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Saffron & Salt – Sisterhood Stories in Morocco


Women are weaving the golden thread connecting saffron and the special Zerradoun salt and they are working to deliver unique produce, these are women tales, guiding us to the Sahara. 

Tales realign the vision we have of the society,  north to south, from Zerradoun to Taliouine where saffron flowers are planted.

Women are the keepers of these tales and builders of the foundations in any developing country. In Morocco, women are those who make the intricate carpets. Women are those that produce the worldwide famous Moroccan Argan Oil.

The Amazigh tribes from the Rif Mountains to the desert nomads, were once a matrilineal society.

Woman grinding Argan nuts  – Picture credit to Mustapha Agouzal CC Attributions

Women involved in these time consuming, slow activities, had enough stories to share with the younger apprentices and we will share a couple of these women tales with you in this article.

Prepare your tea and let’s start to get to know Morocco a bit better!


Women are cooperating to produce a special kind of salt in a village in Northern Morocco.
This is called Zerradoun salt such as the village between two valleys where these Moroccan women produce it.

They extract it from its natural source, the salt basins.

Zerradoun has salt basins of 200 years old that belong to the families of the village located on the Rif Mountains not too far from Chefchaouen or Asilah. Midway from Fes or Meknes, driving north to Tangier. In that small village on the Rif Mountains each of these families is extracting the mineral from their own basin from May to August. 

Women extracting salt from basins Picture Credits to Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity
Women extracting salt from basinsCredits to Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity

Underneath the scorching African sun, women extract and transport the Zerradoun salt until the cooperative where they work it in its different forms: Ground if for cooking purposes, in grains or aromatised with orange water or lavender for bath salts.

The extraction process is very simple but equally slow. It consists of seasonal work and a big amount of patience which is as important as strength and stamina.


Saffron flower pic by Serpico under Creative Commons Attribution
Saffron flower pic by Serpico under Creative Commons Attribution

As per the Argan oil and for Zerradoun salt, Morocco is in pole position concerning the production of Saffron as well, another field where women lead the work.

Every step of this process is by hand and naturally fertilised.

One of the finest qualities of saffron is cultivated in the small village of Taliouine (not too far from the famous Ouarzazate). Here each family takes care of their own piece of land. Between October and November flowers are picked up and left to rest in a fresh room, when they are still closed, for then separating the threads one by one.

Saffron threads Saffron threads
Saffron threads


It’s now the turn of one of the stories I promised, and as a bonus, you’ll get a recipe with it. When it’s about Moroccan food – especially about Tanjia – my husband Youssef, has the free pass in the kitchen. I am merely an assistant and I love watching the process!

These instructions come straight from him and what his mother taught him.

Comidoc.com TANJIA
Tanjia Pot on Coals – Credit Comidoc.com

Tanjia  (not to be confused with tagine) is a particular dish of meat (it can be any meat but we’re using beef) which is typical of Marrakech.

Ladies and Gents, here’s the story of the Tanjia Marrakchia!

 “It’s said that after a bad fight with his wife, a man was left home alone, criticised by her to be unable to provide for himself.
Offended, he decided to prove her wrong. The man put together some ingredients he found in this terracotta vase, called Tanjia, and covered it. He then realised he didn’t know anything about cooking times and thought to bring his food to the traditional hammams “farnatchi”. Farnatchis are the place where the wood for heating the hammam is burnt, oven rooms under the ground.

There he left his food to slow-cook for a few hours in the ashes of the wood.

When he picked up the jar and tried the food, he found out (with great pride) that his Tanjia was very tasty.

As a matter of fact, that’s almost more of a man’s tale!


Now let’s prepare a Tanjia for two together, here are the ingredients:

  • 1 small preserved lemon
  • 3 tablespoons of cumin
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • one pinch of saffron (like 4 threads)
  • 1 small glass of olive oil (Moroccan tea glass)
  • 1 small glass of water
  • ½ kg beef


We start by cutting the preserved lemon in slices, we crush the garlic cloves with their skin. Then we put ALL the ingredients together in the Tanjia jar.

The jar needs to be shaken and mixed before covering the opening. This dish has to be cooked very slowly to make the meat as soft as possible.
The same dish can, of course, be cooked in a pressure cooker in half the time.

I find this story hilarious but slightly unfair because I noticed that many Moroccan men actually cook amazing tajines and tanjias! 


Now you will tell me “what does this has to do with the rest of the article?” And I will -with pleasure- explain to you the connection.

The Hand of Fatima
The Hand of Fatima

In this post, we did talk about the Amazigh women. We did talk about how hard they work. How the perseverance of their actions brings to the world such gifts.
Patience and love are the leading skills and strength of these women, despite the challenging living conditions.

The story behind the hugely famous hand of Fatima is one good example of women’s tales.

“Khmissa” is the real name of this amulet (in Arabic means five), made in the shape of an open hand, is considered a symbol of protection in Islamic culture.


Fatima was the daughter of the Prophet. The legend tells that one night, while she was preparing dinner, her husband entered back home with his second wife (male polygamy is still allowed in Islamic religion).

Shocked and displeased by this event, she didn’t realise that the ladle fell into the food she was cooking. She was stirring it with her hand without feeling the pain caused by the heat: what was hurting more, was her heart.

At that moment her husband entered the kitchen to find her in that situation and he took care of her, but then told her that he would spend the night with his second wife. She accepted reluctantly, however, unable to resist to her pain, she went to spy on them through a little slit in the door even regardless the fact that she knew this would cause her an unbearable pain.

When she saw that scene, a tear fell from her eye. That teardrop went onto her husband’s shoulder and at that moment,  it’s said that he felt the strength of the love and pain of his wife, deciding to give up on the second spouse.

Women who wear this talisman will receive symbolically the gift of patience, which should bring happiness, wealth and luck.

 Have patience. All things are difficult before they become easy. 
-Saadi Shirazi-

Saffron & Salt was written by Burcin Yetim

All pictures are royalty free and credited, the ones without credits do not require one

On a tour with So Morocco we will show you the farnatchi, the saffron cooperatives in Taliouine and the women artisans in Sefrou – you will have the opportunity to get behind the scenes and hear the stories for yourselves.

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