Spice of life


How a spice business launched by a trio of Army engineer officers aims to cultivate peace in Afghanistan

By Sarah Sekula

In the blaze of an Afghanistan summer, cracked earth and hot, dry winds make it hard to imagine a plant flourishing here. Once October rolls around, though, it’s a whole different story. In field after field, green sprigs of saffron spring up and eventually blossom.

“You can smell it before you can see it, fields of brilliantly purple flowers with the most intoxicatingly sweet and invigorating aroma you can imagine,” says Keith Alaniz, US Army veteran and co-founder of Rumi Spice

Once they reach their peak, the saffron flowers are plucked from the ground in the wee hours just as the dews sets in, and right before they wilt from the sun. After that, it’s a painstaking process separating red-colored stigmas from purple crocus petals, stamens and the rest of the flower. 

“Each saffron thread is a handpicked stigma from the crocus sativus flower,” says Alaniz. “And there are only three stigmas per bloom. It takes a staggering 75,000 flowers to produce just one pound of saffron. All of these stigmas are picked, processed and cleaned by hand.”

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