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Explore the dramatic history of the world’s most expensive spice in Saffron: A Global History. Literally worth their weight in gold, sunset-red saffron threads are prized internationally. Saffron can be found in cave art in Mesopotamia, in the frescoes of ancient Santorini, in the dyed wrappings of Egyptian mummies, in the saffron-hued robes of Buddhist monks, and in unmistakable dishes around the world. It has been the catalyst for trade wars as well as smuggling schemes and used in medicine and cosmetics. Complete with delicious recipes and surprising anecdotes, this book traces the many paths taken by saffron, revealing the allure of a spice sought globally by merchants, chefs, artists, scientists, clerics, traders, warriors, and black-market smugglers.
by M Kafi, A. Koocheki, et al. | Jan 4, 2006 $87.95
Saffron is a precious spice which is mainly grown in Iran, India, Spain, Greece, Italy, Pakistan, Morocco, and central Asian countries. Until recently, saffron was perceived only for its value as a spice. However, with recent research findings pointing to the medicinal properties of saffron such as its antimicrobial, anticarcinogenic and antioxidant effects, interest in this plant has increased. The book presents a comprehensive account of saffron which includes the historical background, acerage underproduction, yield and applications, botanical ecophysiology, production technology, irrigation, pests, diseases and weeds, genetics, sterility, reproduction and production of secondary metabolites by in vitro method, economic aspects, indigenous knowledge in saffron production, processing, chemical composition and quality control, and research strategies.
Altaj Crown 100% Spanish Saffron 1 Oz (28.30 Grams) 1 Ounce (Pack of 1)$49.99
Saffron Capsules with 88.50 mg of Saffron Extract. Supplement Contains 180 Capsules. Powerful Antioxidant Provides Mood Boost, Heart and Eye Health Support. High Quality Crocus Sativus Plant Extract. 180 Count (Pack of 1)$23.00
Indian Kashmir Saffron 1 Gram
by Sonoran Spice $10.95
- This Kashmiri saffron is 100% pure, premium quality, and sold in a premium quality spice jar sealed in air tight plastic packaging.
- Bright vibrant red color
- Wonderful strong pungent flavor
- Direct from Kashmir India
- Ships in 2 business days or less guaranteed
Persian Saffron Threads, Pure Red Saffron Spice Threads | Super Negin Grade | Highest Quality and Flavor | For Culinary Use Such as Tea, Paella Rice, Risotto, Tachin, Basmati Rice (10 Grams) by Vanilla Bean Kings $39.99 ($113.38 / Ounce)
- Super Negin Grade Saffron is the world’s most desired and expensive spice. It is commonly used in cooking, baking, medical, and wholistic purposes.
- Persian Safron Threads are Certified 10 of 10 in Safranal (Aroma), Crocin (Fire Red Color), and Picocrocin (Flavor) according to ISO 3632 standards. which is a Grade A+ rating
- Our Pure Saffron Stigmas are Naturally Grown, Non-GMO, and Hand Harvested in Afghanistan. Persian Safron is superior to Spanish, Indian, Keshmiri and ALL Other Types.
- It can be ground into powder form for use in saffron extract supplement and capsules or for steeping Tea Leaves to release a premium yellow flavor. The best choice Saffron for Paella Rice!
- Triple Inspected to ensure only Fire Red Saffron Threads are included and Packaged in a Luxury Food Grade Gift Tin
3 SIMPLE + TASTY Spanish Dishes that use SAFFRON …www.spainonafork.com › All Recipes › Main Dishes13:10 The secret when using saffron, is to just use a little bit. I usually use 1/2 tsp of saffron threads in each recipe …
Pronounce it: sah-fron
The stigma of a type of crocus, saffron threads have a pungent and distinctive aroma and flavour – slightly bitter, a little musty, and with a suggestion of something floral.
It’s a labour-intensive crop, which means that saffron commands a high price; each crocus produces just three stigmas, which are hand-picked and then dried, and it takes thousands of stigmas to make just one ounce of the spice. Happily, the flavour is better if you use just a little – too much, and it tastes too bitter.
The main saffron-growing countries are India, Iran, Spain, Greece and Italy, although it was once grown in Saffron Walden, Essex, hence the town’s name.
Availability All year round.
Choose the best
As a rule of thumb, the deeper the colour of the threads, the better the quality. Deep red with orange tips is considered to be the best. If the tips aren’t orange it might indicate that the saffron is inferior and has been dyed.
Inferior saffron can also look slightly frayed and worn. If you’re buying saffron in markets abroad, beware of cheap deals – the real thing is always expensive. Avoid anything that’s too yellow, as it is probably a fake. You can also buy ground saffron, but it loses its potency quite quickly and is sometimes adulterated with other ingredients.
To draw out the colour and to ensure that it’s evenly distributed throughout the dish it’s to be added to, steep saffron threads in a little warm water, stock, milk or white wine for about 30 minutes before using. Then add the liquid to the dish, usually towards the end of cooking. If you like, you can strain the threads out before you add the liquid, but it’s a fiddly job, and the threads look good in any case.
In an airtight container in a cool, dark place. It will keep for several years.
