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What is saffron?

The most expensive spice on earth

Saffron, a spice derived from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), has through history remained among the world’s most costly substances (The more careful the cultivation, the higher the price). Saffron can’t grow in the wild or reproduce without human intervention. The gorgeous purple flower is painstakingly propagated and harvested by hand, and only in the morning, it blooms.

The only spice give Color, Aroma and Flavor

Human cultivation and use of saffron spans more than 3,500 years and extends across cultures, continents, and civilizations.

With its bitter taste, hay-like fragrance, and slight metallic notes, the saffron has been used as a seasoning, fragrance, dye, and medicine. Its popularity may have peaked in the middle Ages as a medicine, but this was also a time when coloring food, particularly food for a feast, was in vogue. Saffron still evokes affluence and elegance in any dish.

The miracle of nature for health and happiness

Saffron has been used historically to treat everything from heartache to hemorrhoids by traditional healers. Modern studies have shown the high levels of antioxidants found in saffron may help ward off inflammation in the body and that it may be helpful in treating depression.

Many countries produce Saffron but Iran produces 85 percent of the world’s saffron, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

What is the history of Saffron?

Where is its origin ?

Saffron was long among the world’s most costly spices by weight. Although some doubts remain on its origin, it is believed that saffron originated in Iran.

However, Greece and Mesopotamia have also been suggested as the possible region of origin of this plant. Saffron crocus slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia and was later brought to parts of North Africa, North America, and Oceania.

Saffron was detailed in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal. Documentation of saffron’s use over the span of 3,500 years has been uncovered. Saffron-based pigments have indeed been found in 50,000-year-old depictions of prehistoric places in northwest Iran.

The Sumerians later used wild growing saffron in their remedies and magical potions. Saffron was an article of long distance trade before the Minoan palace culture’s 2nd millennium BC peak.

Ancient Persians cultivated Persian saffron (Crocus sativus ‘Hausknechtii’) in Derbent, Isfahan, and Khorasan by the 10th century BC. At such sites, saffron threads were woven into textiles, ritually offered to divinities, and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and body washes.Saffron threads would thus be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy.

Non-Persians also feared the Persians’ usage of saffron as a drugging agent and aphrodisiac. During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander’s troops imitated the practice from the Persians and brought saffron bathing to Greece.

Conflicting theories explain saffron’s arrival in South Asia. Kashmiri and Chinese accounts date its arrival anywhere between 2500 and 900 years ago. Historians studying ancient Persian records date the arrival to sometime prior to 500 BC, attributing it to a Persian transplantation of saffron corms to stock new gardens and parks. Phoenicians then marketed Kashmiri saffron as a dye and a treatment for melancholy. Its use in foods and dyes subsequently spread throughout South Asia.

Some historians believe that saffron came to China with Mongol invaders from Persia. Yet saffron is mentioned in ancient Chinese medical texts, including the forty-volume pharmacopoeia titled Shennong Bencaojing (神农本草经: “Shennong’s Great Herbal”, also known as Pen Ts’ao or Pun Tsao), a tome dating from 300–200 BC. Traditionally credited to the fabled Yan (“Fire”) Emperor (炎帝) Shennong, it discusses 252 phytochemical-based medical treatments for various disorders. Nevertheless, around the 3rd century AD, the Chinese were referring to saffron as having a Kashmiri provenance. According to Chinese herbalist Wan Zhen, “the habitat of saffron is in Kashmir, where people grow it principally to offer it to the Buddha.” Wan also reflected on how it was used in his time: “The flower withers after a few days, and then the saffron is obtained. It is valued for its uniform yellow colour. It can be used to aromatise wine.”

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Harvesting saffron ?

Old Tradition of Harvesting Saffron

Cultivating saffron is a science. The flowers are so fragile that once they blossom, they must be picked immediately, before sunrise. If the stigmas aren’t extracted and dried within a few hours of harvesting, their complex aromas are dulled.

Producing saffron requires lots of labor. One Kilogram of saffron contains approximately 300,000 hand-picked stigmas from 100,000 Crocus sativus flowers. Every step of saffron production harvest, plucking, toasting, and packing is done entirely by hand, making it one of the last remaining completely non-mechanized agricultural practices. The plucking is always carried out by women, historically, and for the most part, it still is today.

Once the stigmas are extracted and toasted, saffron fills your nostrils with a pleasant, floral bitterness so distinct it’s hard to assign it an adjective.

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unique saffron flavor

With its bitter taste, hay-like fragrance, and slight metallic notes, the saffron has been used as a seasoning, fragrance, dye, and medicine. Its popularity may have peaked in the middle Ages as a medicine, but this was also a time when coloring food, particularly food for a feast, was in vogue. Saffron still evokes affluence and elegance in any dish.

Saffron Nutrition Facts

Saffron Nuturition Facts

Useful tips

Tips to buy authentic Saffron

Saffron is one of the world’s most expensive spices. Notoriously hard to cultivate and produce, it commands such high prices that it can also fall victim to fraudulent imitation.
While pre-packaged Saffron might be subject to rigorous quality control checks with international quality standards and trademarks guaranteeing authenticity, when buying saffron loose these regulated quality controls aren’t always guaranteed. So how can you be absolutely sure that you are not buying fake saffron?
Fortunately, there are a few rudimentary checks that you can deploy in order to determine if your Saffron is the real deal, meaning you won’t miss out on those ethereal savoury notes that only Saffron can impart.

Here are simple methods for testing if you have authentic Saffron:


Use your eyes. While the colour may be easier to imitate, real saffron is formed in strands with diffuse ends.


Try tasting the saffron, real saffron will have a bitter and slightly astringent taste when placed on the tongue. If it tastes sweet, it’s probably a giveaway that it’s fake.


Try sniffing your saffron. If it’s aroma is like a cross between hay and honey, it’s probably real. If there’s no aroma, it could well be fake.


Put the saffron in water and if it colours the water that’s ok the real test is when you take the saffron out of the water. If the strands are no longer coloured – they are fake.


Mix in a small amount of baking soda to a beaker of water, then add your saffron. The water/baking soda mix should turn yellow if its pure saffron, whereas fake saffron will turn the water red.


Tips to buy authentic Saffron

Despite 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 beetroot, pomegranate fibres, red-dyed silk fibres, or the saffron crocus’s tasteless and odourless yellow stamens. Safflower is a common substitute sometimes sold as saffron.

Other methods included dousing saffron fibres with viscid substances like honey or vegetable oil to increase their weight.

Adulteration can also consist of selling mislabeled mixes of different saffron grades.

Powdered saffron is more prone to adulteration, with turmeric, paprika, and other powders used as diluting fillers. The spice is reportedly counterfeited with horse hair, corn silk, or shredded paper. Tartrazine or sunset yellow have been used to colour counterfeit powdered saffron.


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a spice great for healing

With its medicinal properties,
it makes a warm and beneficial addition to an already healthy mustard.


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