Started working with Saffron this weekend! I’m going to post two recipes I’ve adapted from others I have researched and of course, made healthier and gluten/dairy free. So far I’m loving Saffron!
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus. Saffron, is native to Southwest Asia and was first cultivated in Greece. The word “saffron” comes from the Arabic word for “yellow” It contains a carotenoid dye, 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 compiled under Ashurbanipal, and it has been traded and used for over four millennia. Iran now accounts for approximately 90 per cent of the world production of saffron. Because each flower’s stigmas need to be collected by hand and there are only a few per flower, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.
Not all Saffron is created equally, Saffron is graded via laboratory measurement of crocin (colour), picrocrocin (taste), and safranal (fragrance) content. 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. The world’s finest samples, the selected most red-maroon tips of stigmas picked from the finest flowers, receive absorbance scores in excess of 250. Market prices for saffron types follow directly from these ISO scores. However, many growers, traders, and consumers reject such lab test numbers. They prefer a more holistic method of sampling batches of thread for taste, aroma, pliability, and other traits in a fashion similar to that practiced by practiced wine tasters.
Despite such 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 beets, 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. However, 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, in India, 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.
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, European, Arab, and Turkish cuisines. Confectioneries and liquors also often include saffron. Common saffron substitutes include safflower which is often sold as “Portuguese saffron”, annatto, and turmeric. 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, and is widely used in cooking in many ethnic cuisines: these range, for example, from the Milanese risotto of Italy or the bouillabaise of France to biryani with various meat accompaniments in South Asia.
Saffron has a long medicinal history as part of traditional healing; several modern research studies have hinted that the spice has possible anticarcinogenic (cancer-suppressing), anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing), immunomodulating, and antioxidant-like properties. A 1995 study suggested that saffron stigmas, and even petals, have been said to be helpful for depression. Early studies show that saffron may protect the eyes from the direct effects of bright light and retinal stress apart from slowing down macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. Other controlled research studies have indicated that saffron may have many potential medicinal properties. The active components in saffron have many therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines as antiseptic, 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 for cytochrome oxidases enzymes.
It is also rich in many vital vitamins including vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin-C that are essential for optimum health.