In Spanish paella, French bouillabaise or Italian risotto Milanese. Use in baking, or add to tomato sauce. Add to the water when making rice.
Alternatives Try turmeric.
Saffron is painstakingly hand-harvested from the Crocus sativus flower, dried, and sold as the the most expensive spice by weight. Adding a small amount to certain recipes can give food a rich, pungent taste. Saffron may also offer various health and beauty benefits, but the evidence is largely unverified.
- 1Look for quality saffron. High quality saffron is a bunch of long red strands that are bright red in color. Avoid powdered saffron, as it’s usually mixed with a lot of fillers.
- 2Know what flavor to expect. Saffron has a pungent, musty taste and scent with sweet floral accents. When used in excess, however, the taste can quickly become bitter.
- 3The colour of red saffron doesn’t change if you dip in water or milk.
- Saffron has a flavor profile similar to vanilla: sweet and musky. The two typically work well together, but they are not similar enough to serve as strict substitutes for one another.
- Turmeric and safflower are often used instead of saffron to give foods a similar color, but the flavors are much different.
- 4Get what you pay for. Harvesting saffron is a labor-intensive process, so if you want high-quality saffron, prepare yourself for an expensive purchase.
- Examine the saffron before you buy it. Good saffron consists of fine, evenly sized threads that are deep red in color with an orange tendril on one end and a trumpet-shaped flute on the other. If the tendril looks yellow, the saffron is likely real but of slightly poorer quality.
- Additionally, a stronger scent also indicates a stronger, better flavor.
- In comparison, fake saffron may look like shredded, irregular threads with disconnected tendrils and pieces of bark mixed into the package. The scent may not be very strong and usually smells like bark.
- 5Opt for whole saffron instead of ground. Simply put, whole saffron has a stronger flavor than ground saffron. Ground saffron can be a good substitute if you cannot find or afford the whole spice, though.
- If you do decide to buy ground saffron, go through a reputable spice seller. Less honest sellers may cut saffron with other spices, including turmeric and paprika, to reduce the overall cost.
- 6Store the saffron carefully. Saffron doesn’t spoil, but it will gradually lose its flavor in storage. Proper storage can preserve the saffron for longer periods, however.
- Wrap the saffron threads in foil and place them in an airtight container. Store them in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months. For longer storage, keep the container of saffron in your freezer for up to 2 years.
- Note that ground saffron should be used within 3 to 6 months and stored in an airtight container and a cool, dark place.
- 1Crush and soak the threads. The process of crushing and soaking saffron releases the maximum amount of flavor from the threads, so it’s strongly recommended.
- Take the saffron threads you intend to use for the recipe and crush them into a powder using a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can crumble the threads in between your fingers.
- Steep the crushed saffron in warm water, stock, milk, or white wine for 20 to 30 minutes. If there’s any liquid in your recipe, use a small amount of the specified liquid from the instructions.
- Add the saffron and soaking liquids directly to your recipe when called for.
- 2Toast the threads. Toasting is another common way to prepare saffron, and it’s especially common for traditional paella recipes.
- Place a cast iron skillet on the stove over medium heat.
- Add the saffron threads to the hot skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, for 1 or 2 minutes. They should release an even stronger aroma but should not be allowed to burn.
- Cool slightly and grind the toasted saffron threads using a mortar and pestle. This powder can be soaked or added directly to the recipe.
- 3Crumble and add directly. While not ideal, you can crumble and add the threads of saffron directly to the dish while you cook it if the recipe calls for a large amount of liquid.
- Note that if you use commercially ground saffron, you’ll typically add it directly to the dish instead of soaking it.
Part3Cooking with Saffron
- 1Use a small amount. In large qualities, saffron will produce a bitter flavor. It’s best to prepare and use very small amounts in your dishes.
- When possible, count the threads instead of measuring them by volume. Note that a “pinch” of saffron equals about 20 medium threads, and a pinch is usually enough in most recipes that serve four to six people.
- When using powdered saffron instead of whole threads, note that 1/4 tsp (1.25 ml) of powder equals about 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) of threads. This amount is usually enough for recipes that serve 8 to 12 people; scale it as needed based on the number of servings.
- 2Use saffron in grain-based recipes. Most traditional recipes calling for saffron are grain-based, including risotto, pilaf, and paella.
- You can find a recipe that calls for saffron or add it to a basic recipe.
- As a general guideline, add about 30 threads of saffron to four servings of risotto or pilaf made with 12 oz (300 g) of rice. Add 50 threads of saffron to a paella recipe that serves four.
- 3Add saffron to desserts. Since saffron has a flavor profile similar to vanilla, it works well in many desserts that typically feature vanilla as the primary flavor. This includes custard, plain pastry, and sweet breads.
- For custards, only add a pinch of saffron to the recipe per four servings.
- For pastry and plain cookies, use 15 to 20 threads of saffron for every 8 oz (200 g) of flour called for in the recipe. Note that butter accents the taste of saffron better than margarine.
- For sweet breads, adding 15 threads of saffron per 1 lb (450 g) of flour will create a subtle flavor, but you can add up to 60 threads for the same amount of flour if you’d prefer a stronger taste.
