Tasmanian farmers Terry and Nicky Noonan are Australia’s largest producers of saffron, the world’s most expensive spice.

Story By Kirsty McKenzie

A native of Greece and Asia Minor, saffron has been revered since ancient times. It’s the dye that turns monks’ robes yellow, the ancient Chinese medicine that is used to treat everything from cancer and depression to inflammation and hysteria and it’s the spice that lends a unique colour, flavour and fragrance to dishes from Spanish paella and French bouillabaisse to Arabic pilafs and Indian desserts. Little wonder then that saffron enjoys a reputation as the world’s most expensive spice.

Saffron is made from the three-pronged red stigmas of the saffron crocus plant. Growing, harvesting, drying and packaging the spice is a labour-intensive business. It takes approximately 220,000 flowers to produce one kilogram of saffron. The world market for saffron amounts to 180 tonnes per annum with an estimated market value of $700 million. About three tonnes of that, or $18 million worth, comes to Australia.

If Tasmanian farmers Terry and Nicky Noonan have their way, a significant proportion of Australia’s saffron will soon be grown locally. Tree-changers before the expression was coined, the Noonans moved from Sydney to Tassie as newlyweds in 1989. Terry gave up his career as a photographic technician and Nicky her job in human resources and they bought land overlooking the Huon River, south of Hobart, at Glaziers Bay.
“We were looking for a cleaner, greener lifestyle,” Nicky says. “We had romantic visions of living off the land, but ... we had to find a way to earn a living. Terry wanted some saffron to flavour a dish and he was astonished to discover it cost $15 for an eighth of a gram, not much more than a pinch. Terry of course said: ‘Surely we can grow this stuff’.

This story excerpt is from Issue #64

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2009