What if I told you a singular food product could:
· Provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits
· Aid eyesight and memory
· Impress dinner guests
· Be used in a variety of dishes from breads, pastries, and ice cream to rice, tea, mussels, and paella
· Empower Afghan women
· Combat the opioid epidemic
Well, this is just a sampling of the power held within the delicate red strands of Afghan saffron.
A couple of years ago a former D.C. colleague and friend, Hamid Arsalan, approached me with a business idea: importing and marketing Afghan saffron to the U.S. market. Originally from Herat, Afghanistan, his family was already involved in saffron cultivation and export to Asian and European markets.
I quickly learned that saffron is the world’s most expensive spice due to its time and labor-intensive cultivation. It takes around 80,000 Crocus sativus flowers to produce one pound of saffron. For a few weeks every autumn, women pluck the flowers in the pre-dawn hours before carefully removing the three reddish-orange stigmas from each flower.
Saffron cultivated in Afghanistan’s western Herat province is grown almost solely by women—providing a lifeline to work and economic opportunity—and has been named the world’s highest quality saffron for more than a decade.
Best of all, saffron provides Afghan farmers an alternative—and a more lucrative alternative, at that—to growing poppies for opium. Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium producer. Creating more markets for saffron export—and educating people on its many culinary and health uses—will continue to incentivize more Afghans to make the switch from growing poppies to growing saffron.
The notion that a premium, healthy and delicious spice could check so many boxes made embarking on this business a no-brainer. Perhaps it sounds a bit immature, but I believe saffron can change the world. Having Iranian, Moroccan, and Indian friends confide that “yes, this Afghan saffron is the best I’ve ever had,” has made me extremely confident in our product. Recurring bulk orders from James Beard Award winning chefs and in-the-know foodies is proof that you can eat exceptionally well and do good.
With the current dire situation in Afghanistan, our efforts take on new meaning and urgency.
Our brand recognizes the centrality of women to our business and mission—our logo, which was created by Birmingham-based branding guru Clay Morrison, features the image of an Afghan woman walking while holding a tray of saffron. She is confidently taking a step up—which symbolizes the economic empowerment saffron provides.
Today, we see women across Afghanistan stepping up for human rights—the right to work, to speak, and to be educated—as they courageously face down brutal, violent oppressors.
Since the Taliban takeover last August, we have had to scale down our processing labs and take a lower profile. Home-based labs have allowed the sorting and drying of saffron to continue while women work from home. Joblessness, hunger, and extreme poverty have reached a crescendo across Afghanistan. The wages earned by women in the saffron industry have been lifesaving, allowing them to provide for their families. Working directly with these women, we can eliminate the middleman and provide good wages.
Often it seems there is nothing we can do when terrible things happen in faraway lands—by purchasing Elysian Fields Afghan saffron you can directly impact Afghan women and their families while elevating your everyday.
To learn more and to purchase visit www.buyelysian.com
A portion of all Elysian Fields profit goes toward Afghan resettlement organizations.
Elysian Fields is based in Birmingham, Alabama.