- 4Combine saffron with other flavors as desired. If you want saffron to serve as the primary flavor in a dish, you’ll need to avoid adding other spices, herbs, or aromatics. When mixed with other spices, however, saffron can give dishes an overall deeper flavor.
- When mixing saffron into dishes flavored with other seasonings, it’s best to use only a pinch. Add the saffron early on so that the flavor can blend into the other ingredients more thoroughly.
- Seasonings frequently paired with saffron include cinnamon, cumin, almond, onion, garlic, and vanilla. For example, you may see this combination in recipes for saffron rice.
- If you plan to add saffron to meat or vegetable dishes, gravitate toward those based on light meats and vegetables. For example, you could try adding it to a chicken or cauliflower dish.
Part4Using Saffron for Non-Culinary Purposes
- 1Do your research. While saffron is most commonly used in cooking and baking, it can also be used for medicinal or cosmetic purposes. Research the effects of saffron thoroughly before using it for non-culinary purposes, though.
- Early research suggests that saffron might be effective as an alternative treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, depression, menstrual discomfort, and premenstrual syndrome.
- There is little to no research to suggest that saffron is effective against asthma, infertility, psoriasis, digestive trouble, baldness, insomnia, pain, cancer, or other conditions.
- Avoid taking more than 12 to 20 grams of saffron since such large amounts can actually be toxic. You should also avoid medicinal saffron if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you’re suffering from bipolar disorder, low blood pressure, or various heart conditions.
- 2Take saffron extract for medicinal purposes. Under the guidance of a physician, you could take a pure, high-quality saffron extract to help treat Alzheimer’s disease, depression, menstrual discomfort, or premenstrual syndrome.
- For Alzheimer’s disease, take 30 mg per day for 22 weeks to improve symptoms. Note that this will not cure the disease, however.
- For depression, take 15 to 30 mg per day. Continue for six to eight weeks. Results may be as effective as a low-dose antidepressant in some individuals.
- For menstrual discomfort, take 500 mg of an extract containing saffron, celery seed, and anise up to three times daily for the first three days of menstruation.
- For premenstrual syndrome, take 15 mg of an ethanol saffron extract up to twice daily while symptoms last. The effect usually kicks in after two menstrual complete menstrual cycles.
- 3Make your skin glow. Topical applications of saffron are traditionally used to lighten, brighten, and clear skin. The exact application procedure will vary based on its intended purpose, though.
- Use a saffron milk mask to hydrate and soften skin. Soak a pinch of saffron threads in about 4 Tbsp (60 ml) of cold milk for several minutes, then splash the mixture onto freshly cleaned skin. After it dries, wash it away with lukewarm water.
- To treat acne, crush 5 to 6 basil leaves with 10 to 12 threads of saffron, forming a paste. Apply the paste directly to the acne. After 10 to 15 minutes pass, wash away the paste with cool water.
- To soften skin over the entire body, sprinkle about 30 threads into very warm bath water. Soak yourself in the water for about 20 to 25 minutes.
- 4Drink saffron milk. Aside from being a tasty beverage, saffron milk is commonly believed to help brighten your complexion when routinely enjoyed several times a week.
- Boil 2 cups (500 ml) of whole milk over high heat.
- As soon as the milk boils, add 2 Tbsp (30 ml) sliced almonds, 1/4 tsp (1.25 ml) saffron threads, 1/4 tsp (1.25 ml) ground cardamom, and 1 to 2 Tbsp (15 to 30 ml) of honey. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Enjoy the drink while it’s still hot.
Read more: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For other uses, see Saffron (disambiguation).
Saffron ‘threads’, plucked from crocus flowers and dried
Saffron (pronounced /ˈsæfrən/ or /ˈsæfrɒn/) is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”. The vivid crimson stigma and styles, called threads, are collected and dried for use mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food. Saffron has long been the world’s most costly spice by weight. Although some doubts remain on its origin, it is believed that saffron originated in Iran. However, Greece and Mesopotamia have also been suggested as the possible region of origin of this plant: Harold McGee states that it was domesticated in or near Greece during the Bronze Age. C. sativus is possibly a triploid form of Crocus cartwrightianus, which is also known as “wild saffron”. Saffron crocus slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia and was later brought to parts of North Africa, North America, and Oceania.
Saffron’s taste and iodoform-like or hay-like fragrance result from the phytochemicals picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a carotenoid pigment, crocin, which imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles. Its recorded history is attested in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical treatise, and has been traded and used for over thousands of years. In the 21st century, Iran produces some 90% of the world total for saffron. At US $5,000 per kg or higher, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Species
- 3 Spice
- 4 Production
- 5 Uses
- 6 History
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
Further information: History of saffron
A degree of uncertainty surrounds the origin of the English word “saffron”. It might stem from the 12th-century Old French term safran, which comes from the Latin word safranum, from the Arabic za’farān, which comes from the Persian word zarparan meaning “gold strung” (implying either the golden stamens of the flower or the golden color it creates when used as flavor).
