Crocus sativus, Saffron
saf·fron [OE. saffran, F. safran; cf. It. zafferano,]
1. (Bot.) A bulbous iridaceous plant (Crocus sativus) having blue flowers with large yellow stigmas.
2. The aromatic, pungent, dried stigmas, usually with part of the stile, of the Crocus sativus. Saffron is used in cookery, and in coloring confectionery, liquors, varnishes, etc., and was formerly much used in medicine.
3. An orange or deep yellow color, like that obtained from the stigmas of the Crocus sativus.
Saffron comes from the stigma of the crocus sativus flower, a bulbous perennial of the iris family (Iridaceous). The crocus sativus stays in bloom only for about three to four weeks, during which time the stigmas have to be carefully harvested by hand. As it takes 150,000 flowers to make just one Kg. of saffron it's reputation as the most expensive of herbs is fully justified.
Crocus sativus is a sterile triploid cultivated variety possibly developed from the wild Crocus cartwrightianus of Greece. Its origins, like those of so many plants that have been in cultivation since antiquity, are lost to history. It is believed to have been originally native to the Mediterranean area, Asia Minor and Iran and one of the earliest records is in the Chinese Material Medical of Pun Tsaou (1552-78). Supposedly the introduction into China happened when Mongol invaders brought it from Iran.
Today saffron is grown, to some extent, in every continent apart from Antarctica although main growing areas are in Iran, Greece, Morroco, India, Azerbaijan, Spain and Italy.
As a flavour, saffron has a slightly bitter honey like taste which has been variously described as pungent, delicate, penetrating, warm and spicy. It's also used for the deep yellow color it gives.
Perhaps the best known use for Saffron is to colour rice. It's used for this in many countries including Spain (paella), Iran and India. In Morocco it plays a key role in the chermoula spice blend which is featured in tagine dishes. In Sweden and Cornwall the yellow colouration is used for buns that are popular on festive occasions.
When cooking with the stigmas it helps to soak them in water before using, to help release the colour. This step can be avoided by the use of powdered saffron.
There is no herb that can be used as a substitute for the unique flavour of Saffron, and while Turmeric can produce a strong yellow color, the result is never as vibrant as that obtained with saffron.
Luckily, considering it's high cost, a small amount of Saffron goes a long way. If you look at recipes involving Saffron they always recommend to use the highest quality, as this has the highest amounts of the chemicals that produce the distinctive colour and flavour .Internationally, Saffron quality is measured a set of standards set up by ISO (the international organization for standardization). This is called ISO 3632, and there are 4 categories, with grade 1 being the finest.
|Martin Hoxworth - Group Sales Manager: martincamstar.co.uk|