On the hunt for Morocco’s illustrious red gold, known as saffron, Sebastien and I began our journey in Agadir.
The day after landing in the surfing city of Agadir, on the west side of Morocco, we got in a car and drove about an hour and a half east until the mirage-like structure of Taroudant emerged from the sparsely tree-covered, rocky terrain. The Saadians had made this their capital in the 16th century and left behind a fortified wall that still surrounds the city. Here we picked up our friend and local connoisseur, Soufianne, before continuing towards the Saharan desert.
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Over the next two hours our tyres kicked up large clouds of dust, which followed us as we weaved through breathtaking, mountainous scenes. The odd glance, mid-conversation was enough for Soufianne to effortlessly navigate us along the dipping valleys to the home of the Anti-Atlas’ elusive treasure.
Sebastien had spent the first 13 years of his life in this country, so like 90% of people, he spoke Moroccan Arabic. A further one in three spoke French, which was our language in common, however, Tasussit, a Berber dialect that Soufianne had mastered, was predominant amongst Taliouine’s 6,000 inhabitants.
Popping up out of the middle of a large, flat area of land, away from the town’s hub, was a solitary house encircled by empty-looking, dug up fields. It belonged to Ayoub, a farmer who was to supply us with his future saffron crop. By this point it was midday and although the sun remained largely hidden behind a thin veil of sombre clouds, the slight breeze did little to stifle the heat. A mule and the plough it dragged were Ayoub’s only companions at this moment and he seemed content to catch a quick break to have a chinwag.
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It is not a coincidence that Taliouine is one of the premiere saffron growing locations in the world, as it is more than 1000 meters above sea-level, a height in which the crocus sativus flourishes. Here, our dainty-looking flower can battle four seasons in the space of a day, with cold winds at night, harsh heat during the day and sudden showers. What grows is a super spice that packs a huge, health punch.
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Seb and I had arrived the month before the harvest began and the bulbs were still doing their best to remain underground, little green shoots only beginning to emerge. Ayoub explained that once the lavender-purple flower’s bloomed, three long, dark-red filaments, known as the plant’s stigma, would protrude. Collecting these is a laborious task and like many cultures they still respect the age-old custom of only letting women collect it by hand. It takes about 500 stigmas in 167 plants to make up 1g of saffron, which is one of the main reasons as to why it is more expensive than 1g of gold!
After having dropped off Soufianne, Seb and I were left reflecting on our little adventure. This part of Morocco is fairly remote so we were not sure how we would be received, but smiles and charm was all that greeted us. Many people in this part of the world are fairly religious, 98.9% being Muslim and there was no greater example of their kindness then when we got a little lost. The light was fading and our ability to accurately spot signs was waning so we asked a middle-aged man sitting by his home for some help. He could tell that we were struggling to understand his directions so off the cuff hopped in the car for the next 10 minute to show us in person, saying that he could do with a walk for the way back. He left us on the right route and with a great recommendation for a much needed tagine restaurant and the rest is bon appetit.
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For more stories from Jake, Seb and Saff Tali, be sure to visit our People page.