26 Things about Saffron

Saffron from A to Z: 26 Things about Saffron

It’s expensive, it’s originally bitter, it comes from the island of Crete, and it’s very tasty

Asia The plant originally came from Asian countries where it is still mainly produced: Iran alone accounts for 90 per cent of the total quantity harvested worldwide.

Bitter To remove its bitter aftertaste, here is a chef’s tip: press the threads between two aluminium sheets before use.

Curry Together with turmeric, coriander, cumin, chilli pepper and other spices, it is one of the star ingredients in this Indian spice mix of worldwide fame. Dishes Among the most well-known dishes containing saffron, French bouillabaisse, pilaf and Asian biryani, Spanish paella and, last but not least, saffron cake from Britain are all experiences not to be missed.

Expensive It takes 80,000 flowers to produce a pound of saffron (453 grams), with a cost in the range of 600 to 2,000 dollars (a pound), prices that make saffron the most expensive spice in the world

Flower Saffron stigmas are gathered when the violet-blue flowers open and every flower produces 3, each one of which is about 25-30 millimeters long.

Greece Some writers claim, however, that it comes from Greece, where it was found for the first time on the Island of Crete during the bronze age.

Harvest Harvest time is autumn, and the process must be carried out by hand, usually by specialized pickers, almost always women, who detach the 3 stigmas one by one.

Indian flag The 3-coloured Indian flag is saffron (to represent Hindus), white (for peace) and green (for growth).

Jingle In the hit song by Donovan entitled “Mellow yellow” the most well-known jingle that everyone sings under their breath is dedicated to this spice: “I’m just mad about Saffron, Saffron’s mad about me”

Kashmir Among the varieties most hard to find on the market is the saffron coming from the Indo-Pakistani area of Kashmir. Here they produce the darkest variety in the world which tends towards a purple-brown color, called Mongra or Lacha.

La Mancha During harvesting, on the Spanish plain of La Mancha it is customary to burn some stigmas on a low fire to diffuse the spicy aroma of saffron in the air.

Make up Owing to its coloring properties, in ancient times it was used as a cosmetic, as well as for dyeing fabric and leather.

Nuremberg In the Middle Ages in Nuremberg, whoever adulterated saffron with the addition of less precious ingredients, was burnt alive.

Opium To combat drug trafficking, in Afghanistan a project has been set up to replace illegal opium poppy plantations with saffron.

Properties A natural medicinal, it has been used since time immemorial for its antibacterial and antiviral properties, and is excellent for treating stomach-ache, coughs and bronchitis.

Qualities There are international norms (ISO) which define its qualities, dividing saffron into 4 different categories according to its color, aroma and taste.

Risotto The most famous dish in the world is saffron risotto, using stock made from bowling fowl, which comes from the Italian city of Milan and is known worldwide.

Sunrise The stigmas of Crocus sativus (the Latin name for saffron) are only picked at dawn, before its flowers open, in order to preserve its aroma and properties.

Taster On a par with sommeliers and cheese tasters, saffron too has its specialists, who decree which varieties are the best.

Unusual habits The main ingredient of magic potions in ancient times, it used to be sprinkled between the sheets and brewed in tea to make a man fall in love or to dispel melancholic thoughts.

Virgins In the region of Oxiana, between Iran and Afghanistan, little girls only are allowed to pick saffron. They have to be virgins or under 13, or so the legend goes.

Wine and spirits It is possible to buy wines aromatized with saffron, as well as many liqueurs, comprising vodka and gin, which are renowned for their digestive properties.

Xxx From Cleopatra onwards, it is said that the aroma lingering on the skin after a hot saffron bath is enough to make any lover go mad with desire.

Yellow Also named “angel hair” because of its color, the word saffron derives from Arabic: Za’feran and da asfar, meaning yellow.

Zafferana Etnea, Sicily A very rare variety of saffron is produced in this tiny Italian village, while the most precious saffron in the country comes from the valleys close to the city of L’Aquila in Abruzzo

By Eva Perasso on December 11, 2012

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