By: Tim Studebaker

KINGSTON, R.I. (WLNE) – Anyone who has cooked with saffron knows it's the most expensive spice in the world.  One brand is selling on a Rhode Island grocery store shelf right now at an astonishing unit price of more than $34,000 per pound.  That equates to about $21 dollars for a 0.01 ounce bottle.

URI Post-Doctoral Researcher Fari Gheshm says, "Saffron is the stigma of the flower of the crocus, but the kind of crocus with the name crocus sativus, which means edible crocus."

It's expensive because it's labor intensive.

Gheshm says, "Between 200 and 300 flowers to make just one gram of saffron."

Gheshm would know.  He used to be a saffron farmer in Iran, where most of the world's supply is grown.  Now, he's a post doctoral researcher at URI, where they're testing the flower to see how well it grows in Rhode Island.  It turns out, it does so well, it's outperforming Iran's output acre for acre.

Gheshm says, "For the second year, we harvested twice the yield as Iran, and we predict this year is going to be better."

Saffron blooms later than other crops, and that could mean a money making opportunity for Rhode Island farmers.

Gheshm says, "Saffron is so profitable for the small farms, the family farms.”

He says farmers could sell that saffron for about $5,000 per pound.

© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2019