Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Arabic: Za’faran, Za’fran Crocus sativus; Iridaceae (Iris Family)
Saffron refers to the dried, red stigmas collected from the flowers of Crocus sativus. Its high price is better understood when we learn that some 75,000 flowers are required to make one pound of dried saffron. Commercial producers of saffron today include Spain, Iran and India. Native to the Middle East, saffron was introduced to Europe by the Muslim Arabs and Berbers of northwest Africa, who conquered most of Spain in the eighth century. From Spain, known as al-Andalus to the Arabs, saffron was carried to Italy and France, where it became popular. Although not completely new to the British Isles, saffron was brought back to England by the crusaders of the 13th century. Historically, saffron has been used for medicine, perfume, dye and as a cooking spice.
How to use: The stigmas produce a bright yellow or orange color when added to water. If a recipe requires ground saffron, one can crush or grind it to a powder. Be sure it is evenly distributed when added to the recipe. Sifting the ground saffron with the dry ingredients is one way to insure a good mix. If using whole saffron threads, soak them for about 10 minutes in a warm liquid required by the recipe, such as milk, water or broth. The color and flavor of the stigmas will be released into the liquid. A pinch of saffron to a cup of liquid yields enough color and flavor for about half a kilo (1 lb) of rice. A little saffron goes a long way.
In the kitchen: Saffron can add taste and color to breads, chicken and rice dishes.
Did you know?
  • Comparing the beauty of his beloved to a garden, Solomon (The Song of Solomon 4:14 in the Old Testament) lists saffron, cinnamon, frankincense and myrrh as some of the plants cultivated in this metaphor. We sense the magnitude of his admiration because these plant products commanded very high prices in ancient markets.
  • Today, saffron remains the most expensive spice in the entire world.
  • Scholars studying frescoes at Thera, a Greek island in the Aegean, believe the wall paintings (dating from 1500 or 1600 BC) depict a goddess presiding over the manufacture and use of a drug from the saffron flower. This suggests that saffron has been used as a medicine for at least 3500 years.

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