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History of Saffron
What is Saffron? Said to be “possibly the first spice ever used by man,” saffron has been identified as a distinct popularity since the dawn of culinary traditions. Its history spans throughout the world and into our kitchens, first known to be the herb of the sun and now used in a variety of ways inside the home and out. The name evolved from the Middle East, collaborating the words Saharan and za’faran to make saffron. These tiny ‘thread-like’ filaments are dried stigmas coming from flowering plant, the Crocus. Even before saffron livened up cuisine, it was known for its incredible dyeing ability. For a weaver in ancient times, it brought about brilliance to rugs, togas, saris, shawls, lace, and linen, silk. For the artist, the vividness of yellow was achieved. For medicinal purposes, it gave hope to some suffering from smallpox, kidney disease, insomnia, indigestion, and signified fear for others. Last but not least, for cooks, saffron allowed the brightness of the sun to be placed on a dining table. One of the few spices not to have originated in India or the tropics, saffron’s discovery is one of mystery. Although recorded history started after the cultivation of saffron, it is known that crocus plants are native to the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Thus, the early Persian civilizations spread this “wealth” with surrounding areas such as the Indus Valley and the western shores of the Mediterranean. In present day, saffron is growing in popularity in many countries throughout the world such as Iran. It is used in the most exquisite gourmet cuisine from the west to the Far East; it’s cultivated in temperate climates and delivered to a variety of different cultures. One of the most well known areas where saffron is grown is in Iran. This geographic center encompasses five provinces that have the ideal climate for saffron to thrive. It is undoubtedly true that Iran where the summers are unbearably hot and the winters are uncontrollably frigid. Iran is not only a great harvesting ground; moreover, the best quality saffron is produced there.
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Iranian Saffron Iran produces about 70 – 90% of the entire world production of saffron. The Crocus sativa saffron producing species of Iridaceous is thought by some to have originated in this region of Asia. The Iranian saffron has a beautiful deep rich color, a full flavor, and is seen as second only to the saffron produced in the Kashmir region of India. To most of us, Iran has been a closed country for many years; though it is an Asian country, with vast natural beauty and an equally illustrious early history. It had a religion that was really the mother of all the biblical religions, in that many aspects of the three Religions are found in ancient Zoroastrianism.Pre-Persian Iran, called Elam was at one point as large or larger than the Roman Empire. It stretched from Egypt, up to the Black Sea and well into India.?????????????? When the Persian King Cyrus the Great wanted to take over neighboring Babylon, he was simply allowed to so, as he was seen as a just ruler. In fact he produced a Charter of the Rights of Nations, inscribed on a clay cylinder in cuneiform script and is now held at the British Museum. About 200 years BC, an Islamite – later Parthian King developed the Silk Road, a trade link between the Mediterranean and China. Saffron and other precious spices were carried, along with a host of other valuable goods on its route notably silk. The Elam Kingdom may have dated back as far as 6000 BC, giving ample time for the cultivation of saffron to spread to Iran; if indeed the cultivation of saffron was spread westward, as some have suggested.??????????????? Iran which is now about 4% Arab was conquered by the Arabs invaders in 636, with the spread of Islam. Subsequently, all of the areas which the Iranian kingdom controlled out towards India also became Islamic. With this came the development of the ‘Arab’ cuisine as we know it today. Rice for instance, needs a monsoon climate, which is only found in Asia; saffron, needs a cool autumn harvest, but a relatively hot summer; seasonal variations which do not occur in the Arabian Peninsula. TheArab/Jewishpeoples had Incense Route around 1500BC, which included the kingdom of Sheba; Sheba is thought to be where Yemen and Ethiopia are today, which became Jewish, as there was no Islam. ?????????? This region of Arabia was controlled by women rulers for more than 1000 years, and ironically it was the ordinary women who could marry more than one man, with the husbands coming to live with her at her family’s house. When the Queen of Sheba, Marked or Belies visited King Solomon, she took gifts of saffron, and a host Of other incenses and spices. Someone noted that Queen Marked was very wise, as she only stayed for tea at Solomon’s, but did not stay to become a part of his Harem! A son was born as a result of their union and later she and the child returned to Ethiopia. As the Arabs progressed further into the Asian, conquering and colonizing, nation after nation, saffron became a regular part of the ‘Arab’ diet, and as they already had a presence in Europe, conquering Spain 70 years after conquering Iran, and 30 years prior to conquering Morocco and Algeria; saffron was introduced into the parts of Europe and Northern Africa; which were all previously parts of the Roman Empire. Although the Arab influence was significant in the spread of saffron into Europe and North Africa, Iran was the real source, and without the successful take over of the Iranian lands, the Arab cuisine might look quite different today.
