Saffron – Crocus Sativus
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. It actually costs more than gold. Over 150 000 flowers are needed to produce 1 kg (about 2 lb.) of dried spice.
The flowers are carefully handpicked.
The crocus is a small purple colored flower, about 20 cm (around 8 in.) tall.
The flowers will have three short yellow-orange stigmas and three longer red stigmas that are about 3 -4 cm long (a little over an inch).
These deep red threads are to become the precious saffron spice.
Saffron crocus is a perennial plant. It is not known to grow wild.
It only has a flowering period of 20 days or so. Each bulb may yield two or three flowers.
The crocus grows best in places with dry hot summers and cool winters.
Iran is the largest saffron growing country in the world.
It is told that the best saffron is found in Kashmir because it is grown in high altitudes. Kashmir is not a huge exporter; they grow it mostly for their own use.
Saffron in Cooking
This is not a spice one would eat raw. Raw saffron does not have a pleasant taste. It is quite bitter. Heat is needed to bring out the exclusive aroma. It can easily be dissolved in water or milk.
Very small quantities are needed in cooking. One teaspoon of saffron thread (about 0.5 grams) will dissolve in a few tablespoons of hot water in about 30 minutes. This is one method that will bring forth the exquisite flavor and color to add to your dishes.
This spice does add a beautiful color to the food.
Saffron will take seafood dishes to high levels. A little dash in your homemade fish sauce will do wonders.
Cook your sauce with a little white wine and cream as well and your taste buds will be in heaven.
It is also good to use in rice dishes, adding flavor and the beautiful color. There are indeed many recipes using saffron if you have the urge to try something new.
This exquisite spice is often used in baking. In Scandinavia (especially in Sweden) the spice is used when making the special saffron buns called “Lussekatter”. These are traditionally served every December 13th when celebrating St. Lucia. They taste wonderful; highly recommended.
On the side note it has been reported that some Scandinavians “cheat” and use turmeric instead of saffron.
Warning: Too much saffron can be lethal. Consuming 7-8 grams of saffron is enough to kill you. Most recipes require only one gram which is perfectly safe.
Saffron Health Benefits
This bitter-sweet spice is known to stimulate circulation and the menstruation. It is not advised for pregnant women to consume saffron. The same goes for women who are breast feeding; they should not use it.
Saffron reduces blood pressure.
Saffron protects the nervous system from alcohol damage.
It is said to have cancer fighting abilities, though this is not heavily pursued as there are other much cheaper ways to help fight cancer.
This spice is said to lift the spirits and help decrease depression. Christopher Statton, an English herbalist in the 19th century stated: “Saffron has power to quicken the spirits, and the virtue thereof pierces by and by to the heart, provoking laughter and merriment.”
Some claim it is to a favorable spice for lovers. It is told it may bring lovemaking to new levels. It has a long history of being recommended as an aphrodisiac spice.
Beware of Fake Saffron
Saffron being the world’s most expensive spice has through history been subject to criminals selling false saffron for big profits.
Considering it has a higher value that gold we can easily see how this can be exploited in the world of crooks.
In 1444 Jobst Findelen, a German merchant was sentenced to be burned to death together with the false saffron he had in his possession.
To this day false saffron is being sold at markets around the world. Fake powered saffron is not uncommon. Turmeric, paprika and annatto are sometimes used to make the fake saffron powder.
Also remember turmeric is often called “Indian saffron”. Only buy from a merchant you trust.
Dried saffron threads are also not always what they seem. Some scrupulous merchants may coat the threads with a thin layer of honey or oil. This increases the weight and the consequence is that the price increases.
Others again may dye poor graded saffron for the purpose of selling at an increased price. A qualified person can feel the difference when touching the threads which should be dry and crispy.
Saffron has been associated with love and magic because of its aphrodisiac properties. In India dishes which include saffron as an ingredient are often served at weddings.
In Ancient Rome saffron was used to control hangovers. Some of the wealthy citizens would sometimes drink beverages containing saffron before participating in a bacchanalia believing it would help them remember what had happened.
In Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt a little saffron was added to the bath water of the affluent citizens. They believed this was sure to make their skin glow. There was also the extra bonus of improving their love life.
The robes of Buddhist monks are known as saffron colored. Actually to use saffron as a dye for all those robes would cost a small fortune. In reality turmeric is used to dye the ropes. The color is associated with wisdom and humility.