Saffron Secrets. Saffron is an Aphrodisiac, who knew?!

Upcoming Moroccan Camel Caravan on my horizon, adding to my Moroccan Story. I’m always looking for interesting activities for myself and our clients. I’m addicted to Moroccan spice souks; actually, any spice vendor is a travel temptation. My recent brief Mediterranean @SeaDream yacht adventure provided a visit to tiny Lipari Island, wandering the narrow cobblestone streets, from the Marina Corte along the via Garibaldi, walk up the hill of colorfully decorated homes. Loop back around by way of via del Corso Emmanue. I discovered a little vegetable shop – and voila, dried spices, stuffed bags of fragrant oregano! A generous handful will improve a homemade spaghetti sauce or enhance an oregano flecked pasta.

Saffron is one of Morocco’s leading exports. The Arabs brought Saffron to the kingdom of Morocco around the 10th century. My first visit to an organic saffron farm is on my schedule. The small farm grows ISO certified Class 1 Saffron, known as red gold, due to the high value.

Saffron is valued for its varied uses – from being a gourmet ingredient to being an aphrodisiac, who knew? Being the most expensive spice in the world, hopefully a small dose will stimulate amour!

Although it’s grown in only a few regions throughout the country, it’s sold in the spice markets. Taliouine, a little mountain village in the south of Morocco, and the Ourika Valley at the foot of the Atlas Mountains near Marrakech are two well-known regions where saffron crocuses grow. Taliouine itself is small – just under 6,000 people – but produces more saffron than any other place in Africa. Every November, a festival is held at harvest time and people from around the world come to watch and celebrate. Count me in!

In Morocco the saffron is harvested between October through December whenever the six-petalled flowers appear. During this time, the local Berber women start picking the flowers at dawn. Picking the flowers in early morning ensures that the unique compounds within the filaments are preserved. The bees love the pollen in the saffron flowers and jostle with the pickers for access to the flowers. Which is why after the stigmas have been removed, the local farm will leave the flowers outside for the bees to collect the remaining pollen.

As soon as a picker’s basket is full of flowers, they are taken to the processing room where the three precious red filaments – or stigmas – are carefully detached from the stem. The red filaments are dried in a dehydrator and subsequently lose 80% of their weight, so for every 100 grams of saffron filaments harvested, only 20 grams of dry saffron will remain.

Saffron can only be harvested and processed by hand as its petals must be peeled away gently to collect the delicate saffron threads. Consequently, an ounce of saffron is valued at more than an ounce of gold.

In ancient Persia saffron threads were woven into textiles, ritually offered to divinities, and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and body baths. Saffron threads were scattered across beds on the wedding night of newlywed couples, who were also offered saffron powder in hot milk as an aphrodisiac.

How to tell real from fake saffron? In my experience, many spice vendors aggressively peddle saffron, a complete switch off for me. In Istanbul, again at a spice market, the shop owner tried to entice me with their premium saffron. His hard sell of all products was offensive and in his thick accent, I was pretty certain he was calling me BABY, after every offering. Benjamin had given me his spice list; I held to the list and declined the saffron. When we walked out of the shop, my friend said Gwen – I think he was calling you BABY with each offering! It became our nickname for each other for the remainder of the trip! Hey Baby, are you ready for cocktails?

The Test: drop a few threads in water, real saffron slowly turns water yellow. The color change may take up to an hour. The saffron threads themselves retain their red color. If the water changes color immediately or turns red or does not change color, or if the threads lose their color, the substance is not saffron. Another test of real Saffron is the Float Test that real saffron threads do not drown when put in water.

There is even a museum dedicated to saffron, and the Moroccan Saffron Farm makes Saffron Bitters – who knew?




4 organic egg yolks
60 grams caster sugar
300 ml whole organic milk

60ml runny honey
300 ml crème fraiche
1/2 tsp saffron threads
150 grams of pistachio nuts
Soak 1/2 tsp. saffron threads in 1 tbsp of the 300ml milk

In a bowl beat the egg yolks, sugar and honey until thick and pale.

Slowly bring the milk to the boil in a saucepan and then pour over the egg yolk mixture.

Return to the saucepan and stir the mixture constantly over the heat until it forms a film on the back of a wooden spoon (Do not let it boil or it will separate)

Remove the pan from the heat, leave it to cool and then stir in the cream saffron and pistachio.

Place in an ice-cream maker to freeze.

Serve with a sprinkling of crushed pistachios.


Morocco Earthquake – Reminiscences and How to Help.