Iran’s saffron ambition
This country really needs a saffron strategy, a plan for turning its position as the world’s spice-crocus grower into profits for Iranian people. Iran now produces 96% of the world’s saffron, and both output and demand are on the rise. Iran Mania reports “Ten years ago a mere 32 tones of saffron was exported from Iran while last year 202 tones went abroad out of a total output of 230 tones, bringing in 100 million dollars worth of revenue.” To produce one pound of saffron takes 76,000 crocus sativa Linnaeus blooms; the flower stigmas dry into crinkly orange-yellow particles, fragrant and savory, and one of the most costly spices in the world. A near monopoly, high prices, and a growing market would seem the perfect formula for bulging pockets, but not so. Iran is stuck in a production-only mode and fails to benefit from the wider margins that accrue to packagers. If we sold in packaging, the Europeans would make less of a profit .If we stop selling in bulk we can make a profit here and export it. But there should be a national will for it. In other words, Iran needs a coherent saffron policy. People here have been growing and harvesting crocus stigma for 2986years but the packing industry is new; it needs government’s kick-start. The Iran Mania article gives an interesting look at Turbot-e Hydrae’s autumn market, where nearly 800,000 growers, pickers, traders and traders hustle for the two month season. This is a tough year. Drought in Iran has lowered the 2006 saffron yield. There are old competitors, like Kashmir, and new ones, too—upstarts Greece, Italy and Spain have been vying for a bigger share of global sales. Last month, Iran hosted a saffron symposium in Mashed, where an international group of experts gathered to discuss biotechnology, trade, and packaging, too. Iranian producers are looking warily to the east. Iranian crocus seed has been smuggled into neighboring Afghanistan. Water is more plentiful there, and labor even cheaper.
Saffron Doesn’t Grow on Trees
Saffron Doesn’t Grow on Trees Saffron is a spice known throughout the world, and history, for its unique flavor, color and aroma. It is the world’s most precious spice, and with very good reason. Each Saffron filament is one red stigma from the flower of the Crocus Sativa plant, and there are only 3 stigmas per flower. These flowers must first be hand picked, as a machine would badly damage the stigmas, and then the extremely delicate stigmas must be carefully pinched off by hand, taking care not to break them. You would need to repeat this process for over 75,500 Crocus Sativa flowers to get only 1 pound of saffron. So even though the properties of this exotic spice certainly help to make saffron a precious commodity, it is the painstaking and labor-intensive gathering process that makes this spice so rare and valuable. Origin of saffron Depending on where your saffron was grown and harvested, it could be perfectly normal to have the yellow style still attached or it could be the first sign that your saffron isn’t quite up to snuff. Iran – Saffron from Iran, the largest producer of saffron in the world, is very thin and small in size and there are two basic varieties. One contains only the red stigma with absolutely no yellow style; whereas the other comes with the full style attached to the stigma and tied in a bunch of several hundred. Saffron countries of origin This Table shows only a selection of the most important countries of origin and should not be thought of as exhaustive. Europe Spain, Greece, Italy, France, Russia, Portugal Africa North Africa Asia Iran, India, Pakistan, China, Japan America USA (Pennsylvania) Australia Saffron color purity Unfortunately, there is nothing to stop saffron producers from making their saffron with only half true stigmas and the other half made up of the yellow styles. There’s also nothing to prevent them from dying these yellow styles red to give the appearance of quality saffron. Now if you come across saffron that seems too good to be true – it’s all red and very inexpensive – you’re probably dealing with inferior saffron. Remember to look for the ISO certification, which all quality