There is an intrinsic value to rare things, and these terms are usually associated with metals and gemstones. Yet there is a spice whose value can rival that of gold – Saffron.
The crimson stigmas from a Crocus flower are what is called saffron. Each flower blooms for only one week a year and yields only a few stigmas – usually three – which are hand picked, stacked and left to dry.
It is estimated that it takes over 200,000 stigmas – 40 hours of picking – to make a pound. Couple the low yield per flower, picky climate conditions for growing, and a manually intensive harvesting process, and you get one of the most expensive spices in the world. Depending on its quality grade, saffron can retail for around $120.00 per ounce.
Saffron is graded via laboratory measurement of crocin (colour), picrocrocin (taste), and safranal (fragrance) content, with four empirical colour intensity grades: IV (poorest), III, II, and I (finest quality). Graders measure absorbances of 440-nm light by dry saffron samples. Higher absorbances imply greater crocin concentration, and thus a greater colourative intensity. These colour grades proceed from grades with absorbances lower than 80 (for all category IV saffron) up to 190 or greater (for category I). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron#Grades)
The largest producer of saffron is Iran, however, due to import and export restrictions Iranian saffron may be hard to find. The second largest producer is Spain. Spanish saffron is divided into grades. Names to look for are coupe, superior, La Mancha, or Rio. Coupe is the top of the line: it has the least flavorless yellow stem and the highest amount of crocin, one of the key essential oils in saffron.
This spice is responsible for that distinctive bright yellow color of Italian risotto milanese, French bouillabaisse, Spanish paella, and Indian biryanis. It also has a very subtle flavor and aroma – somewhat spicy, somewhat floral. Like truffles, some people find saffron completely intoxicating and addictive.
For general cooking, it’s best to add saffron early on in cooking so its flavor can infuse into the other ingredients. If there’s water already in the pan, just crumble in the threads. Otherwise soak them in a tablespoon of water for ten minutes before adding to the pan.(http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/01/spice-hunting-saffron-how-to-use-guide.html)
Saffron is also used as a dye, medicinal purposes and has been touted by Dr. Oz as an appetite suppressant.
According to Dr. Oz, Saffron extract can increase satisfaction in one’s appetite quicker while decreasing stress hormones and improving emotional health for more long term results and stability. (http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/miracle-appetite-suppressant)
Throughout history, saffron uses against cancer and depressive mood can regularly be identified. These applications have also been in the focus of modern research. Promising and selective anti-cancer effects have been observed. Saffron extract or its active constituents, crocetin and crocin, may also be useful as a treatment for neurodegenerative disorders accompanying memory impairment.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17704979, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15582266, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10815004)
Saffron has also been shown to improve digestion and ease respiratory problems, has anti-inflammatory properties, and help boost the immune system. (http://www.livestrong.com/article/113155-benefits-saffron/)
Green Mango & Saffron Smoothie
- 2 Unripe Green Mangoes (Peeled, Pitted & Diced)
- 2 Cups of Water
- 1/4 cup of Agave Nectar or Sugar
- 2 Cups of Cold 2% Milk
- 8-10 Saffron Threads soaked in 2 tbsp of warm milk for 30 minutes (also additional Saffron threads for garnish)
In a Saucepan, Bring the Mango cubes & water to a simmer and cook on medium heat until Mangoes soften up. Add Agave Nectar or Sugar & stir. Chill this mixture for about 2-3 hours in the refrigerator. Before serving, In a Blender add cold 2% Milk, Chilled Mango mixture & Saffron Milk. Blend it for a minute or so until smoothie. Pour into a tall glass & garnish with Saffron threads. Enjoy! http://www.onetribegourmet.com/2010/04/low-fat-green-mango-saffron-smoothie/