For someone who has a passing familiarity with the spice saffron, a few words might come to mind: expensive, exotic, Mideast. Now researchers want to add another, more unlikely one: Vermont. As the Boston Globe reports, Dr. Margaret Skinner of the University of Vermont has been working with test crops for two years now, with surprisingly strong results. In fact, Skinner thinks saffron could become a viable supplemental crop for Vermont farmers, one that yields an eye-popping $100,000 an acre if done large-scale. “It’s fairly intensive for a short period of time and then, really, the growers would be able to sit back and start reaping the rewards," says Skinner. The key to her success: She grows the plants in a protective "high tunnel," which is essentially a greenhouse without heat, explains Vermont Public Radio.
The idea to test saffron actually came from her assistant, Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani, a post-doctoral associate who hails from Iran, where the vast majority of the world's saffron is grown. "I always was thinking about saffron, the most expensive legal crop in the world," he says. Vermont's climate is similar to Iran's, but its soil is significantly richer, he says. As a result, their saffron crops have a higher yield and a quality on par with the overseas stuff. More work is necessary before saffron goes mainstream on Vermont farms: For one thing, techniques to keep small varmints away need to be perfected, but Skinner and others see big potential, especially given the spice's purported health benefits. "The results they are getting are pretty spectacular," says a former president of the Herb Society of America, which provided a $5,000 grant. (Another spice might make you smarter.)