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Swiss spice Saffron, the ‘red gold’ from the mountains of Valais

For just three weeks in October, Crocus sativus is in bloom near the Matterhorn. The plant, whose flowers produce the spice saffron, brings connoisseurs from all over the world to the village of Mund in canton Valais.

Its closest cousin is the spring crocus, which appears all over the country. In the shops, Swiss saffron costs CHF28 ($29) per gram, making it the most expensive saffron in the world. Picking the pale purple flowers is prohibited and there is a CHF500 fine for those who do so.

People have appreciated saffron since ancient times. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius supposedly only bathed in saffron-scented water. Saffron was originally cultivated in the Orient, and in the eighth century, the Arabs introduced it to the Spaniards. The spice later reached Switzerland via France. The sensitive plant thrives in dry and rather poor soil with a fine, sandy texture and a hint of clay.

Each blossom has three red stigmas which are carefully removed from the petals and set out to dry. It takes about 120 flowers to get just a gram of saffron. Swiss cooks often use saffron to spice up a batch of creamy risotto.

(Images: Katja Hoffmann, Gregor Lengler/laif; Text: Gaby Ochsenbein,

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