saffron will have. But if you bring it home and you’re still not so sure, here’s a quick test. When you first put quality saffron in liquid, the liquid will turn a slightly pale yellow, and over time will turn the liquid a stronger and more vibrant color. If your saffron immediately turns the water a strong yellow, this is a sign your saffron was artificially colored. What you are actually seeing is the dye washing off your saffron. Product description Saffron is produced from the dried, yellowish orange 2.5 – 4 cm long stigmas of the purple-flowered saffron crocus. The stigmas are in the form of tubes which open out at the top into a funnel shape. It is the most valuable, most expensive spice in the world. Harvesting saffron is very labor-intensive: each blossom has three stigmas, which are picked by hand in the morning, before the heat of the day, and then dried for 15 – 30 minutes. The blossoms are thrown away. The term spice is used to refer to plant parts which serve to improve the odor and flavor of foods. They contain essential oils and other ingredients which have a strong seasoning action. Spices are processed, cleaned, graded and carefully packaged for overseas dispatch in the countries where they are cultivated. They are dried to preserve them for transport and storage. In consumer countries, they are delivered to spice mills, where they are cleaned and graded again, ready for sale in ungrounded or ground form. Saffron has an aromatic, hot and slightly bitter taste. Saffron contains a water-soluble coloring matter known as croc in, which provides a golden-colored dye which is effective even at a dilution of 1:100,000. 1 kg of saffron represents 100,000 to 200,000 blossoms, the stigmas of which have to be removed by hand, which explain the high price and the frequent cases of adulteration with parts of other plants and other organic or inorganic substances. Packaging Saffron is very light-sensitive and hygroscopic and must therefore be well sealed and protected from light during transport. The product is therefore packaged in cans which are in turn packaged in boxes. Sometimes saffron is packaged in corrugated board cartons lined with aluminum.
Growing and harvesting saffron
Growing and harvesting saffron crocus Saffron is a delicious and colorful seasoning that is used in breads, desserts, and main dishes in many parts of the world, especially in Iran. Without it, an Indian curry or Spanish paella just wouldn’t be the same. The bright red-orange threads you get when you buy saffron are actually the stigmas, or female portion, of the Saffron Crocus flowers. It takes hundreds of flowers to produce a commercially useful amount, which explains why saffron is so expensive. For the home gardener, however, two dozen Saffron Crocus will supply enough of the precious spice in the first year for a few memorable dishes. Then, with each successive year, the corms will multiply, the size of the planting will increase, and you’ll be able to harvest more of the spicy stigmas. After 4 to 6 years, you should divide and replant the corms. Division prevents overcrowding, which can lead to a decrease in flowering. Planting saffron crocus corms In areas where Saffron Crocus are reliably hardy—USDA Zone 6 through 8 in the South, 6 through 9 in the West—you should plant the corms as soon as you receive them. Saffron Crocus does best in full sun and well-drained soil that is moderately rich in organic matter. Ideally, the site should be relatively dry in summer, when the corms are dormant. Plant the corms 4in deep and 4in apart. If gophers, mice, or voles are a problem in your garden, plant the corms in containers or line the bed with hardware cloth or a similar wire mesh. Flowers will appear the first fall after planting and last for about 3 weeks. The grass-like leaves may emerge soon after the flowers or wait until the following spring. In either case, the leaves persist for 8-12 weeks, then wither and vanish, leaving no trace of the corms below until the flowers appear again in fall. It’s not a bad idea to mark the area where you’ve planted your corms, so you don’t inadvertently dig them up while planting something else.
