a spice obtained from the stigmas of the flower of Crocus
commonly known as Rose of Saffron.
belongs to the family of Iridaceae and it is characterized for having
a purple flower with red stigmas and yellow stamens.
flower of Crocus
is sterile, because it is an hybrid that has been maintained for centuries
because of the value of its stigmas. The reproduction of this plant is
done with bulbs.
Each flower of
has three stigmas of saffron, also called filaments, which are joined
by the style.
The stigmas are of trumpet shape, they are bright red gradually changing to yellow in the style.
the origins of saffron are confusing, we can almost confirm that it comes
from Orient, because its cultivation was widely spread in Minor Asia far
before the birth of Christ.
One of the first historic references to the use of saffron comes from Ancient Egypt , where it was used by Cleopatra and other Pharaons as an aromatic and seductive essence, and to make ablutions in temples and sacred places.
Saffron was also highly appreciated in the Classic Greece for its coloring and aromatic properties. It was used as a remedy to sleeplessness and to reduce hangovers caused by wine. It was also used to perfume bathing and as an aphrodisiac.
Arabs used saffron in medicine for its anaesthetic properties. It was the Arabs who introduced the cultivation of saffron in Spain in the X century. Evidence of different kinds assure that saffron was an irreplaceable ingredient in the hispanic-arabic cooking of that age.
During the Middle Age, saffron became well known in Great Britain. The legend says that, in the period of Edward III, a pilgrim brought a bulb of saffron hidden in a hole in his stick from Middle East to the town of Walden. There the bulb was grown and reproduced giving prosperity to the town.
During the Renaissance, Venice stood out as the most important commercial center for saffron. In that period saffron was worth its weight in gold, and even today it is still the most expensive spice in the world. But sadly its high price led to its adulteration, which then was often severely punished. Henry VIII, who cherished the aroma of saffron, even condemned to death adulterers of saffron.
Nowadays saffron forms part of the culinary culture of different regions in the world:
The land must be dry, calcareous, aired, flat and without trees. Attributes that the Meseta of Castilla-La Mancha has, which has made it one of the most important production areas in the world.
The sowing takes place in the months of June and July. The bulbs are placed in ridges of about 20 cm. depth. The distance between the bulbs should be of 10 cm.
The sowing of bulbs is a very hard job because it is done by hand, and
forces you to walk in a bent position for hundreds of yards. A mule follows
the sower with a roman plough to cover the ridges.
harvesting takes place between the end of October-beginning of November.
The rose of saffron blooms at dawn and should stay the least possible
time in the plant because it withers quickly and the stigmas loose color
and aroma. This is why they are gathered between dawn and 10 a.m.
Once the flowers are gathered, stigmas are separated from the rest of the flower. The fact that more than 85.000 flowers are needed to obtain just one kilo of saffron gives us an idea of how hard this work is.
The stigmas of saffron have a high level of moisture, so it is necessary to dry them for its good preservation. This is the process of roasting, in which the stigmas get it definitive aspect: bright red, rigid and without wrinkles.
For its perfect preservation, saffron is stored in big wooden trunks lined with metal plate inside protecting it from heat, cold and specially moisture.
The I.S.O. (International Standard Organization) defines in its norm 3632-2 1994 the different qualities of saffron in filaments and powder based in their chemical properties. This is gathered in the following table: