Saffron is a seasoning that is made from the dried stigmas of saffron crocus. It may surprise you to learn that it takes 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 of the hand-picked stigmas in order to make a pound of saffron! That’s why the other claim to fame that this seasoning has is that it is the most expensive!
Saffron, like many herbs and spices, has an interesting legend surrounding its origin. According to the Ancient Greeks, Saffron was created when the mortal Crocos found himself with love with the numph Smilax. Smilax refused his advances but he was turned into the beautiful flower that would go on to produce saffron.
Saffron comes from the Mediterranean, so it is perhaps no surprise to learn it is included in many Mediterranean cookbooks. It is largely imported from Spain, where it was originally introduced by Moslems during the 8th Century. Actually, this arrived at the sugar in your sugar bowls!
Romans then brought saffron to England, though it was forgotten during the Dark Ages. Allegedly, a pilgrim smuggled it back in the 14th century from a single bulb. It can now be found in Essex, England.
Francis Bacon wrote of Saffron that it “maketh the English sprightly”.
Saffron Use in Cooking
Saffron is made from three separate stigmas. It has a color that is bright orange and a flavor that is strongly perfumed. The bright color makes it a popular food coloring as well – that said, most will recommend using turmeric or another less expensive spice instead. It is somewhat pungent and bitter, with a slight honey sweetness.
While Saffron is very expensive, the good news is that it is strong enough that you only need small amounts in your cooking. This is aided by the fact that saffron will expand when it comes into contact with rice. So if you were to use 1lb of rice, you would only need a cup.
Popular dishes made with saffron include a range of Asian dishes, as well as Italian. It’s popular in Italian cookbooks and is also popular in stews and stock pots. One of the most popular uses in England is in the Cornish saffron bun. Here it is added with a dried fruit to make a delicious yeast cake.
The good news is that saffron also has a number of impressive health benefits. It is rich in cancer-fighting anti-oxidants, and is also rich in carotenoids – which provide color. These can help to reduce stress, improve the mood, and aid eyesight. What’s more is that saffron is very high in numerous vitamins and minerals.
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