The aftermath of the September 8 earthquake in Morocco has flooded me with memories and contemplation of what this endearing country has meant to me over the last few years. My days since include connecting to my beloved hoteliers and our teams. Many colleagues were in Marrakech for an annual travel conference, they shared photos, locations for donating blood, providing updates on our favorite hotels in the Atlas Mountains, which seem to be the worst hit region at the epicenter. From Kasbah Tamadot, our clients love to hike through the Atlas Mountains with the locals and stop in villages for a meal. Spending a few hours in the surroundings of the High Atlas Mountains in a uniquely traditional way with one of the properties resident mules. Passing the eucalyptus and olive groves, the path takes a a gentle ascent into a nearby village with its traditional Berber homes. A great way to experience the local culture, the hotel staff come from these villages, the hardest hit area of the earthquake.

Ait Ben Haddou is a historic ighrem or ksar along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. It is considered a great example of Moroccan earthen clay architecture and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. 

It has been a time of responding to the many clients who have reached out asking if Mustapha, our favorite VIP Client liaison is ok, is his family ok?  I’ve always known Mustapha was a gem, who finds champagne in the Sahara, is my usual anecdote of his many talents. When your clients reach out long after their Journeys, it’s a testament to the nature of our dear clients, and the caring people who manage our clients in foreign countries.

Mustapha Mum, me & Auntie under the fig tree

The outpouring of love and support has been heartwarming.

Many have asked how can we help? Mustapha’s home survived, his parents whose farm is in a small village in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, lost two rooms. I was welcomed into his parents’ humble home for tea, which translated to an impromptu feast of home-grown dates, walnuts, and mint tea. Mustapha thought it unusual that I was so excited to be included – Mustapha, no one invites me in for tea in Spain, France, etc.

Many of Morocco’s buildings and mosques date from the 12th Century, most of the small countryside villages we pass through don’t look as if they could withstand a drenching rain storm, let alone an earthquake of this magnitude. The ancient culture is what I find most compelling, age old tanneries in Fez still function as a part of their every day life. One of my favorite photos was taken near the Draa Valley, famous as the date basket of Morocco, two women hauling hay with their mules, their brick home looked precarious on the steep hillside. These are typical homes all over Morocco.

Moroccan people are warm, welcoming, and extremely generous, even more so in modest communities. Never say No to Tea and be prepared to be embraced and well fed!  One of the wait staff at Dar Ahlam walked me through his tiny village and took me to his home for tea. His wife and child spoke no English, and I no Arabic- but like the love fest with Mustapha’s mum and Auntie, we communicated.

Another chance encounter where I was warmly welcomed was a lunch visit at the glorious riad Jnane Tamsna owned and run by Merryanne Loum-Martin and her American husband Gary Martin. Within minutes of sharing our mutual friends, we were embraced as instant friends and lingered at their beautiful property for lunch, and I’ve subsequently spent impromptu days in Paris with Merryanne when the Moroccan borders were shut down during the pandemic and stayed at Jname Tamsna, their stunning oasis hotel property on the fringes of Marrakech.

How to help on a direct level?  Gary Martin, a cultural anthropologist, and ethnobotanist is founder of the Global Diversity Foundation. He was a lecturer in the School of Anthropology and Conservation at the University of Kent from 1998 to 2011 and a Fellow of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society from 2010 to 2012. Twice a Fulbright scholar, Gary has a PhD in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree in botany. His applied research and teaching on conservation and ethnobotany has taken him to more than 50 countries over the last 30 years.

Their hotel property Jnane Tamsna is 70 km from the epicenter, he mentions that the length and intensity felt worse than an 8.0 earthquake he lived through in Mexico in 1985. There is immense loss of life and livelihoods in the High Atlas villages where they work, especially in the Ouirgane Valley, from where they are receiving reports of many fatalities and homes destroyed.

Global Diversity Foundation has established a Morocco High Atlas Earthquake Relief Fund. Global Diversity Foundation, which has been working in the High Atlas for more than a decade, is directly assisting High Atlas communities. Given our deep ties with the region, we are working on the ground with our Moroccan partners to address the most urgent needs including emergency medical services, food, water, shelter, and transport. We are committed to continue our support to assist communities with their long-term recovery.

Over 2,000 lives have been lost and countless homes, shops and other buildings have been destroyed. Displaced people in High Atlas communities need urgent assistance including clothing, food, shelter, and water. Over the long term, these communities will need to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. The emergency needs will go on way after Marrakech does not make the headlines anymore. These emergency needs will then morph into rebuilding needs while being very active on conservation and green and sustainable means.

Global Diversity Foundation has supported resilience of traditional livelihoods in the High Atlas for over a decade. Once the urgent aid work is over, we will use funds to help families rebuild their homes, incorporating earthquake-resistant construction techniques, and re-establish their traditional ways of living and working. Our approach is community-led and prioritises their pressing needs over the coming months to ensure that people’s lives and livelihoods are rehabilitated as soon as possible.

Besides our local friends in Marrakech, World Central Kitchen is on the ground as well

The NY Times offers a list of options…/how-to-help-victims-morocco…

Please Donate! Or better yet, Plan a Journey to Morocco, the Atlas Mountains area has been hit hard, but the remainder of the country is waiting for Travelers!