The domesticated saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, is an autumn-flowering perennial plant unknown in the wild. It probably descends from the eastern Mediterranean autumn-flowering Crocus cartwrightianus which is also known as “wild saffron” and originated in Crete or Central Asia. C. thomasii and C. pallasii are other possible sources. As a genetically monomorphic clone, it slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia.
It is a sterile triploid form, which means that three homologous sets of chromosomes make up each specimen’s genetic complement; C. sativus bears eight chromosomal bodies per set, making for 24 in total. Being sterile, the purple flowers of C. sativus fail to produce viable seeds; reproduction hinges on human assistance: clusters of corms, underground, bulb-like, starch-storing organs, must be dug up, divided, and replanted. A corm survives for one season, producing via this vegetative division up to ten “cormlets” that can grow into new plants in the next season. The compact corms are small, brown globules that can measure as large as 5 cm (2 in) in diameter, have a flat base, and are shrouded in a dense mat of parallel fibres; this coat is referred to as the “corm tunic”. Corms also bear vertical fibres, thin and net-like, that grow up to 5 cm (2 in) above the plant’s neck.
The plant sprouts 5–11 white and non-photosynthetic leaves known as cataphylls. These membrane-like structures cover and protect 5 to 11 true leaves as they bud and develop on the crocus flower. The latter are thin, straight, and blade-like green foliage leaves, which are 1–3 mm (0.04–0.12 in), in diameter, which either expand after the flowers have opened (“hysteranthous”) or do so simultaneously with their blooming (“synanthous”). C. sativus cataphylls are suspected by some to manifest prior to blooming when the plant is irrigated relatively early in the growing season. Its floral axes, or flower-bearing structures, bear bracteoles, or specialised leaves, that sprout from the flower stems; the latter are known as pedicels. After aestivating in spring, the plant sends up its true leaves, each up to 40 cm (16 in) in length. Only in October, after most other flowering plants have released their seeds, do its brilliantly hued flowers develop; they range from a light pastel shade of lilac to a darker and more striated mauve. The flowers possess a sweet, honey-like fragrance. Upon flowering, the plants are 20–30 cm (8–12 in) in height and bear up to four flowers. A three-pronged style 25–30 mm (1.0–1.2 in) in length, emerges from each flower. Each prong terminates with a vivid crimson stigma, which are the distal end of a carpel.
The saffron crocus, unknown in the wild, probably descends from Crocus cartwrightianus. It is a triploid that is “self-incompatible” and male sterile; it undergoes aberrant meiosis and is hence incapable of independent sexual reproduction—all propagation is by vegetative multiplication via manual “divide-and-set” of a starter clone or by interspecific hybridisation.
Crocus sativus thrives in the Mediterranean maquis, an ecotype superficially resembling the North American chaparral, and similar climates where hot and dry summer breezes sweep semi-arid lands. It can nonetheless survive cold winters, tolerating frosts as low as −10 °C (14 °F) and short periods of snow cover. Irrigation is required if grown outside of moist environments such as Kashmir, where annual rainfall averages 1,000–1,500 mm (39–59 in); saffron-growing regions in Greece (500 mm or 20 in annually) and Spain (400 mm or 16 in) are far drier than the main cultivating Iranian regions. What makes this possible is the timing of the local wet seasons; generous spring rains and drier summers are optimal. Rain immediately preceding flowering boosts saffron yields; rainy or cold weather during flowering promotes disease and reduces yields. Persistently damp and hot conditions harm the crops, and rabbits, rats, and birds cause damage by digging up corms. Nematodes, leaf rusts, and corm rot pose other threats. Yet Bacillus subtilis inoculation may provide some benefit to growers by speeding corm growth and increasing stigma biomass yield.
The plants fare poorly in shady conditions; they grow best in full sunlight. Fields that slope towards the sunlight are optimal (i.e., south-sloping in the Northern Hemisphere). Planting is mostly done in June in the Northern Hemisphere, where corms are lodged 7–15 cm (3–6 in) deep; its roots, stems, and leaves can develop between October and February. Planting depth and corm spacing, in concert with climate, are critical factors in determining yields. Mother corms planted deeper yield higher-quality saffron, though form fewer flower buds and daughter corms. Italian growers optimise thread yield by planting 15 cm (6 in) deep and in rows 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in) apart; depths of 8–10 cm (3–4 in) optimise flower and corm production. Greek, Moroccan, and Spanish growers employ distinct depths and spacings that suit their locales.
C. sativus prefers friable, loose, low-density, well-watered, and well-drained clay-calcareous soils with high organic content. Traditional raised beds promote good drainage. Soil organic content was historically boosted via application of some 20–30 tonnes (20–30 long tons; 22–33 short tons) of manure per hectare. Afterwards, and with no further manure application, corms were planted. After a period of dormancy through the summer, the corms send up their narrow leaves and begin to bud in early autumn. Only in mid-autumn do they flower. Harvests are by necessity a speedy affair: after blossoming at dawn, flowers quickly wilt as the day passes. All plants bloom within a window of one or two weeks. Stigmas are dried quickly upon extraction and (preferably) sealed in airtight containers.
