The spice, with its sweet honey and grassy hay-like aroma, is also used in religious ceremonies notably in India.
Worldwide exports of saffron shrank by an average -35.6% since 2017 when saffron exports totaled $446.5 million.
Year over year, the dollar value of saffron exports sank by -11.7% compared to $325.7 million in 2020.
Key Geographic Insights for Saffron Exports & Imports
The 5 biggest saffron exporters are Iran, Spain, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates and Greece. Combined, that leading subgroup of international suppliers generated 89.3% of globally exported saffron sales during 2021.
Applying a continental lens, countries in Asia sold the greatest dollar worth of exported saffron during 2021 with shipments valued at $215.7 million or three-quarters of the world total. In second place were exporters in Europe at 24%. Tinier percentages came from Africa (0.5%), North America (0.3%), Latin America plus the Caribbean (0.07%), then Oceania (also 0.07%) mostly Australia and New Zealand.
Focusing on saffron imports, the 5 leading importers of saffron in 2021 were mainland China, Spain, Saudi Arabia, India and the United States of America. That quintet of top buyers bought just over half (51.6%) of globally imported saffron by total cost.
Those percentages suggest a more concentrated cohort of 78 saffron exporters in total (89.3% for top 5 suppliers) compared to some 150 importing countries, islands and territories and the corresponding top 5 importers (51.6%).
From a continental perspective, 54.7% of globally imported saffron was delivered to countries in Asia trailed by importers in Europe (34%), North America (8.4%) then Latin America (1.6%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, Oceania led by Australia (0.8%) than Africa (0.5%).
In 2021, the worldwide average unit price paid by importers was $132,531 per ton of saffron. That dollar amount reflects a 35% price inflation from the average tonnage rate of $98,159 for 2020.
Saffon is the world’s most valuable exported spice. Its inflated prices are partly due to labor costs since it takes roughly 70,000 hand-picked crocus flowers to produce one pound of saffron (150,000 flowers per kilogram).
For research purposes, the 6-digit Harmonized Tariff System code prefix is 091020 for saffron.
Top Saffron Exports by Country
Below are the top 15 countries that exported the highest dollar value worth of saffron during 2021.
- Iran: US$154.3 million (53.6% of total saffron exports)
- Spain: $44.3 million (15.4%)
- Afghanistan: $41.9 million (14.6%)
- United Arab Emirates: $10.3 million (3.6%)
- Greece: $6.1 million (2.1%)
- Hong Kong: $3.6 million (1.2%)
- France: $3.5 million (1.2%)
- Portugal: $3.4 million (1.2%)
- Poland: $2.3 million (0.8%)
- Netherlands: $2.2 million (0.8%)
- Oman: $2 million (0.7%)
- Germany: $1.5 million (0.5%)
- Italy: $1.3 million (0.4%)
- United Kingdom: $1.2 million (0.4%)
- Nigeria: $1.1 million (0.4%)
By value, the listed 15 countries shipped 97% of globally exported saffron in 2021.
Among the top exporters, the fastest-growing saffron exporters since 2020 were: Nigeria (up 561%), Hong Kong (up 48.8%), Greece (up 45.1%) and United Kingdom (up 39%).
Those countries that posted declines in their exported saffron sales were led by: Oman (down -56.6%), Iran (down -18.8%), Afghanistan (down -9.3%), Spain (down -8.7%) and France (down -7.7%).
Top Saffron Imports by Country
The overall spending on imported saffron totaled $239.7 million falling by -8.1% over the 5-year period starting in 2017 and dropping -12.1% since 2020.
Below are the 15 best buying markets as measured by the highest dollar value worth of saffron imported during 2021.
