Do you count the threads one by one when you need to add saffron to a dish you’re cooking? Or are you rather liberal with these earthy, fragile crimson threads? Or have you baulked at the price, and shied away?
The most expensive spice on earth
Saffron, the most expensive spice on earth, is at the mercy of food adulterers. Not surprising, when you consider the price per kilogram.
They say it takes 120 000 Crocus Sativus flower plants to yield one kilogram of saffron threads, which costs R200 000. Each crocus flower has just three stigma.
The stigma have to be picked by hand on the morning the flower blooms. It is a labour intensive process, done uniformly throughout the world.
Iran or Greece?
Grown in more countries
Saffron is now grown in South Africa, Italy, Belgium, Spain, India, Afghanistan, France, and Morocco to name a few countries. Each country appears to have a dish which uses saffron for its distinctive taste and colour.
How do you experience the taste?
Safranal, picrococin and crocin
The oil contained within the stigma imparts its aroma, flavour and colour. Picrococin, safranal and crocin are the three major components in the oil. The earthy taste is due to picrocrocin and crocin imparts the characteristic yellow flavour. Saffron’s aroma comes from safranal.
Safranal from picrocrocin
Safranal is formed from picrocrocin during the drying process. The scientific literature abounds with the medical applications of safranal. The medical applications are as diverse as its antioxidant activity , and it is useful for treating depressive disorders.
Picrocrocin shows authenticity
Picrocrocin is found only in saffron. It is used as a useful biomarker to indicate the authenticity of the saffron threads. It’s quite useful to have a compound that occurs solely in the pure saffron to indicate its authenticity. Stigma from the Gardenia jasminoides is most often passed off as saffron.
A little goes a long way
If you’re like me and tend to err on the side of generosity, it would do you well to remember a little bit of saffron goes a long way. Perhaps it’s a good idea to start experimenting with saffron in your cooking. But make sure it’s the genuine stuff.