Family : Iridaceae
Saffron (Crocus sativus) is
a bulbous perennial of the iris family (Iridaceae) treasured for
its golden-coloured, pungent stigmas, which are dried and used to
flavour and colour foods and as a dye. Saffron is named among the
sweet-smelling herbs in Song of Solomon 4:14. It has a strong, exotic
aroma and a bitter taste. A golden-coloured, water-soluble fabric
dye was distilled from saffron stigmas in India in ancient times.
Shortly after Buddha died, his priests made saffron the official
colour for their robes. The dye has been used for royal garments
in several cultures. As a perfume, saffron was strewn in Greek and
Roman halls, courts, theatres, and baths; it became especially associated
with the hetaerae, a professional class of Greek courtesans. The
streets of Rome were sprinkled with saffron when Nero made his entry
into the city. The name saffron comes from the Arabic za’faran,
which means yellow.
Believed native to the Mediterranean
area, Asia Minor, and Iran, the saffron crocus has long been cultivated
in Iran and Kashmir and is supposed to have been introduced into
Cathay by the Mongol invasion. It is mentioned in the Chinese materia
medica. In early times, however, the chief seat of cultivation was
in Cilicia, in Asia Minor. It was cultivated by the Arabs in Spain
about 961 and is mentioned in an English leechbook, or healing manual,
of the 10th century but may have disappeared from western Europe
until reintroduced by the crusaders. During various periods, saffron
has been worth much more than its weight in gold; it is still the
most expensive spice in the world. Saffron is cultivated chiefly
in Spain, France, Sicily, Italy (on the lower spurs of the Apennines
Range), and in Iran, and Kashmir.
Saffron is a bulbous, autumn-flowering,
perennial of the iris family. The flowers have three bright, orange-red
stigmas which are the true saffron. The three stigmas are handpicked
from each flower, spread on trays, and dried over charcoal fires
for use as a food flavouring and colouring. A pound (0.45 kilogram)
of saffron represents 75,000 blossoms. Saffron contains 0.5 to 1
percent essential oil, the principal component of which is picrocrocin.
The colouring matter is crocin.
Aroma and flavour
Saffron is used to colour and flavour
many Mediterranean and Oriental dishes, particularly rice and fish,
and English, Scandinavian, and Balkan breads. It is an important
ingredient in bouillabaisse.
Culinary, medicinal and other
This spice is also widely used in
sweet recipes like milky rice or vermicelli puddings and sweet custard-like
desserts from India. It flavors baked goods and is one of the ingredients
in the liqueur Chartreuse. It is used in sedatives, as an antispasmodic
and for flatulence. It is also used in perfumes