- China: US$31.6 million (13.2% of total saffron imports)
- Spain: $30.2 million (12.6%)
- Saudi Arabia: $22.8 million (9.5%)
- India: $21.7 million (9.1%)
- United States: $17.2 million (7.2%)
- Italy: $14.2 million (5.9%)
- United Arab Emirates: $12.8 million (5.3%)
- Hong Kong: $11.3 million (4.7%)
- Kuwait: $9.9 million (4.1%)
- France: $7.9 million (3.3%)
- Sweden: $5.7 million (2.4%)
- Germany: $4.7 million (1.9%)
- Portugal: $4.3 million (1.8%)
- Qatar: $3.9 million (1.6%)
- Oman: $3.6 million (1.5%)
By value, the listed 15 countries bought 84.2% of globally imported saffron in 2021.
Among the top importers, the fastest-growing saffron importers since 2020 were: mainland China (up 183.7%), Qatar (up 54.1%), Germany (up 21.6%) and the United States of America (up 16%).
Those countries that posted declines in their imported saffron purchases were led by: Hong Kong (down -68.6%), Oman (down -50.5%), Sweden (down -21%), Saudi Arabia (down -20.8%) and Kuwait (down -19.1%).
Lowest and Highest Unit Prices for Imported Saffron
In 2021, the world’s average unit price for imported saffron was US$132,531 per ton.
The average tonnage charge paid by the number one saffron importer, mainland China, was an above-average $310,255 per ton.
Ranked in ascending order, listed below are the countries paying the lowest average unit prices for imported saffron in 2021.
- Kyrgyzstan: US$308 per ton (2020 data unavailable)
- Lesotho: $500 per ton (2020 data unavailable)
- Somalia: $583 per ton (down -13.8% from 2020)
- Djibouti: $684 per ton (down -4.2%)
- Pakistan: $1,000 per ton (2020 data unavailable)
- Angola: $1,193 per ton (down -40.4%)
- Trinidad & Tobago: $1,250 per ton (up 25%)
- Antigua & Barbuda: $1,714 per ton (up 42.8%)
- Fiji: $2,000 per ton (2020 data unavailable)
- Zimbabwe: $2,000 per ton (2020 data unavailable)
- Grenada: $2,000 per ton (down -33.3%)
- Benin: $2,000 per ton (up 100%)
- Madagascar: $2,000 per ton (2020 data unavailable)
- Barbados: $2,333 per ton (up 16.7%)
- Eswatini: $2,500 per ton (down -58.3%)
Posting the severest reductions in average unit price per ton for saffron from 2020 to 2021 were low-cost importers Eswatini (down -58.3%), Angola (down -40.4%), Grenada (down -33.3%), then Somalia (down -13.8%).
The following countries paid the highest average unit prices for imported saffron.
- Germany: US$1,168,250 per ton (down -8.8% from 2020)
- Kuwait: $899,455 per ton (up 1,371%)
- Japan: $892,500 per ton (down -41.5%)
- Poland: $756,500 per ton (up 28.2%)
- Austria: $707,000 per ton (down -7.9%)
- Saudi Arabia: $692,182 per ton (up 183.3%)
- Afghanistan: $482,143 per ton (down -14.9%)
- Hong Kong: $470,083 per ton (up 21.6%)
- India: $443,408 per ton (down -30.7%)
- Argentina: $426,286 per ton (down -19.4%)
- Spain: $397,079 per ton (down -16.4%)
- Switzerland: $384,750 per ton (down -43.8%)
- Italy: $365,333 per ton (up 2.3%)
- Taiwan: $330,625 per ton (down -20.3%)
- China: $310,255 per ton (down -33.2%)
The 4 leaders in terms of inflating average unit prices paid in 2021 compared to 2020 were Kuwait (up 1,371%), Saudi Arabia (up 183.3%), Poland (up 28.2%) and Hong Kong (up 21.6%).
See also Top Exported Spices by Sales, Weight and Unit Value, Top Turmeric Exports & Imports by Country, Cinnamon Exports by Country, Top Garlic Exports by Country, Top Ginger Exporters and Top Peppermint Exports & Imports by Country
Alibaba, Saffron Showroom. Accessed on December 21, 2022
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Field Listing: Exports – Commodities. Accessed on December 21, 2022
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on December 21, 2022
Wikipedia, Saffron. Accessed on December 21, 2022