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Saffron

Saffron threads contain substances such as picrocrocin, which is responsible for its taste, and crocin, which gives it a golden yellow color.
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Saffron is used to flavor sweets and hearty foods. When saffron is dissolved in a liquid, the liquid takes on an orange-yellow tint. In Spain, saffron is used in many rice dishes. In addition to its culinary uses, saffron has also been used as a coloring agent. However, given its price, substitute products (powders mixed with ground turmeric) and fake saffron threads (saffron) are often used instead.

General information:

From Wikipedia: “Saffron is a key seasoning, fragrance, dye, and medicine in use for over three millennia. One of the world's most expensive spices by weight, saffron consists of stigmas plucked from the vegetatively propagated and sterile Crocus sativus, known popularly as the saffron crocus. The resulting dried "threads" are distinguished by their bitter taste, hay-like fragrance, and slight metallic notes. The saffron crocus is unknown in the wild; its most likely precursor, Crocus cartwrightianus, originated in Crete or Central Asia; The saffron crocus is native to Southwest Asia and was first cultivated in what is now Greece.

From antiquity to modern times the history of saffron is full of applications in food, drink, and traditional herbal medicine: from Africa and Asia to Europe and the Americas the brilliant red threads were—and are—prized in baking, curries, and liquor. It coloured textiles and other items and often helped confer the social standing of political elites and religious adepts. Ancient peoples believed saffron could be used to treat stomach upsets, bubonic plague, and smallpox.”

Producers:

“Almost all saffron grows in a belt bounded by the Mediterranean in the west and mountainous Kashmir in the east. All other continents except Antarctica produce smaller amounts. In 1991, Some 300 t (300,000 kg) of whole threads and powder are gleaned yearly, of which 50 t (50,000 kg) is top-grade "coupe" saffron. Iran is by far the world's most important producer: in 2005 it grossed some 230 tonnes (230,000 kg) of dry threads, or 93.7 percent of the year's global total mass; much of the Iranian crop was bound for export. In the same year, second-ranked Greece produced 5.7 t (5,700.0 kg). Morocco and India Most of the region's saffron is grown in the more climatically suitable "Vale of Kashmir", which is administered in Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir; region of Kashmir, tied as the next-highest producers, each produced 2.3 t (2,300.0 kg). In decreasing order, Iran, Greece, Morocco, the Kashmir region in India, Azerbaijan, Spain, and Italy dominate the world harvest.”

Nutrition:

From “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron”“Dried saffron is composed of 12% water, 65% carbohydrates, 6% fat and 11% protein (table).
In comparison to other spices or dried foods, the nutrient content of 100 grams of dried saffron shows richness of nutritional value across B vitamins and dietary minerals (table). In a typical serving of one tablespoon (2 grams), however, only manganese is present as 28% of the Daily Value while other nutrients are negligible.”

Culinary uses:

Saffron features in European, North African, and Asian cuisines. Its aroma is described by taste experts as resembling that of honey, with woody, hay-like, and earthy notes; according to another such assessment, it tastes of hay, but only with bitter hints. Because it imparts a luminous yellow-orange hue, it is used worldwide in everything from cheeses, confectioneries, and liquors to baked goods, curries, meat dishes, and soups. In past eras, many dishes called for prohibitively copious amounts—hardly for taste, but to parade their wealth.

Because of its high cost saffron was often replaced by or diluted with safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) or turmeric (Curcuma longa) in cuisine. Both mimic saffron's colour well, but have distinctive flavours. Saffron is used in the confectionery and liquor industries; this is its most common use in Italy. Chartreuse, izarra, and strega are types of alcoholic beverages that rely on saffron to provide a flourish of colour and flavour. The savvy often crumble and pre-soak saffron threads for several minutes prior to adding them to their dishes. They may toss threads into water or sherry and leave them to soak for approximately ten minutes. This process extracts the threads' colour and flavour into the liquid phase; powdered saffron does not require this step. The soaking solution is then added to the hot cooking dish, allowing even colour and flavour distribution, which is critical in preparing baked goods or thick sauces.

Factors determining cost:

“The high cost of saffron is due to the difficulty of manually extracting large numbers of minute stigmas, which are the only part of the crocus with the desired aroma and flavour. An exorbitant number of flowers need to be processed in order to yield marketable amounts of saffron. Obtaining 1 lb (0.45 kg) of dry saffron requires the harvesting of some 50,000 flowers, the equivalent of an association football pitch's area of cultivation, or roughly 7,140 m2 (0.714 ha). By another estimate some 75,000 flowers are needed to produce one pound of dry saffron. This too depends on the typical stigma size of each saffron cultivar. Another complication arises in the flowers' simultaneous and transient blooming. Since so many crocus flowers are needed to yield even derisory quantities of dry saffron, the harvest can be a frenetic affair entailing about forty hours of intense labour. In Kashmir, the thousands of growers must work continuously in relays over the span of one or two weeks throughout both day and night.

Once extracted, the stigmas must be dried quickly, lest decomposition or mould ruin the batch's marketability. The traditional method of drying involves spreading the fresh stigmas over screens of fine mesh, which are then baked over hot coals or wood or in oven-heated rooms where temperatures reach 30–35 °C (86–95 °F) for 10–12 hours. Afterwards the dried spice is preferably sealed in airtight glass containers.”

Research:

From “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron”“One limited meta-analysis concluded that saffron supplementation improved symptoms in patients with major depressive disorders and a review indicated that it helped with mild to moderate depression.”

Folk medicine:

“Saffron's folkloric uses as an herbal medicine are legendary and legion. It was used for its carminative (suppressing cramps and flatulence) and emmenagogic (enhancing pelvic blood flow) properties. Medieval Europeans used it to treat respiratory disorders—coughs and colds, scarlet fever, smallpox, cancer, hypoxia, and asthma. Other targets were: blood disorders, insomnia, paralysis, heart diseases, stomach upsets, gout, chronic uterine haemorrhage, dysmorrhea, amenorrhea, infant colic, and eye disorders. For the ancient Persians and Egyptians saffron was an aphrodisiac, a general-use antidote against poisoning, a digestive stimulant, and a tonic for dysentery and measles. ...”


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