Saffron or "red gold" is the most expensive food in the world. With an average world price of $ 6,000 per kilogram of saffron, its value can even reach $ 35,000. Since time immemorial, in the countries of the Middle East it has been used as a kind of checkbook: it was possible to pay for any product or service with it.
This spice is the stigma of perennial bulbous flowering plants from the family of irises - crocuses. But not all crocuses can become saffron: only purple flowers with dark red stigmas can be called so.
Reasons for the high cost
Saffron has such an incredible price for several reasons. The first of them is that crocuses bloom only once a year. Moreover, the duration of their flowering is no more than 2 weeks.
The second reason for its high cost is the complexity of the collection process. Harvesting occurs only in the early hours of the morning, as the sun's rays are harmful to the stigmas of crocus. In order to get only 1 g of this spice, you need to collect 150 flowers and carefully separate their stigmas. Each flower has only 3 stigmas.
The third reason is the medicinal properties of the spice. It is scientifically proven that the regular consumption of saffron dishes or medicines from it stops the growth of tumors, and in the early stages - contributes to their regression (reverse development).
Saffron quickly loses its beneficial properties, since the antioxidant substances contained in it in large quantities are easily oxidized. Therefore, the fourth reason for the high cost of this spice is its short shelf life.
Where is grown
Saffron, grown for harvest as a spice, is sown in the fields. Plants love hot summers and cold winters. The soil for their cultivation must be clay and acidic. Such soils are found in the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean countries, the Middle East, and Central Asia.
The main producing countries in the modern spice market are India, Iran, Morocco. In recent years, crocuses are actively grown in Spain, France and Italy.
In the states of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in northern India, the most expensive saffron is grown. It is believed that it is here that there are ideal conditions for its cultivation. Kashmir spice has a deep red color and a rich spicy aroma.
The most popular type in the culinary environment is Moroccan saffron. It grows between the mountain ranges of the Atlas Mountains and Anti-Atlas.
Iranian saffron is considered the cheapest type. In Iran, a lot of crocuses are grown. The collection and harvesting of their stigmas is carried out by all families living in regions favorable for their cultivation. Today, “red gold” from Iran accounts for up to 80% of the volume of this spice sold in the world.
Saffron, although a spice, has an extremely rich composition of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, essential oils and other biologically active substances. The calorie content of this spice is 310 kcal per 100 g.
Dry stigmas contain:
- proteins - 11.5 g;
- fats - 5.9 g, including omega groups;
- carbohydrates - 61.5 g, including dietary fiber - 12.0 g;
- vitamins (A, group B, C, PP);
- macro- and microelements (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, selenium);
- essential oils, glycosides (saffronol, geraniol, limonene, cineol, terpinene, pinene, linalool).
Carotenoids, contained in large quantities in the spice, give it a juicy tan. The essential oils included in the composition determine the specific spicy aroma of the spice.
However, the content of nutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) in saffron can be neglected, since in the amount in which this spice is used in cooking, they do not have a special effect on the calorie content of the diet. More significant are vitamins, minerals and essential oils, which, unchanged, fall into dishes when using this seasoning in cooking.
Omega fatty acids, vitamins and minerals of saffron affect the functioning of the digestive and circulatory systems:
- improve digestion;
- increase appetite;
- normalize intestinal motility;
- contribute to the dilution of bile;
- increase the secretion of digestive glands;
- reduce the concentration of cholesterol in the blood;
- dilate peripheral vessels;
- contribute to lowering blood pressure;
- reduce the resistance of the vascular walls;
- reduce afterload on the heart.
Crocus, due to the high content of essential oils in it, acts as a cardiac glycoside: it reduces the heart rate, but makes them more effective, thus exerting an antiarrhythmic and cardiotonic effect.
Dietary fiber of the stigmas of crocus has been used since ancient times for alcohol intoxication as an absorbent. Essential oils are able to exhibit antispasmodic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
A large number of B vitamins and minerals spices have a beneficial effect on the functions of the central nervous system, increase mood, improve memory and vision.
Saffron is a powerful aphrodisiac. It increases sexual desire and enhances blood circulation in the genitals.
Crocus stigmas have been shown to have anti-cancer properties due to their high content of antioxidant substances (vitamin C, A, manganese, unsaturated fatty acids).
Saffron with careless or excessive use can be harmful to health. It is not recommended for women to eat during pregnancy, during lactation, children, allergies.
An overdose of this spice can lead to side effects in the form of food poisoning (dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea). Yellowness of the sclera of the eyes and skin may occur.
To minimize the likely adverse effects, saffron-based products should not be taken as a medicine for longer than 1.5 months.
Application in traditional medicine
An abundance of the beneficial properties of saffron has been used by folk healers since time immemorial. In Asia Minor, this spice was called the cure for a hundred diseases. In order for the stigmas of crocus to show their healing properties, infusions, decoctions or tinctures are prepared from them. Such liquid forms are used internally or externally.
