Saffron is known in the world as the most expensive spice. Aromatic, healing, special – only a kilogram of this spice requires 200,000 flowers. Find out where saffron comes from, how it is used and why it is so special.
The name saffron originates from the Persian language, from the word za’faran, which means be yellow. This is considered to be because real saffron, although it exists in different variants, is actually bright yellow or orange in color.
Saffron is a perennial plant, a bulb. Spice saffron is obtained from the flower of this plant.
The plant can reach a height of up to 30 cm. The flower consists of six petals, they are purple, yellowish or pink, the pestle are crimson and they are used. Dried pestle, in addition to being used as a spice and for making dyes for coloring food (especially cakes), are also used in medicine. To a greater extent, saffron is poisonous.
The taste of saffron comes from the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains the carotenoid pigment, crocin, which gives an enriched golden-yellow color to dishes and textiles.
History and legends
Saffron was used in Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago. Its recorded history is confirmed in the Assyrian botanical treatise that took place under Ashurbanipal in the 7th century BC. n. e., and it has been traded and used for over four millennia.
There are records that saffron was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and descriptions of saffron can be found in the oldest writings of ancient India, which testifies to the fact that this plant was used before.
There are also legends that Cleopatra used saffron as a cream for tanning the skin, and that the ancient Romans used it to decorate the beds of newlyweds.
Saffron was brought to Europe by the Moors in the 10th century. This spice was so expensive even then, that Spanish laws at the time provided for the death penalty for smuggling saffron. However, in the 16th century, saffron brought to England, and later to America, where it is now grown in Pennsylvania.
In the Middle Ages, saffron was used as a spice in aristocratic houses, and a dish spiced with saffron was a sign that it was an extremely wealthy family. This spice would be used in the kitchen only when meals were being prepared for the most distinguished guests.
Why is it so expensive
The price of saffron is affected by several different factors.
One of the factors is the short flowering season, namely, saffron blooms only 3 weeks a year.
Saffron stalks grow extremely low, so the picking process itself is laborious. This also increases the manpower required, which further affects the high cost of this spice.
Two to nine purple or blue flowers grow from each saffron bulb in one season, and each of these flowers has 3 red or orange petioles 25 to 30 millimeters long. The medicinal and aromatic part of the plant is just that pestle, so for 1 kilogram of this spice you need between 150 and 200 thousand flowers. 80 percent of the weight is lost during drying.
An important price factor is that saffron is harvested exclusively by hand.
Saffron producing countries
Saffron is cultivated in areas from Spain to India. The largest producers of saffron in the world are Spain and Iran, with over 80% of world production. In Europe, saffron is produced almost exclusively in the Mediterranean. It is produced in much smaller quantities in Italy, Crete, France and China, Turkey and India.
In continental Europe, they have been trying to grow saffron for centuries. However, today, saffron is still produced only in Switzerland, in Mund, a small village in the canton of Wallis, at 1200 meters above sea level. In this village saffron is produced in the traditional way, and only a few kilograms of spices are produced annually.
Iran accounts for approximately 90% of world saffron production. In this country, saffron is called “red gold” because it is a constant and secure source of income.
Accordingly, It proved that the best soil to harvest saffron belongs to the east part of Persia lands, known as Khorasan Province. That is to say, the cities of this province are the best zones to harvest saffron crocus. In this region, the saffron harvest season starts in the middle of autumn and lasts for 30-40 days. Anyway, the exact time of harvest differs from city to city of this region.
However, even though the price is so high, very little saffron is needed to get the aroma or color of the dish: only a quarter of a teaspoon of crushed fiber will enrich 4 to 6 servings of rice.
Medicinal and aromatic properties
Saffron has been used for centuries as a remedy for various diseases: kidney disease, arrhythmia problems, appetite problems and digestive problems.
This spice strengthens immunity and prolongs vitality, thanks to the ingredient saffron, which is a powerful antioxidant and fights free radicals.
Saffron has a calming effect on pain and cramps, so it is used for spasmodic cough and abdominal pain.
It is thought to have a beneficial effect on vision and circulation, to regulate the state of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, and to help treat atherosclerosis, asthma and arthritis.
A very small amount of this spice gives dishes a specific aroma, smell and color.
The scent of saffron is also a mild sedative, so this plant is also used in natural therapies to treat depression.
Species and cultivation
This interesting aromatic plant belongs to the iris family and belongs to the spring plants.
There are over 100 different types of saffron in the world. Despite this number, only 3 species have been cultivated.
Saffron falls into four quality categories:
Mancha saffron is characterized by a distinct red color of the pestle; is considered the highest quality on the market;
The coupe is extremely rare and is not available in some significant quantities;
Rio and Sierra saffrons are lighter in color, weaker in aroma and taste, and are therefore less prized.
If you decide to produce saffron, you must know that you choose slightly shady or sunny places for planting these plants. Saffron bulbs tolerate low temperatures very well and quickly adapt to the new environment, so they are planted in the autumn.
They can be planted in a variety of places: from pots, through meadows and gardens, under trees and shrubs, and even in rocky areas.
The distance between the bulbs when planting is between 2 and 3 centimeters. The depth at which you plant the bulbs depends on the type of soil. It should be noted that it is sometimes difficult to obtain bulbs.
Saffron cultivation does not involve any chemical treatment or application of agrotechnical measures.
Saffron is best suited to the Mediterranean climate, but it also grows successfully in the temperate-continental climate.
How to recognize real saffron from counterfeit
Unfortunately, there are counterfeits here as well, and you can easily buy something that looks like saffron, but has additives in the form of aromas and colors. So such a spice has no positive effects.
Fortunately, we can easily determine if it is real saffron. We will put a small amount of spices in a glass of water, and watch what happens.
Fake saffron will immediately release color, you can see in the picture, another glass. So there are additives in the form of paints and other chemicals. Real saffron needs about 10 minutes to start releasing color.