The high retail value of saffron is maintained on world markets because of labour-intensive harvesting methods, which require some 200,000 saffron stigmas to be hand-picked from 70,000 crocus flowers for each 1 pound (0.45 kg) of saffron product. Forty hours of labour are needed to pick 150,000 flowers.
One freshly picked crocus flower yields an average 30 mg (0.0011 oz) of fresh saffron or 7 mg (0.00025 oz) dried; roughly 150 flowers yield 1 g (0.035 oz) of dry saffron threads; to produce 12 g (0.42 oz) of dried saffron, 1 lb (0.45 kg) of flowers are needed; 1 lb (0.45 kg) of fresh saffron yields 0.2 oz (5.7 g) of dried spice.
Phytochemistry and sensory properties
Saffron contains some 28 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds, dominated by ketones and aldehydes. An aroma chemical analysis showed that the main aroma-active compounds were safranal – the main compound responsible for saffron aroma – 4-ketoisophorone, and dihydrooxophorone. Saffron also contains nonvolatile phytochemicals, including carotenoids, including zeaxanthin, lycopene, and various α- and β-carotenes.
The yellow-orange colour of saffron is primarily the result of α-crocin. This crocin is trans-crocetin di-(β-D-gentiobiosyl) ester; it bears the systematic (IUPAC) name 8,8-diapo-8,8-carotenoic acid. This means that the crocin underlying saffron’s aroma is a digentiobiose ester of the carotenoid crocetin. Crocins themselves are a series of hydrophilic carotenoids that are either monoglycosyl or diglycosyl polyene esters of crocetin. Crocetin is a conjugated polyene dicarboxylic acid that is hydrophobic, and thus oil-soluble. When crocetin is esterified with two water-soluble gentiobioses, which are sugars, a product results that is itself water-soluble. The resultant α-crocin is a carotenoid pigment that may make up more than 10% of dry saffron’s mass. The two esterified gentiobioses make α-crocin ideal for colouring water-based and non-fatty foods such as rice dishes.
The bitter glucoside picrocrocin is responsible for saffron’s pungent flavour. Picrocrocin (chemical formula: C
7; systematic name: 4-(β-D-glucopyranosyloxy)-2,6,6-trimethylcyclohex-1-ene-1-carbaldehyde) is a union of an aldehyde sub-molecule known as safranal (systematic name: 2,6,6-trimethylcyclohexa-1,3-diene-1-carbaldehyde) and a carbohydrate. It has insecticidal and pesticidal properties, and may comprise up to 4% of dry saffron. Picrocrocin is a truncated version of the carotenoid zeaxanthin that is produced via oxidative cleavage, and is the glycoside of the terpene aldehyde safranal.
When saffron is dried after its harvest, the heat, combined with enzymatic action, splits picrocrocin to yield D–glucose and a free safranal molecule. Safranal, a volatile oil, gives saffron much of its distinctive aroma. Safranal is less bitter than picrocrocin and may comprise up to 70% of dry saffron’s volatile fraction in some samples. A second molecule underlying saffron’s aroma is 2-hydroxy-4,4,6-trimethyl-2,5-cyclohexadien-1-one, which produces a scent described as saffron, dried hay-like. Chemists find this is the most powerful contributor to saffron’s fragrance, despite its presence in a lesser quantity than safranal. Dry saffron is highly sensitive to fluctuating pH levels, and rapidly breaks down chemically in the presence of light and oxidising agents. It must, therefore, be stored away in air-tight containers to minimise contact with atmospheric oxygen. Saffron is somewhat more resistant to heat.
Kashmiri saffron package
Saffron is not all of the same quality and strength. Strength is related to several factors including the amount of style picked along with the red stigma. Age of the saffron is also a factor. More style included means the saffron is less strong gram for gram because the colour and flavour are concentrated in the red stigmas. Saffron from Iran, Spain and Kashmir is classified into various grades according to the relative amounts of red stigma and yellow styles it contains. Grades of Iranian saffron are: “sargol” (red stigma tips only, strongest grade), “pushal” or “pushali” (red stigmas plus some yellow style, lower strength), “bunch” saffron (red stigmas plus large amount of yellow style, presented in a tiny bundle like a miniature wheatsheaf) and “konge” (yellow style only, claimed to have aroma but with very little, if any, colouring potential). Grades of Spanish saffron are “coupé” (the strongest grade, like Iranian sargol), “mancha” (like Iranian pushal), and in order of further decreasing strength “rio”, “standard” and “sierra” saffron. The word “mancha” in the Spanish classification can have two meanings: a general grade of saffron or a very high quality Spanish-grown saffron from a specific geographical origin. Real Spanish-grown La Mancha saffron has PDO protected status and this is displayed on the product packaging. Spanish growers fought hard for Protected Status because they felt that imports of Iranian saffron re-packaged in Spain and sold as “Spanish Mancha saffron” were undermining the genuine La Mancha brand. Similar was the case in Kashmir where imported Iranian saffron is mixed with local saffron and sold as “Kashmir brand” at a higher price. In Kashmir, saffron is mostly classified into two main categories called “mongra” (stigma alone) and “lachha” (stigmas attached with parts of the style). Countries producing less saffron do not have specialised words for different grades and may only produce one grade. Artisan producers in Europe and New Zealand have offset their higher labour charges for saffron harvesting by targeting quality, only offering extremely high-grade saffron.
