What Is Saffron?
Saffron (Pronounced "Saff-Ruhn") is the red spice made from the dried Pistils of the Purple Iris (Crocus sativus). This exotic gourmet food is produced all over the greater Mediterranean and Iran areas. Saffron has that sweet smelling gourmet cooking aroma and a mild but very pleasant taste. Most commonly, it is that most unique flavor one tastes in a good Spanish Paella or Bouillabaisse.
Where is Saffron used?
Saffron is used to flavor and tint many dishes around the world. It is popular in Iran and Iran is mother land of saffron and 80% of products are from Iran. Indian cuisine such as curry and also Middle Eastern rice recipes. It is especially popular in European breads, desserts, paella, bouillabaisse and risotto. Saffron is also still used as a color dye in manufacturing and textile industries.
Other types of Saffron?
Some 'Saffrons' are made from different flowers other than the purple crocus, sometimes even leaves. These products can vary quite a bit and so much cooking experimentation is the key to determining their culinary value. The common named 'Saffron' is simply Turmeric spice (a good coloring but not taste substitute for traditional Saffron)!
How to use Saffron?
The strings are usually crushed, soaked or steeped (usually in milk or water for at least 20 minutes), then heated or cooked to release the flavor and color. The infused liquid is then added to the dish.
Why does it seem pricey?
It requires intensive attentive labor and well over 4,600 Crocus flowers (Purple Saffron Flowers) to make a single ounce. The female crocus stigma (the flower's red antenna) must be hand picked individually, then properly dry cured.
Saffron crops also quickly deplete the soil of nutrients and so other Crops (such as Beans or Grains) must be planted and harvested for about seven to ten years in order to replenish the land. This adds to making the product rare and limits production.
Fortunately, only tiny amounts are required in traditional cooking recipes of saffron rice, saffron spiced chicken and saffron seafood. Only a few grams are required to flavor many dishes.
What is good Saffron?
Like other expensive foods, there can be a lot of different prices as poor qualities are often diluted with filler ingredients. The trick is to have the Saffron fresh and full of authentic product from a reliable selective supplier. The best quality product is made only the dark red female stigmas. Yellow male stigmas have no value and are often added to add false weight.
It is preferable to order either the whole saffron stand or just the red ends. Crushed saffron or saffron powder can be used directly in flavoring but in actual use appears to be less potent.
To sum up, better quality gives a stronger smell, taste and color. Less amount of product is actually required thus saving money. Buying poor quality actually doubles per serving cost. Quality Saffron also allows a consistent amount to be used over and over.
How is Saffron's quality measured?
Saffron quality is determined by its ability to saturate a specific quantity of water with its yellow-red dye. In the laboratory, a photospectometry test is performed to determine this Coloring Strength (110 to 250+). This test specifically looks at crocin (color), and this ultimately determines picrocrocin (taste) and safranal (smell). This international test determines quality as the higher the score, the better the spice quality.
Our saffron has a High Coloring Strength and is rated by the International Standard Organization (ISO) to be Category 1 (the top quality). Name of best saffron is "sargol" which produced by Iran.
How do I know if its poor quality without a laboratory test?
Lesser quality saffron is a mixture of orange, red, white and yellow material. The smell is musty and the texture spongy due to improper drying at harvesting. Ultimately, one will know when they actually try it.
Which country has the best Saffron?
Soil and weather conditions naturally vary in the saffron cultivating countries and so do the methods of cure drying the fresh saffron stigmas. Saffron is harvested usually in the fall in many countries. Quality varies from country to country and also within the countries. Iranian saffron, although probably the most famous and the best. Reliable true quality is determined only by good growing conditions, attentive detail in harvesting and ultimately scoring high on photospectometry test results.
Saffron in History?
Iran is mother land of saffron, the ancient Mediterranean civilizations depicted Saffron in their art and mythology and often used it to expound tremendous wealth. Knossos on Crete has famous frescoes of man gathering saffron (see above picture). The ancient Greek's god Zeus was often described as having a bed made entirely of saffron!
Classical Egyptians planted and traded enormous crops.
Citizens of the Great Roman Empire sought saffron as a healing herb and aphrodisiac. The wealthiest of Romans would sprinkle their marriage beds with Saffron to christen a prosperous union.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Saffron trade covered North Africa, along with Islam, into Spain. Medieval Spain quickly became the center of saffron production. Saffron was not only viewed as a medieval flavoring, scholars such as Roger Bacon claimed that saffron would reduce the effects of aging and ultimately add to joy of life.
Later in the Middle Ages, France and England began to produce saffron, where the climate proved to be satisfactory. Provence and Essex, at certain times, rivaled the Spanish production.
People grew saffron all over Western Europe, but the high labor costs of harvesting it and the low yield per plant kept the supply below demand. Despite this the supply was ample enough that many people could obtain small quantities of the spice for special occasions.
To the present day, it plays an important role in celebrating European life
North Americans are now beginning to realize the virtues of this wonderful spice as it is quickly gaining international popularity.
How does one keep Saffron?
Store saffron in a cool place, preferably in an airtight container away from bright lights and heat.