Researchers say Rhode Island soil prime for growing saffron

URI Professor Rebecca Brown (left) and postdoctoral researcher Rahmatallah Gheshm pose in front of their experimental crop of saffron on the URI campus. Photo courtesy URI

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP) – Researchers say Rhode Island’s rich, moist soil could make it a leader in the production of saffron, an expensive spice.

The Providence Journal reports University of Rhode Island researchers found a test plot could yield 12 pounds (5.44 kilograms) of saffron per acre each year, more than double the harvest in Iran, which produces 90% of the world’s saffron.

Researchers say the domestic demand for saffron is on the rise, with 35 tons imported in 2016 and 50 tons predicted by 2021.

Saffron is popular in Middle Eastern, Indian and other cuisines but has other uses.

Wholesale prices run about $5,000 per pound. Consumers can pay $20 for a few threads of saffron and $95 for a quarter ounce.

University researchers say saffron is expensive because it’s difficult to harvest.