In addition to descriptions based on how the saffron is picked, saffron may be categorised under the international standard ISO 3632 after laboratory measurement of crocin (responsible for saffron’s colour), picrocrocin (taste), and safranal (fragrance or aroma) content. However, often there is no clear grading information on the product packaging and little of the saffron readily available in the UK is labelled with ISO category. This lack of information makes it hard for customers to make informed choices when comparing prices and buying saffron.
Under ISO 3632, determination of non-stigma content (“floral waste content”) and other extraneous matter such as inorganic material (“ash“) are also key. Grading standards are set by the International Organization for Standardization, a federation of national standards bodies. ISO 3632 deals exclusively with saffron and establishes three categories: III (poorest quality), II, and I (finest quality). Formerly there was also category IV, which was below category III. Samples are assigned categories by gauging the spice’s crocin and picrocrocin content, revealed by measurements of specific spectrophotometric absorbance. Safranal is treated slightly differently and rather than there being threshold levels for each category, samples must give a reading of 20–50 for all categories.
These data are measured through spectrophotometry reports at certified testing laboratories worldwide. Higher absorbances imply greater levels of crocin, picrocrocin and safranal, and thus a greater colouring potential and therefore strength per gram. The absorbance reading of crocin is known as the “colouring strength” of that saffron. Saffron’s colouring strength can range from lower than 80 (for all category IV saffron) up to 200 or greater (for category I). The world’s finest samples (the selected, most red-maroon, tips of stigmas picked from the finest flowers) receive colouring strengths in excess of 250, making such saffron over three times more powerful than category IV saffron. Market prices for saffron types follow directly from these ISO categories. Sargol and coupé saffron would typically fall into ISO 3632 category I. Pushal and Mancha would probably be assigned to category II. On many saffron packaging labels, neither the ISO 3632 category nor the colouring strength (the measurement of crocin content) is displayed.
However, many growers, traders, and consumers reject such lab test numbers. Some people prefer a more holistic method of sampling batches of threads for taste, aroma, pliability, and other traits in a fashion similar to that practised by experienced wine tasters. However, ISO 3632 grade and colouring strength information allow consumers to make instant comparisons between the quality of different saffron brands, without needing to purchase and sample the saffron. In particular, consumers can work out a value for money based on price per unit of colouring strength rather than price per gram, given the wide possible range of colouring strengths that different kinds of saffron can have.
Despite attempts at quality control and standardisation, an extensive history of saffron adulteration, particularly among the cheapest grades, continues into modern times. Adulteration was first documented in Europe’s Middle Ages, when those found selling adulterated saffron were executed under the Safranschou code. Typical methods include mixing in extraneous substances like beetroot, pomegranate fibres, red-dyed silk fibres, or the saffron crocus’s tasteless and odourless yellow stamens. Other methods included dousing saffron fibres with viscid substances like honey or vegetable oil to increase their weight. Powdered saffron is more prone to adulteration, with turmeric, paprika, and other powders used as diluting fillers. Adulteration can also consist of selling mislabelled mixes of different saffron grades. Thus, high-grade Kashmiri saffron is often sold and mixed with cheaper Iranian imports; these mixes are then marketed as pure Kashmiri saffron, a development that has cost Kashmiri growers much of their income. Safflower is a common substitute sometimes sold as saffron. The spice is reportedly counterfeited with horse hair, corn silk, or shredded paper. Tartrazine or sunset yellow have been used to colour counterfeit powdered saffron.
In recent years, saffron adulterated with the colouring extract of gardenia fruits has been detected in the European market. This form of fraud is difficult to detect due to the presence of flavonoids and crocines in the gardenia-extracts similar to those naturally occurring in saffron. Detection methods have been developed by using HPLC and mass spectrometry to determine the presence of geniposide, a compound present in the fruits of gardenia, but not in saffron.
The various saffron crocus cultivars give rise to thread types that are often regionally distributed and characteristically distinct. Varieties (not varieties in the botanical sense) from Spain, including the tradenames “Spanish Superior” and “Creme”, are generally mellower in colour, flavour, and aroma; they are graded by government-imposed standards. Italian varieties are slightly more potent than Spanish. Greek saffron produced in the town of Krokos is PDO protected due to its particularly high-quality colour and strong flavour. Various “boutique” crops are available from New Zealand, France, Switzerland, England, the United States, and other countries—some of them organically grown. In the US, Pennsylvania Dutch saffron—known for its “earthy” notes—is marketed in small quantities.
Consumers may regard certain cultivars as “premium” quality. The “Aquila” saffron, or zafferano dell’Aquila, is defined by high safranal and crocin content, distinctive thread shape, unusually pungent aroma, and intense colour; it is grown exclusively on eight hectares in the Navelli Valley of Italy’s Abruzzo region, near L’Aquila. It was first introduced to Italy by a Dominican friar from inquisition-era Spain. But the biggest saffron cultivation in Italy is in San Gavino Monreale, Sardinia, where it is grown on 40 hectares, representing 60% of Italian production; it too has unusually high crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal content.
