The red gold of Calabria: saffron, treasure of King Alaric


In past centuries, the province of Cosenza was known for the production of saffron. The province of Cosenza was one of the largest exporters in the world. There are historical sources that tell of its production in Presila in 1500.

Some people, in the wake of this tradition, have even believed in the precious spice, linking the business to the legendary figure of the Gothic king Alaric.

Saffron and its flowers

Many loads of saffron went all over the world, in the very middle of the Renaissance, from the city of Cosenza, replying to a global demand.

This happened since the past. The most expensive spice on the market, it has come a long way from Cleopatra to Calabria. The Egyptian queen used it every day to brown her skin. And so we rediscover it as the ancestor of today’s cosmeticians treatments.

King Alaric


There is a moment, between October and November, when the hills of the province of Cosenza are tinged with purple, just as soon as autumn has turned off all its colors.


It is the time for saffron to bloom, and it lasts about 15 days.
“Let’s go and pick the flowers one by one – explain the growers – a job we do personally because it requires extreme care”.

The harvested flower must arrive intact at the “brushing” stage, a word full of charm since it contains within itself the act of removing the flower from the stem, but also the need to do it with extreme delicacy.

A Saffron field on the hills

The customers of Calabrian saffron companies are mostly restaurateurs.

Spice, dear to Sardinia and indispensable for the famous Milanese risotto, is today the perfect ingredient of gastronomic laboratories of starred chefs who enhance Calabrian traditions.

«Our research – explain the producers – has allowed us to trace a strong link with the territory and to make a story out of it. And it is a fundamental aspect, because the average type of consumer wants to appreciate its qualities but also to know its history ».

The partner friends of Calabrian saffron are great chefs. They say: «The real treasure, the one we have under our eyes, is the earth. We believe in it. In a territory, rather than chasing something non-existent, we need to seek and preserve what really exists ».

A saffron flower


That of saffron is a very simple production: the bulbs are planted around mid-August, when the temperature begins to change.

The plant grows in a few months, in late October it blooms. This is the most important moment, because everything must be done in a very short time and manually, in order not to damage the very delicate flowers, which must be placed in the baskets.

At this point the processing takes place in the laboratory, where the flower is separated from the pistil (this is the so-called “grazing”) which will then be dried.
The saffron obtained is finally stored in the glass, waiting to be bagged and packaged. Only 10% of what is produced remains in Calabria.

Saffron harvest


Saffron is the most counterfeit product in the world and the small Calabrian production must compete with the intensive ones of Iran, Morocco and Spain. These countries bring to the markets a saffron which costs two euros per gram, against twenty-five of the Italian one.

There is no resignation in the words of a young and stubborn businesswoman. “The way forward is certainly to join forces,” he says. «We small producers are many, and we all have similar difficulties that we can overcome by creating a network, a collaboration that allows us to stay on the market and become truly competitive. At the moment we are on the ground, but we are evaluating new strategies ».
Small but tenacious like the red gold crocus flower.

Saffron cultivation


In the past, saffron treated rheumatism, gout and strong inflammations such as toothache.
Also used as an abortion powder, it was better known as an aphrodisiac (Cardinal Richelieu was among the usual consumers).
For the Roman emperors and priests it was a precious perfumer of sumptuous salons and temples, the Calabrian peasants scattered it on the bed of the newlyweds’ first night.
A spice with a thousand uses, a world to discover.

Kardinal Richelieu

Those who eat chilli live longer! Here are all the reasons…



This is the conclusion of a maxi-study that monitored the eating habits of nearly 500,000 people in China for seven years.

This was revealed by a Chinese study of 500,000 people between 35 and 79 years old. EATING chili peppers can extend your life by many years. The international team of researchers, led by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, found that those who ate spicy foods once or twice a week were able to reduce the risk of mortality by 10%.

Those who added spices to their meals three to seven times a week could count on a risk of mortality reduced by as much as 14%. A benefit probably associated with the high content of capsaicin, vitamin C and other nutrients contained in these ingredients.

Different kind of chili peppers

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, examined people aged 35 to 79 from 10 different geographical areas of China. Participants were asked what type of spice they consumed most often and how often. Chilli, widely used in China, was the most frequent response.

After all, observes the researcher Nita Forouhi , of the University of Cambridge, many of the virtues of chili pepper – and in particular of capsaicin , the alkaloid that is responsible for its spiciness – are known: from anti-oxidants to anti-inflammatory and even anti-cancer.

Experts, for now, are cautious; the study was only ‘observational’ and, therefore, requires technical insights to recommend a change in eating style. “Further research is needed to establish whether the consumption of spicy food can directly improve health and reduce the mortality rate, or if it is just an external sign of other factors affecting dietary habits and lifestyle.”, they specify.

Chili peppers are healthy


Scientific confirmation arrives. Great taste and also good for your health. It is also the spiciest (among the good ones).

The Italian and Calabrian chili in particular, is not only a product of great taste but is also good for health (but as with all things, even if good, abuses must be avoided).

Chilli is rich in provitamin A and vitamin C and has antiseptic, digestive and vasodilatory properties. Recent studies have shown that it also contributes to reducing the sense of hunger and as regards the spiciness , the maximum is offered by the Calabrian cigarette.

The Italian agri-food research body, CREA, studied the effect of genotype, environment and conservation treatment on the content of genotypes grown in three sites (Montanaso Lombardo, Monsampolo del Tronto and Battipaglia) important compounds from a nutritional and sensorial point of view.

The different genotypes did not generally respond uniformly in the different environments, highlighting, for these characters, a significant interaction with the cultivation environment.

Calabrian chili peppers “diavolicchio”

The Calabrian cigarette genotype has always shown the maximum values of capsaicinoids, responsible for both the spiciness (52000-85000 degrees Scoville in the freeze-dried fresh product and 38000-86000 in the dried one) and for many of the beneficial properties of chilli.

Always with a view to enhancing typical products, Crea Agriculture and Environment has succeeded with innovative methods in discriminating the production areas of the Calabrese Cigarette cultivar.

This so precious food will now be enhanced by Crea, which is completing Pepic “Hot pepper supply chain: research interventions for the choice of varieties and for the innovation of cultural processes”, a project activated at the request of the Chilli supply chain table and financed by the ministry for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, through Ismea , precisely to promote a product chain of superior quality, innovative, integrated and competitive.

Chilli challenge

The analyzes showed how chillies tend to stand out on the basis of both the other types on the market (sweet and ornamental) and their geographical origin. In particular, the Italian pepper has differentiated genetically from that coming from the Americas and Asia. Let’s eat chilli for a long and healthy life!