What is saffron

 

 

Saffron is the highly precious spices known due to antiquity for its color, flavor and it’s medical properties. Saffron is the dried "stigma" or threads of the flower of the S. crocus plant. The plant is a kind of bulbous perennial plant that is belongs to the family of Iridaceae of the genus, Crocus and known botanically as Crocus sativus.

 

This exotic spice is a native of Southern Europe and now cultivated worldwide in many countries, particularly in Iran , Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey.



Saffron plant (Crocus sativus). Note for lavender color flower and stigma (threads).

Beautiful saffron threads.




Crocus sativus plant grows to about 15-20cm in height and bears lavender colored flowers during each season, which lasts from October until November. Each flower features perianth, which consists of a stalk, known as “style,” connecting to the three “stigmas” or threads to the rest of the plant. These orange-yellow colored stigmas along with the style constitute "saffron" which is used as spice.

perfect crop production demands cool dry climate with well-drained rich fertile soil and irrigation facilities or sufficient amount of rain fall. The flowers are harvested during the early-morning hours and soon the stigma separated, allowed to dry and packed for marketing.

Saffron has the distinct flavor because of the chemical components on picrocrocin, and it’s safranal. It also contains a natural crotenoid chemical compound, crocin, which gives saffron its golden-yellow hue. These traits along with its medicinal properties make it a valuable ingredient in many foods worldwide.



 

 

 

Health benefits of Saffron

  • Saffron contains many plants derived chemical compounds that are known to have been anti-oxidant, disease preventing and health promoting properties.
  • The flower stigma are composed of many essential volatile oils but the most important being safranal, which gives saffron its distinct hay-like flavor. Other volatile oils in saffron are cineole, phenethenol, pinene,  borneol, geraniol, limonene, p-cymene, linalool,  terpinen-4-oil, etc.
  • This colorful spice has many non-volatile active components; the most important of them is α-crocin, a carotenoid compound, which gives the stigmas their characteristic golden-yellow color. It also contains other carotenoids, including zea-xanthin, lycopene, α- and β-carotenes. These are important antioxidants that help protect the human body from oxidant-induced stress, cancers, infections and acts as immune modulators.
  • The active components in saffron have many therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines as antiseptic, antidepressant, anti-oxidant, digestive, anti-convulsant.
  • This novel spice is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for red blood cell production and as a co-factor forcytochrome oxidases enzymes.
  • Additionally, it is also rich in many vital vitamins, including vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin-C that is essential for optimum health.



Medicinal uses

  • The active components present in saffron have many therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines since long time ago as anti-spasmodic, carminative, diaphoretic.
  • Research studies have shown that, safranal, a volatile oil found in the spice, has antioxidant, cytotoxicity towards cancer cells, anticonvulsant and antidepressant properties.
  • Αlfa-crocin, a carotenoid compound, which gives the spice its characteristic golden-yellow color, has been anti-oxidant, anti-depressant, and anti-cancer properties. (Medical disclaimer).

Selection and storage

Fresh saffron is available in the special spice markets. Try to buy dried whole stigma instead of powdered saffron since oftentimes it may be adulterated. Choose a well-sealed container from the authentic selling company, which includes the date of package and expiry.

Fresh spice should feature bright orange-yellow hue and each thread-like stigma measuring 2 to 4 cm in length. Avoid inferior quality product featuring grey color streaks or light spots on the stigma. This spice has a characteristic pungent bitter-honey taste with pleasant aroma.

Store in closed box and keep it in cool dark place away from the light since light rays oxidizes the pigments in saffron and offsets its flavor.


Culinary uses

Just a pinch of fresh saffron is enough to enhance the flavor and color the entire recipe.

There are several methods to use it in the kitchen. Whole stigma can be added directly to the preparations, or oftentimes, the threads are ground and powdered using traditional hand mill and added to the recipes. In the third method, a pinch of saffron is added to a cup of hot water, steep; add this water to the recipes.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Saffron stigmas have been used as flavoring base and coloring agent in both food and drinks in Mediterranean, Asian cuisines.
  • It has been in use in the preparation of sweet dishes in many Indian, Pakistani, and Cental Asian countries. It is also used as a color and flavoring base in the preparation of ice creams, cakes and drinks.

Safety profile

High doses of saffron can act as uterine stimulant and in severe cases can cause miscarriage. Therefore, pregnant women may be advised to avoid this spice in the diet.

 

Dates

Pistachio

Saffron

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