Another is the “Mongra” or “Lacha” saffron of Kashmir (Crocus sativus ‘Cashmirianus’), which is among the most difficult for consumers to obtain. Repeated droughts, blights, and crop failures in Kashmir combined with an Indian export ban, contribute to its prohibitive overseas prices. Kashmiri saffron is recognizable by its dark maroon-purple hue, making it among the world’s darkest. In 2020, Kashmir Valley saffron was certified with a geographical indication from the Government of India.
Saffron market, Iran
Almost all saffron grows in a belt from Spain in the west to Kashmir in the east. In 2014, 250 t (250,000 kg) were produced worldwide. Iran is responsible for 90–93% of global production, with much of their produce exported.
In the 21st century, cultivation in Greece and Afghanistan increased. Morocco and India were minor producers. In Italy, saffron is produced primarily in Southern Italy, especially in the Abruzzo region, but it is also grown in significant numbers in Basilicata, Sardegna, and Tuscany (especially in San Gimignano). Prohibitively high labour costs and abundant Iranian imports mean that only select locales continue the tedious harvest in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland—among them the Swiss village of Mund, whose annual output is a few kilograms. Microscale production of saffron can be found in Australia (mainly the state of Tasmania), Canada, Central Africa, China, Egypt, parts of England France, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Sweden (Gotland), Turkey (mainly around the town of Safranbolu), the United States (California and Pennsylvania). Greece is a saffron producer with a history of 3 centuries of cultivation of a saffron called Krokos Kozanis, having started exports to the United States in 2017.
Main article: Saffron (trade)
Saffron prices at wholesale and retail rates range from US$500 to US$5,000 per pound, or US$1,100–11,000/kg. In Western countries, the average retail price in 1974 was $1,000 per pound, or US$2,200 per kilogram. In February 2013, a retail bottle containing 0.06 ounces (1.7 g) could be purchased for $16.26 or the equivalent of $4,336 per pound or as little as about $2,000/pound in larger quantities. A pound contains between 70,000 and 200,000 threads. Vivid crimson colouring, slight moistness, elasticity, and lack of broken-off thread debris are all traits of fresh saffron.
Saffron threads soaked in hot water prior to use in food preparationMain article: Saffron (use)
|Nutritional value per 1 tbsp (2.1 g)|
|Energy||27 kJ (6.5 kcal)|
|Dietary fibre||0.10 g|
|Vitamin A||11 IU|
|Thiamine (B1)||0%0 mg|
|Riboflavin (B2)||1%0.01 mg|
|Niacin (B3)||0%0.03 mg|
|Vitamin B6||2%0.02 mg|
|Folate (B9)||1%2 μg|
|Vitamin B12||0%0 μg|
|Vitamin C||2%1.7 mg|
|Vitamin D||0%0 μg|
|Vitamin D||0%0 IU|
|Full Link to USDA database entry|
|Unitsμg = micrograms • mg = milligramsIU = International units|
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.|
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Saffron’s aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as hay-like and sweet. Saffron also contributes a luminous yellow-orange colouring to foods. Saffron is widely used in Persian, Indian, European, and Arab cuisines. Confectioneries and liquors also often include saffron. Saffron is used in dishes ranging from the jewelled rice and khoresh of Iran, the Milanese risotto of Italy, the paella of Spain, the bouillabaisse of France, to the biryani with various meat accompaniments in South Asia. One of the most esteemed use for saffron is in the preparation of the Golden Ham, a precious dry-cured ham made with saffron from San Gimignano. Common saffron substitutes include safflower (Carthamus tinctorius, which is often sold as “Portuguese saffron” or “açafrão”), annatto, and turmeric (Curcuma longa).
Saffron has a long history of use in traditional medicine. Saffron has also been used as a fabric dye, particularly in China and India, and in perfumery. It is used for religious purposes in India.
Dried saffron is 65% carbohydrates, 6% fat, 11% protein (table) and 12% water. In one tablespoon (2 grams; a quantity much larger than is likely to be ingested in normal use) manganese is present as 29% of the Daily Value, while other micronutrients have negligible content (table).
Main article: History of saffron
A detail from the “Saffron Gatherers” fresco of the “Xeste 3” building. It is one of many depicting saffron; they were found at the Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri, on the Aegean island of Santorini.
Some doubts remain on the origin of saffron, but it is believed that saffron originated in Iran. However, Greece and Mesopotamia have also been suggested as the possible region of origin of this plant. C. sativus is possibly a triploid form of Crocus cartwrightianus. Saffron crocus slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia and was later brought to parts of North Africa, North America, and Oceania.
Saffron was detailed in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal. Documentation of saffron’s use over the span of 3,500 years has been uncovered. Saffron-based pigments have indeed been found in 50,000-year-old depictions of prehistoric places in northwest Iran. The Sumerians later used wild-growing saffron in their remedies and magical potions. Saffron was an article of long-distance trade before the Minoan palace culture’s 2nd millennium BC peak. Ancient Persians cultivated Persian saffron (Crocus sativus ‘Hausknechtii’) in Derbent, Isfahan, and Khorasan by the 10th century BC. At such sites, saffron threads were woven into textiles, ritually offered to divinities, and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and body washes. Saffron threads would thus be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy. Non-Persians also feared the Persians’ usage of saffron as a drugging agent and aphrodisiac. During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander’s troops imitated the practice from the Persians and brought saffron-bathing to Greece.
