Saffron: a highly prized spice with a thousand-year history

by Redazione Fine Taste

As Milanese we couldn't help but talk about saffron, a precious and aromatic spice, a fundamental ingredient of the symbolic dish of Milan: Milanese risotto! It is difficult to resist the enjoyment of perfect rice all'onda, its creamy consistency, the beautiful intense yellow color and the delicate and persistent aroma. Talking about saffron is also celebrating a dish that we at Fine Taste are very fond of.

Origin of saffron

Let's start with a brief historical note: the first evidence of the cultivation of saffron dates back to the Bronze Age, around 2500 years ago: it is believed that the cultivation of the precious bulb originated in the western part of present-day Iran.

Most likely its introduction into Europe was possible thanks to contact between the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire. The Romans used saffron to flavor game and flavor wines, but also as an ingredient in a medicine to combat poisons.

It is truly surprising how the properties of saffron were known already in ancient times: citations regarding its medicinal properties can be found in Egyptian papyri, in the Iliad and in the Song of Songs. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, saffron was believed to be a panacea for all ailments; it was used to prepare ointments for the health and beauty of the skin, to dye the finest fabrics and the tunics of Hindu and Buddhist monks, while the Persians and Greeks already identified its aphrodisiac properties, to reawaken desire and energy sexual.

Not many people know that saffron is currently considered by the pharmacopoeia to be a true nutraceutical, that is, a food-drug that has a beneficial function on human health, with its active ingredients of confirmed and recognized effectiveness.

Characteristics of saffron

Saffron is a spice obtained from the stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower known as "true saffron". This particular plant grows up to 20–30 cm and produces up to four flowers, each with three deep crimson stigmas. The stems and stigmas are collected and dried to be used mainly in cooking, as a condiment and coloring.

Why is saffron expensive?

The high cost of saffron is due to the harvesting method: think that 150 harvested flowers yield only 1 g of dry saffron pistils; to produce 12 g of dry saffron you need 1 kg of flowers!! As if that wasn't enough, it is essential that the stigmas are removed by hand, delicately, so as not to damage them.

Due to its high cost, the international saffron market is among the most fraudulent in the world, with obvious inconveniences both for final consumers (who risk consuming a cheaper but very poor quality product) and for quality artisanal producers who they cannot sell below certain prices so as not to devalue an exceptional product.

This is one of the reasons why Fine Taste maintains a direct bridge between producers and final consumers and tries to carry out dissemination activities to promote knowledge and awareness of the great Italian quality food production.

Fortunately, the culinary use of saffron is made accessible to everyone thanks to the minimal quantities used and the high concentration of its aromatic substances.

Why is saffron called that?

The name saffron derives from the Arabic "Za'ferán", a term that indicates the yellow-gold color that this spice gives to dishes.

The harvesting of the flowers usually takes place between October and November, early in the morning and only manually: with care and delicacy the three stigmas are removed as soon as possible and must be placed to dry quickly near a moderate heat source.

It is precisely with drying and heat that the stigmas, odorless and tasteless when fresh, generate the characteristic organoleptic substances used in the gastronomic field.

If you liked this blog and want to try our organic saffron you can find it here.