Botanical name Crocus sativus ▪ Family name Iridaceae
Saffron consists of the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, or roses as they are called. The saffron plant is a bulbous, autumn-flowering, perennial of the iris family.
Native range Mediterranean Region, Western Asia
Major producers Spain, Iran, China, Kashmir Region of India.
Harvesting The saffron flowers are carefully harvested by hand at dawn and the three red stigmas plucked from each one. These are toasted, or dried, in sieves over a very low heat to fix the colour. One kilogram of dry saffron needs 500,000 to 1,000,000 stigmas and this, together with the intensive labour required to harvest the crop by hand, accounts for its extremely high price in comparison with other spices.
Taste and aroma The aroma of saffron is rich, pungent, floral, and sometimes with a hint of honey. The aromatic properties vary slightly depending on the saffron’s place of origin. The taste is delicate yet penetrating with warm, earthy, musky tones.
Culinary uses Saffron is added to special dishes in many cuisines, often dishes associated with festivals or celebrations. It provides the characteristic flavour for many Mediterranean fish soups and stews of which Provencal bouillabaisse and Catalan zarzuela are the best known. It also provides the characteristic colour of Spanish paella and Italian risotto Milanese.
Other uses Saffron is used in sedatives, as an antispasmodic, and for flatulence. It is also used in perfumes and dyes (including for the robes of Buddhist monks) and, being so expensive, it is considered to be an aphrodisiac in some cultures.
Historical uses Saffron was used by ancient civilisations as a dye and to flavour food and wine.
Storage If stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, saffron threads will keep their flavour for 2–3 years.
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