Buddhist adepts wearing saffron-coloured robes, pray in the Hundred Dragons Hall, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, Singapore.
Conflicting theories explain saffron’s arrival in South Asia. Kashmiri and Chinese accounts date its arrival anywhere between 2500 and 900 years ago. Historians studying ancient Persian records date the arrival to sometime prior to 500 BC, attributing it to a Persian transplantation of saffron corms to stock new gardens and parks. Phoenicians then marketed Kashmiri saffron as a dye and a treatment for melancholy. Its use in foods and dyes subsequently spread throughout South Asia. Buddhist monks wear saffron-coloured robes; however, the robes are not dyed with costly saffron but turmeric, a less expensive dye, or jackfruit. Monks’ robes are dyed the same colour to show equality with each other, and turmeric or ochre were the cheapest, most readily available dyes. Gamboge is now used to dye the robes.
Some historians believe that saffron came to China with Mongol invaders from Persia. Yet saffron is mentioned in ancient Chinese medical texts, including the forty-volume Shennong Bencaojing, a pharmacopoeia written around 300–200 BC. Traditionally credited to the legendary Yan Emperor and the deity Shennong, it discusses 252 plant-based medical treatments for various disorders. Nevertheless, around the 3rd century AD, the Chinese were referring to saffron as having a Kashmiri provenance. According to the herbalist Wan Zhen, “the habitat of saffron is in Kashmir, where people grow it principally to offer it to the Buddha.” Wan also reflected on how it was used in his time: “The flower withers after a few days, and then the saffron is obtained. It is valued for its uniform yellow colour. It can be used to aromatise wine.”
South East Mediterranean
The Minoans portrayed saffron in their palace frescoes by 1600–1500 BC; they hint at its possible use as a therapeutic drug. Ancient Greek legends told of sea voyages to Cilicia, where adventurers sought what they believed were the world’s most valuable threads. Another legend tells of Crocus and Smilax, whereby Crocus is bewitched and transformed into the first saffron crocus. Ancient perfumers in Egypt, physicians in Gaza, townspeople in Rhodes, and the Greek hetaerae courtesans used saffron in their scented waters, perfumes and potpourris, mascaras and ointments, divine offerings, and medical treatments.
In late Ptolemaic Egypt, Cleopatra used saffron in her baths so that lovemaking would be more pleasurable. Egyptian healers used saffron as a treatment for all varieties of gastrointestinal ailments. Saffron was also used as a fabric dye in such Levantine cities as Sidon and Tyre in Lebanon. Aulus Cornelius Celsus prescribes saffron in medicines for wounds, cough, colic, and scabies, and in the mithridatium.
Preserved “Safran”, Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Karlsruhe, Germany
Saffron was a notable ingredient in certain Roman recipes such as jusselle and conditum. Such was the Romans’ love of saffron that Roman colonists took it with them when they settled in southern Gaul, where it was extensively cultivated until Rome’s fall. With this fall, European saffron cultivation plummeted. Competing theories state that saffron only returned to France with 8th-century AD Moors or with the Avignon papacy in the 14th century AD. Similarly, the spread of Islamic civilisation may have helped reintroduce the crop to Spain and Italy.
The 14th-century Black Death caused demand for saffron-based medicaments to peak, and Europe imported large quantities of threads via Venetian and Genoan ships from southern and Mediterranean lands such as Rhodes. The theft of one such shipment by noblemen sparked the fourteen-week-long Saffron War. The conflict and resulting fear of rampant saffron piracy spurred corm cultivation in Basel; it thereby grew prosperous. The crop then spread to Nuremberg, where endemic and insalubrious adulteration brought on the Safranschou code—whereby culprits were variously fined, imprisoned, and executed. Meanwhile, cultivation continued in southern France, Italy, and Spain.
The Essex town of Saffron Walden, named for its new specialty crop, emerged as a prime saffron growing and trading centre in the 16th and 17th centuries but cultivation there was abandoned; saffron was re-introduced around 2013 as well as other parts of the UK (Cheshire).
Europeans introduced saffron to the Americas when immigrant members of the Schwenkfelder Church left Europe with a trunk containing its corms. Church members had grown it widely in Europe. By 1730, the Pennsylvania Dutch cultivated saffron throughout eastern Pennsylvania. Spanish colonies in the Caribbean bought large amounts of this new American saffron, and high demand ensured that saffron’s list price on the Philadelphia commodities exchange was equal to gold. Trade with the Caribbean later collapsed in the aftermath of the War of 1812, when many saffron-bearing merchant vessels were destroyed. Yet the Pennsylvania Dutch continued to grow lesser amounts of saffron for local trade and use in their cakes, noodles, and chicken or trout dishes. American saffron cultivation survives into modern times, mainly in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
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