Saffron is the most expensive spice on Earth. This is because of the labour involved in growing and harvesting the spice. Saffron is the red-yellow stigma of the crocus flower and must be hand-picked during short annual flowering seasons. Each flower produces only three stigmas, so it takes approximately 150 flowers to yield just one gram of dry saffron threads. Luckily, very little saffron is needed for cooking. In fact, too much can make food bitter.
Imitation saffron is rampant in markets around the world (especially in Turkey), and even makes its way into Canadian products and stores. In particular, beware of safflower petals, which look a little like saffron, but are nearly flavourless. Any time you see a big quantity of “saffron” (more than a couple grams) for a reasonable price, it’s almost certainly safflower.
Fresh saffron has a distinctive earthy smell and flavour and imparts a bright orange colour to food. Saffron is a characteristic ingredient for a number of traditional dishes like bouillabaisse and paella, as well as many risottos. Try adding a few threads to basmati rice with Indian dishes to add a bit of flavour and turn your rice a beautiful golden colour. When adding saffron to a dish, add to a bit of liquid first to draw out the colour, or grind to a powder if no liquid is being used. Adding early in the cooking process gives more colour, adding late gives more flavour.
Health benefits of Saffron
* Saffron contains several plant-derived chemical compounds that are known to have been anti-oxidant, disease preventing, and health promoting properties.
* Their flower pistils compose several essential volatile oils, but the most important of them all is safranal which gives saffron its pleasant flavor. Other volatile oils in saffron are cineole, phenethenol, pinene, borneol, geraniol, limonene, p-cymene, linalool, terpinen-4-oil, etc.
* This colorful spice has many non-volatile active components; the most important of them is a-crocin, a carotenoid compound, which gives pistils their characteristic golden-yellow color. It also contains other carotenoids, including zea-xanthin, lycopene, a- and ß-carotenes. These are important antioxidants that help protect the human body from oxidant-induced stress, cancers, infections and acts as immune modulators.
* The active components in saffron have many therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines as antiseptic, antidepressant, anti-oxidant, digestive, anti-convulsant.
* This novel spice is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the human body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for red blood cell production and as a co-factor for cytochrome
Additionally, it is also rich in many vital vitamins, including vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin-C that is essential for optimum health.