Over wintering corms in cold climates Saffron Crocus can be grown in areas with colder winters than Zone 6, but the corms must be lifted and brought indoors for the winter. After the first few frosts, but before the ground has frozen solid, carefully dig out the corms, place them in a wooden crate or plastic tub, and completely cover with dry peat moss or sand. Store in a cool (40-50°F), dry place. Plant them out again in the spring after all danger of frost has passed, but doesn’t water until you see new growth in early autumn. Another way of growing Saffron Crocus in cold-winter areas like Iran is to plant the corms 2 in. deep in clay or plastic pots filled with a well-drained soil mix, and then set the pots directly in the ground, with the rims about 2 inches below the soil surface, so the pots don’t show. After the plants die back in the fall, move the pots into the basement and store them dry for the winter. Set the pots back out the following spring. Again, marking the pots’ location so you don’t accidentally dig into them is probably a good idea. Harvesting and using saffron Three stigmas are borne in the center of each purple, cup-shaped bloom. The best time to harvest the stigmas is mid-morning on a sunny day when the flowers have fully opened and are still fresh. Carefully pluck the stigmas from the flowers with your fingers, and then dry them in a warm place to preserve them for cooking. Store in a closed container. To use saffron, steep the threads in hot liquid (water, broth, or milk, depending on the recipe) for about 20 minutes. Add both the threads and the steeping liquid early in the cooking or baking process, and the threads will continue to release their color and flavor. Saffron Saffron spice is the three red stigma of the purple Crocus sativa flower. It is an extremely aromatic spice and although it is red, it is not at all hot. It has a complex flavor and aroma and is described as having a slightly bitter honey like taste. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Though, because the intense flavor, only a small amount of saffron is needed when cooking. Depending on the size of the stigma (3/flower), it can take between 70,000 to 200,000 flowers to produce 1 kg of the spice. The cultivation, harvesting and processing of saffron is carried out completely be hand. Adding to the cost of the spice. Saffron is used to season sweat and savory foods, such as rice, meat and fish dishes. Also cheese, both soft and hard. Saffron has also been an ingredient in ice cream, cakes, and liqueurs. Close to 170 to 200 tons of saffron are produced each year. The bulk of which is produced by Iran, Greece and Kashmir, followed by Spain.
Chemical composition of saffron
Chemical composition of saffron The main chemical components of saffron are responsible for its taste, aroma and its color. Simplified croc in produces color, picrocrocin produces flavor and adrenal produces aroma. Color The color of the saffron is a strong indication of the saffron’s flavor. Color is due to the degradation or the breakdown of arytenoids, such as croc in and crocheting. Coupe or Cut Coupe or cut saffron is the name given to saffron, which has been cut so that only the reddest tips are used. This produces a saffron product with a more intense flavour.Whole saffron strands have naturally occurring yellow or whitish bottom ends. These lighter portions do appear in saffron of slightly lower quality. But where their amounts are kept to a minimum, the saffron is perfectly good. A higher price is paid for saffron that has these lighter ends completely removed, as they add weight, but do not add a significant amount of color or flavor to the dish. The higher price is justified as less of the coupe or cut saffron would be needed to create the same flavor and color. Sargol is the Iranian name for Coupe. Saffron Crocus The saffron crocus is the only crocus which can produce the saffron spice. Soaking Saffron should be soaked for a minimum of 20 min and up to 12 hrs or overnight in a little warm water before cooking. Saffron continues to release its flavor for up to 12 hours after cooking, which is why it is seen as important to soak the saffron strands before cooking. Soaking or steeping saffron helps to release its full flavor before cooking, in this way less saffron may be needed to achieve the same desired taste. The highly soluble properties of saffron mean that it can be soaked or steeped in a vide variety of liquids, at a range of temperatures. It can be steeped in hot or temperate water, broth, milk, white wine, white vinegar, vodka, citrus juice and even flavored waters such as rosewater or orange blossom water. This is one method, but not the absolute rule – saffron is often dried and then crushed with a mortal and pestle. And it is often thrown directly into the pot when time is short, whenever there is an extended cooking process or when desired. Storage Saffron strands will last for years, if stored in an air tight container, away from direct light. Saffron powder must be stored in the same way but should be used within one year of purchase. Substitute There is no substitute for the flavor and aroma of saffron. Saffron substitutes include: Turmeric, which is a yellow spice, purchased usually in powdered form, though before grinding closely resembles the ginger root. It delivers some of the same color and a little of the flavor of saffron, perhaps at a cheaper cost. Safflower is a thistle-like flower that has seeds which produce an edible oil and birdseed. The flower was traditionally grown for its red dye .Its appearance and color closely resembles saffron, though it delivers little of the saffron taste.
