The most precious and most expensive spice in the world: Saffron.
The Saffron filaments, or threads, are actually the dried stigmas of the saffron flower, “Crocus Sativus Linneaus”. Each flower contains only three stigmas. These threads must be picked from each flower by hand, and more than 75,000 of these flowers are needed to produce just one pound of Saffron filaments, making it the world’s most precious spice.
But, because of saffron’s strong coloring power and intense flavor, it can be used sparingly. Saffron is used both for its bright orange-yellow color and for its strong, intense flavor and aroma.
What to look for:
Each bulb produces from one to seven flowers. The cultivated form is thought to have originated as a naturally occurring hybrid that was selected for its extra-long stigmas, and has been maintained ever since. It takes about 36,000 flowers to yield just 1 pound of the stigmas.
How Mother Nature loves it:
Saffron comes from Western Asia and most likely Persia. The crocus was cultivated in ancient Europe. The Mongols took saffron from Persia to India. In ancient time saffron was used medicinally and as well as for food and as a dye. affron has been cultivated in the region from Greece to Persia for 35 centuries and is mentioned in early literature, such as in the fourth of the Songs of Solomon, dated to about 965 B.C. Its cultivation and use spread throughout the region, moving east to Kashmir and west to Spain. The herb has been cultivated as far west as Britain and became an important medicinal in Tibet. Saffron was described in the Chinese compendium Bencao Gangmu (1596), indicating that it was introduced from Persia and used to benefit the blood (vitalizes blood, stops bleeding) and to calm fright.
How to use it:
According to Greek myth, handsome mortal Crocos fell in love with the beautiful nymph Smilax. But his favours were rebuffed by Smilax, and he was turned into a beautiful purple crocus flower. A native of the Mediterranean, saffron is now imported primarily from Spain, where Moslems had introduced it in the 8th century along with rice and sugar. Valencia coup (coupé meaning “to cut” off the yellow parts from the stigmas) saffron is generally considered the best, though Kashmir now rivals this reputation. Saffron is also cultivated in India, Turkey, China and Iran. The name is from the Arabic word zafaran which means ‘yellow’. The French culinary term safrané means ‘coloured using saffron’.
Saffron appears in Moorish, Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. Its most common function is to colour rice yellow, as in festive Indian pilaus and risotto Milanese, where its delicate flavour make it the most famous of Italian rice dishes. It combines well with fish and seafood, infamous as a key ingredient of Spanish paella as well as bouillabaisse. In England, saffron is probably best known for its use in Cornish saffron buns where it is paired with dried fruit in a yeast cake.
This exotic herb finds mention in several ancient texts. It is mentioned in classical western writings and also in the Bible. It is specially mentioned in Bhavprakash Nighantu, an Ayurvedic text. The Arabs, who introduced the cultivation of the plant into Spain as an article of commerce, bequeathed to us its modern title of Zaffer or saffron, but the Greeks and Romans called it Krokos and Karokam respectively.