It's been a long time since spice has been considered a valued commodity. However, when it is taken into consideration that a soccer field's worth of flowers is necessary to produce one pound of spice, it is far easier to conceptualize its value.
Saffron is almost worth its weight in gold. Its increased demand and sensitivity to growing conditions has rendered this spice one of the rarest, most sought-after items in the world.
Saffron comes from the dried stigma of the saffron crocus flower. Once dried, it is often used as a flavor in Mediterranean dishes and a fabric-coloring agent. It has also been used medicinally for thousands of years by ancient civilizations. The word has ties with the Arabic word as far, which means “yellow"; the dye found in the spice is what gives many foods their distinct, yellow coloring. The taste of saffron is described as bitter with a hay-like fragrance.
Cultivating the plant is difficult, which causes its extraordinarily high price. The minute stigmas are the only part of the flower that produces the aroma and flavor desired for cooking, which makes farming incredibly difficult. Between 50,000-75,000 flowers are required to produce one pound of dry saffron, which becomes an even direr situation considering the flowers’ simultaneous blooming; 40 hours of intense labor is required to cultivate a marketable amount of saffron during the blooming season. In Kashmir, one of the most prolific areas, thousands of farmers work in relays, day and night, to two weeks to earn a substantial amount of stigmas.
Indian, Arab, Iranian, Central Asian, European and Moroccan dishes are often spiced with saffron. Because of its bitter, hay-like quality, the flower is common in cheeses, curries, liquors, meat dishes and soups. In India and Spain, it's also a popular condiment for rice; the famous Spanish dish paella relies heavily on saffron. French food connoisseurs can also find the flavor in bouillabaisse, which is a spicy fish stew from Marseilles
The medicinal use of the flower is also highly-celebrated in many cultures. During medieval times, Europeans used saffron to treat respiratory infections like asthma, smallpox and common colds. Ancient Egyptians, one of the major proponents of the spice, used it as an aphrodisiac and tonic to battle dysentery. In modern times, saffron is used as an anticarcinogenic, or cancer-suppressing, agent. Extract from the spice has also been known to delay ascites tumor growth. Finally, it is used widely as an antioxidant- An anti-aging agent known to prevent neurological damage and cell deterioration.
The flower's stamens have been used extensively for fabric dye, especially in such countries as China and India. Even though its instability as a coloring agent results as quick-fading articles, the dye is still very popular for its vibrant-orange quality. More stamens added will produce a brilliant shade of red. Because of the high cost and arduous method of cultivation, saffron-dyed clothing is something of a luxury, often reserved for royalty and high-class. The vermillion and ochre hues of robes worn by Hindu and Buddhist monks are produced by saffron dye. In Europe, the spice is used in aromatic oil called crocinum, which is used in wine and air fresheners.
Anne Clarke writes numerous articles for Web sites on parenting, recreation, and home decor. Her background also includes teaching, gardening, and fashion. For more of her useful articles on this exotic spice, please visit Saffron , supplier of saffron information and recipes.