Kashmiri & Iranian saffron – a comparison
Kashmiri & Iranian saffron – a comparison The main difference between Kashmiri and Iranian Saffron is that of the yield of Stigmas which is about 75%.The excess yield is due to the fact that the stigmas of saffron cultivated in Kashmir are extremely long and with a thick head. They are also of a deep red color. The size of the stigmas indicates the inherent suitability of the soil and climate for this product. Thus by just physically observing the saffron its origin can be identified provided it has not been blended with saffron from various origins. The blending is normally done by importers in non producing countries because of the wide disparities in prices: the Iranian Saffron is about 1/2 the price of Kashmiri Saffron. Medicinal use Saffron’s traditional folkloric uses as an herbal medicine are legendary. It has been used for its carminative and emmenagogic properties, for example. Iranian used saffron to treat respiratory infections and disorders such as coughs and common colds,smallpox, cancer, hypoxia, and asthma. Other targets included blood disorders, insomnia, paralysis, heart diseases, flatulence, stomach upsets and disorders, gout, chronic uterine haemorrhage, dysmorrhea, amenorrhea, baby colic, and eye disorders. For ancient Persians, saffron was also an aphrodisiac, a general-use antidote against poisoning, a digestive stimulant, and a tonic for dysentery and measles. Saffron’s arytenoids have been shown in scientific studies to have ant carcinogenic (cancer-suppressing), anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing), and immune-modulating properties. The active ingredient behind these effects has been identified as dimethyl-crocetin. This compound counters a wide spectrum of both murine tumours as well as human leukaemia cancer cell lines. Saffron extract also delays ascites tumour growth, delays papilla carcinogenesis, inhibited squalors cell carcinoma, and decreases the incidence of soft tissue sarcoma in treated mice. Researcher’s theories that such anticancer activity can be best attributed to dimethyl-crocetin’s disruption of the DNA-binding ability of proteins, as shown in Thymidine-uptake studies. Specifically, the DNA-binding ability of enzymes known as type II topoisomerases within cancer cells is inhibited.] Thus, the malignant cells are unable to synthesize or replicate their own DNA. Saffron’s pharmacological effects on malignant tumours have been documented in studies done both in vitro and in vivo. For example, saffron extends the lives of mice that are intraperitoneally impregnated with transplanted sarcomas, namely, samples of S-180, Dalton’s lymphoma ascites (DLA), and Ehrlich ascites carcinoma (EAC) tumours. Researchers followed this by orally administering 200 mg of saffron extract per each kg of mouse body weight. As a result the life spans of the tumour-bearing mice were extended to 111.0%, 83.5%, and 112.5%, respectively, in relation to baseline spans. Researchers also discovered that saffron extract exhibits cytotoxicity in relation to DLA, EAC, P38B, and S-180 tumour cell lines cultured in vitro. Thus, saffron has shown promise as a new and alternative treatment for a variety of cancers. Besides wound-healing and anticancer properties, saffron is also an antioxidant. This means that, as an “anti-aging” agent, it neutralises free radicals. Specifically, methanol extractions of saffron neutralise at high rates the DPPH (IUPAC nomenclature: 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl) radicals. This occurred via vigorous proton donation to DPPH by two of saffron’s active agents, safranal and crocin. Thus, at concentrations of 500 and 1000 ppm, crocin studies showed neutralisation of 50% and 65% of radicals, respectively. Safranal displayed a lesser rate of radical neutralisation than crocin, however. Such properties give saffron extracts promise as an ingredient for use as an antioxidant in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and as a food supplement. Ingested at high enough doses, however, saffron is lethal. Several studies done on lab animals have shown that saffron’s LD50 (semi-lethal dose, or the dose at which 50% of test animals die from overdose) is 20.7 g/kg when delivered via a decoction.
Cake – Saffron
Cake – Saffron Cornish saffron cake is made to celebrate Easter. Saffron corms were traded in exchange for tin, with seafaring Phoenicians. The saffron was bought and sold in Drachmas. Russians also make a saffron cake at Easter called Kulich. Where a little saffron and raisins, chopped nuts, and candied fruit are added to a normal pound cake mixture. Saffron Tea Tea sometimes referred to as an infusion or “steeping” saffron. This is exactly the same principle you use in making any tea – the longer the saffron steeps, the stronger its flavor, aroma and color. Where saffron preparation differs from tea is that you can release saffron effectively in hot liquid such as water, broth or milk or in room temperature white wine, vodka, rosewater, orange blossom water, white vinegar or citrus juice. In other words, saffron’s chemicals respond positively to hot liquid or room temperature alcohol and acids (citrus). The amount of liquid is not important; use whatever is called for in your recipe or adds just a teaspoon or two of hot water to a recipe, which will not harm it. Then put the threads or powdered saffron in the liquid and leave it for a minimum of 20 minutes before you add this “tea” to the recipe. Do not remove the saffron threads from the liquid. They continue to release aroma, flavor and color for up to 24 hours which is why affronted dishes and breads always taste even stronger as leftovers. With more flavor, aroma and color release than you would otherwise have, steeping saffron is the most economical way to use this spice. Once you get comfortable cooking and baking with saffron, you will find the longer you steep your saffron, the less you will need per recipe. A special note about toasting saffron: do not do it! It is unnecessary to dry saffron any further because it has already been processed to exactly the right dryness for either steeping or crushing into powder. The only reason you might read elsewhere that saffron threads should be further dried prior to use is that lower grade saffron may contain too much moisture for good release of its aroma, color and flavor.
Iran saffron Iran Saffron is seen as the king of the saffron species. Many historians believe that it was in this region, that the cultivation of the purple Crocus sativus saffron flower first began. In this mountainous expanse, at the foot of the Himalayas, the soil and climate produce a dark, almost maroon coloured saffron, with long strands, using very little effort. Attributes – the colour of saffron is directly related to its taste – which place the saffron of Kashmir and Jammu at the top of its class. Indicating to some, the natural suitability of the saffron cultivation or growth in this region. It was undoubtedly a clever person, who first saw the benefits of the crocus flower, and cultivated it for its saffron spice. Saffron is derived from a bulbous plant in the Iridaceae family. Saffron must be propagated by human hands, as it is sterile and produces no fruit or seeds. The Kashmir region was once, the largest area of saffron production in the world. By some accounts the region, possesses the largest amount of land dedicated to the growing of saffron, anywhere in the world, including Iran. Which means that the potential for saffron production in this region is enormous, as the Iranian fields produce some 90% of the world’ saffron supply at 100 to 170 tons per annum. Even if the Kashmiris had just 75% of the land available to the Iranians, they should be producing somewhere in the region of 60 – 70 tons of the spice per annum – minimum. For us, this would mean that more of this superior saffron would be available on the international market,as most of it is now absorbed by the Indian continent.