I found that, in general, it will get cheaper the further you go down the chain to India.
Saffron powder in India is very expensive. This means a lot of saffron dew for the market. Once you see a blackish discolouration of the powder, your cost per gram is going to go up. So, the more expensive the product, the fewer grams you can get of it. So I don’t buy a lot of saffron in India; in fact, when I see a greyish discolouration of the powder, a lot of my spending in Pakistan is to buy in bulk.
Another example is saffron flowers. It used to be common for the buyers of saffron flowers to come to my lab to buy. I had a lab manager who came once a year because he wanted to do a little research. And he came with a packet of saffron flowers and he wanted to test it. He bought it in India and the price there was more than a hundred times the price he was getting in Pakistan.
Why hasn’t I had an interview with a Pakistani scientist who has been on the front line of the saffron crisis?
Because I could not speak to him in Pakistan. In the beginning of the saffron crisis, I had some Pakistani colleagues, but the number of colleagues that I could bring into the studio had diminished as time went on. Most of my colleagues were from India and I had to do a lot of research in Pakistan, in villages outside Karachi. If they were not in Islamabad during the crisis, they would just go and visit us when they could. But, by the end, I couldn’t bring in any more than a few people. It became a challenge for my colleagues who had come from India or China, because they could only do research in Pakistan.
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