Master's of Engineering in Technical Entrepreneurship '16G, Ali Almasi

Drawn to the U.S. by the Lehigh University Technical Entrepreneurship program, Iranian native Ali Almasi explored a number of opportunities to develop a business before he struck gold – at least the color gold – with Almas Foods International LLC.


Almasi saw that the Greater Lehigh Valley and the country could use just a bit more saffron, a golden colored spice that is harvested from the saffron crocus, which grows in the more mountainous, cooler parts of his home country.


“The northeast part of Iran has the ideal elevation and soil to grow the saffron crocus,” Almasi said. That, he said, makes Iran the largest producer of saffron in the world.


And while places such as Spain and Afghanistan also produce the spice, the saffron from Iran, in his opinion, is the best.


Earlier this year, Almasi began to explore opportunities to import the spice. He said there isn’t a lot of competition because saffron can be expensive and complicated to harvest.


It’s mostly harvested by hand. His website explains it typically takes 40 hours of hand labor to pick 150,000 saffron flowers and it takes 77,000 saffron flowers to produce just one pound of the saffron spice.


That makes it a higher-end spice. And while it can be used in rice, tea and different desserts, the cost keeps it from the more mainstream consumer market.


And so Almasi created the Zaffrus brand this year to make the precious spice more easily available in the local and U.S. markets.


He recently located in the SoBeCoWorks co-working incubator in South Bethlehem, which gave him the space to import, sort and bottle the delicate threads of saffron, and look for new ways to market it.


One of his goals is to lower the price. He is selling more premium varieties of the spice which range from $17 to $25 for 1.5 grams.


He is working to bring in different, less expensive varieties to expand his business nationwide.


But he’s also looking to partner with other Valley businesses to incorporate his spice into their products.


He recently began working with the ice cream shop, Nuts About Ice Cream in Bethlehem, to make a saffron ice cream and is working with another small business to develop saffron popcorn.


“I’m thinking both macro and micro in growing the business,” Almasi said. 


The spice is for sale on his website and at