Food and Drink

Meet the Saffron Brand Empowering Female Farmers in Afghanistan

Tahmina Ghaffer shares the story behind the world's most precious spice.

Photo courtesy of Moonflowers
Photo courtesy of Moonflowers
Photo courtesy of Moonflowers

Saffron, otherwise known as “the queen of spice,” is picked by the hands of women. The deep red threads are derived from the stigma of the saffron crocus flower, a very dainty blossom, and it is said that the soft touch of a female hand makes for the best harvest.

“It’s such a beautiful, delicate flower,” says Tahmina Ghaffer, founder of saffron brand Moonflowers Co. “I always wonder, who were the first people that thought to try the stigma and figure out that it was something so delicious and healthy for you.”

Ghaffer, a Kabul native now residing in Washington, DC, became acquainted with the spice at a very young age, when her mother prepared it in the form of tea. It was only until a few years ago, when she started reading about the growing saffron industry in Afghanistan, that she decided to bring this childhood favorite to the U.S.

Lobbies were highlighting how saffron cultivation could replace opium poppy production as a lucrative form of income in Afghanistan. And on top of that, most saffron farmers were females, so driving that business would, in effect, be a form of empowerment.

“And for most women in Afghanistan, this is their introduction to the labor market,” Ghaffer explains. “Especially in rural areas, there are no jobs for women. This is their way of earning money, of not being dependent on a male relative, in a country that is quite conservative.”

So she reached out to family friends back home, who connected her to small family farms in the province of Herat in Afghanistan. They were thrilled to sell the saffron, knowing that their whole production would be purchased before they even began harvesting. In 2020, Moonflowers-a name inspired by the early morning hours in which saffron is picked-was born.But things have changed ever since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, making it much harder for women to leave their homes and get to work. Because Herat is a rural area, female farmers were able to return to the fields for the November harvest, but had to be much less public in their approach.

Ghaffer knows firsthand what it’s like to feel unsafe in your own country. In 1993, when she was only 5 years old, her family fled the country right before a civil war had erupted. They became refugees and settled in the Netherlands, where Ghaffer obtained a degree in International Law before settling in DC. She has not returned to Afghanistan since. “It’s a country I dream of being able to go back to,” she says.

While restrictions have been lifted in some regions of Afghanistan, women continue to face an uncertain future. And consequently, the saffron industry is hurting. In the past year, most farmers were unable to sell their product, as supply chain routes were cut off. “It’s sad to see that this is the result of their hard labor. The livelihood of a lot of families depended on this,” Ghaffer says.

Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice for a reason. “You need about 75 to 80,000 flowers to produce one pound of saffron,” Ghaffer says. When it’s time to harvest, everything must be done by hand. Fields upon fields of flowers must be picked in a timely manner, because once the flower wilts, the quality of the stigmas become compromised.

There are a number of ways you can assess whether or not the saffron is of the highest quality. The first is the crocin, or the color of the saffron-the deeper the better. The safranal is the taste, which must be very pronounced. And then you have the picrocrocin, or the aroma. You should be able to smell it as soon as you open the tin box.

Photo courtesy of Moonflowers
Photo courtesy of Moonflowers
Photo courtesy of Moonflowers

“If you steep it in water, the water should gradually turn into this golden, almost orange hue-it’s a very particular color,” she says. “People write a lot about what’s real saffron, what’s fake saffron, but you can’t miss that golden color-you can’t replicate it with any other spice or coloring.”

And the payoff is worth it. Saffron boasts a number of health benefits, from antioxidants to anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that a daily dosage of saffron can aid memory, and it’s excellent for reducing PMS symptoms. Plus, it has a calmative effect, so it’s often recommended as a stress reliever.

When it comes to cooking, saffron adds an earthy, honey-like flavor that’s extremely versatile, able to be used in both sweet and savory recipes. It’s famously found in rice on Spanish and Middle Eastern tables, but Ghaffer’s favorite way to incorporate it is alongside poached pears. She also loves to simply infuse it in water, or brew it with green tea and cardamom.

Ghaffer hopes that, with an increased awareness of her product’s transformative properties, everyone will add saffron to their pantry. But more than that, she hopes to educate people about where it comes from. With each purchase of Moonflowers saffron, customers have the option to donate to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which provides vital support to Afghans who are in need of humanitarian aid. She says, “I want people to hear the story of Afghan women and how they created this beautiful industry.”

Tahmina Ghaffer’s Saffron Poached Pears With Greek Yogurt

Ingredients:

  • Pinch of Moonflowers saffron (15 threads)
  • 1 teaspoon of cane sugar
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Peel of 1 orange
  • 10 opened cardamom pods
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • ½ cup of honey
  • 1 cup water
  • 5 medium sized bosc pears
  • Greek yogurt

Directions:
1. Place the saffron, sugar and salt in a small mortar and pestle. Grind them together into a powder. Add ¼ cup of hot water to the ground saffron-sugar mix and let it steep for at least 30 minutes.
2. Place the saffron liquid and all the ingredients (except pears) in a saucepan. Stir everything together and turn on the heat to medium-low. Make sure the saucepan is large enough for the pears to be able to submerge in the poaching liquid.
3. When the liquid comes to a simmer, peel the pears and then lower them into the poaching liquid.
4. Let the pears poach in the liquid on medium-low heat (simmering) for 20 – 25 minutes, but rotate the pears every 5 minutes to ensure they poach evenly on all sides, including the tops of the pears.
5. When the pears have been poached, keep them upright in the poaching liquid, and remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the pears to cool down in the poaching liquid.
6. Remove the pears from the poaching liquid and set aside. Strain the poaching liquid to remove the orange peel and cardamom. Return the strained poaching liquid to the saucepan and simmer for a few minutes until the liquid thickens into a syrup.
7. The pears can be served at any temperature of your choice: warm, room temperature or chilled.
8. I like to serve the pears on a bed of Greek yogurt, brushing the pears with syrup and then pouring some more of the syrup over the pears and yogurt. You may sprinkle crushed pistachios or almonds on the yogurt.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Food & Drink team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Food and Drink

Red Rooster Is Serving Free Chicken and Piping Hot Cash This Christmas in July

Get your early dose of festive cheer.

Red Rooster Christmas in July
Instagram / @redrooster_au

The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.

From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.

Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.

Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.

Terms and conditions apply. Visit Red Rooster’s Christmas in July to see all the deals.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.