A pinch of stigmas of crocus (10-15 pieces) is fried in a dry skillet over high heat for several seconds. This is necessary for saffron to “open up”: essential oils begin to stand out more actively from a warm spice. After this, the stigmas are poured with hot (60-70 ° C) water, covered with a saucer, insisted. After a few hours, the infusion can be taken, but it can not be filtered. Take orally for 1-2 tsp. before or during meals several times a day (depending on the pathology).
Such an infusion can treat diseases:
- gastrointestinal tract (biliary dyskinesia, pancreatitis, cholecystitis);
- heart and blood vessels (hypertension, arrhythmias, angina pectoris);
- kidney and urinary tract (urolithiasis, cystitis);
- genitals in women (adnexitis, colpitis, painful menstruation).
It is useful for men to take saffron-based products for sexual dysfunctions. Regular intake of crocus stigmas infusion helps ease the course of Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, senile dementia (dementia).
It’s useful for people with cancer to drink 1 tablespoon saffron infusion daily. 3-4 times a day. In the UK, scientists conducted experiments on laboratory mice with cancer. After several weeks of daily use of mice with food containing this spice, half of them cancerous tumors disappeared.
Funds made from the stigmas of crocus are used externally for the treatment of skin diseases (dermatitis, rashes, purulent wounds), inflammation of the eyes (conjunctivitis, keratitis, barley). Lotions from their infusion can be applied on the forehead to relieve headaches and with insomnia.
Application in cosmetology
Saffron found its application in cosmetology. From it at home prepare skin care products (lotions, masks, creams). They relieve inflammation, moisturize, even out skin tone.
Mask with honey
In a mortar, grind several stigmas of crocus and mix them with a teaspoon of liquid honey. Apply such a mask to even out skin tone, withstand 10-15 minutes, then rinse with warm water.
Mask with lemon
To prepare this mask, several frayed stigmas in a mortar are mixed with 0.5 tsp. lemon juice and 1 tsp nonfat sour cream. Use this mask for problematic skin prone to rashes and acne.
In the cosmetics industry, saffron is used as a pigment for the manufacture of tanning products.
Crocus stigmas infusion is also added to shampoos or used for rinsing. It gives the hair softness, silkiness, shine, and light hair - a golden hue. Regular use of saffron hair products helps strengthen the roots and prevent them from falling out.
Since ancient times, saffron-based dyes have been used in everyday life for dyeing fabrics. Buddhist monks wear kashai (cassock), painted in orange with the help of the stigmas of crocus.
This spice has strong coloring properties due to the presence of carotenoids. Since saffron is a spice, that is, a food product, it is used as a food coloring in the food industry for coloring confectionery, cheeses, alcoholic beverages (liquors, wines).
How to distinguish a fake
It is natural that the high cost of this spice attracts a lot of scammers who fake "red gold". Saffron is often called other spices that have nothing to do with the stigmas of crocus.
Under this name, they do not sell the stigmas of crocus from India, but ground turmeric powder. Turmeric is a ginger plant. The rich yellow color of the powder from the crushed roots of this plant is given not by carotenoids, but by the curcumin pigment. Turmeric is also a popular spice, especially revered in India, but it does not have the properties that a real saffron has, and its price is several hundred times lower than the price of stigmas crocus.
So called spice from dried flower petals of safflower (safflower). Safflower is a herbaceous flowering plant in the aster family. The coloring properties of safflower flowers are provided by two pigments - safflorgel (yellow) and cartamine (red).
The spice under this name is made from the petals of the Black-breeders (marigolds), which also belong to the asters family. This is a popular seasoning in Latin America, which also came to taste in the Caucasus. Having a rich color, the spice is inferior to real saffron in taste and aroma.
To minimize the likelihood of error, when buying crocus saffron, you should give preference to whole stigmas, rather than powder. In addition, self-respecting manufacturers pack this expensive spice in glass, hermetically sealed containers. Moreover, the net weight of the packaging usually does not exceed one gram.
Spice is stored in sealed containers in a dry, dark place for no longer than 1 year.
Saffron as a spice is added to various dishes, from soups to drinks and desserts. This is a very active spice: its taste and aroma is revealed over time, without losing intensity in the process of cooking. Saffron gives various dishes a unique taste that is difficult to describe: sweet-bitter, with floral notes. If you go too far with it, the dish can acquire an unpleasant bitter taste.
To make it convenient to dose this spice, saffron water or oil can be prepared from several stigmas. To do this, add a few stigmas in a small container with water (50-100 ml) or refined vegetable oil (30-50 ml). After a few days, cooked infusions can be added to dishes.
Real saffron - the dried stigmas of crocus - are very expensive. That is why this spice is called "red gold". The complexity of collecting and harvesting crocus stigmas causes the high cost of this spice. However, such a price cannot become an obstacle to the use of saffron in cooking. To give the dish the expected taste and aroma, a few stigmas of dried crocus are enough.
Saffron is widely used as a seasoning in home cooking, restaurants, and also as a food coloring for many food products (confectionery, cheeses, sausages, drinks). In the textile industry, saffron is used for dyeing fabrics, in the perfume industry - for aromatization of eau de toilette and perfume.
On the basis of saffron, various cosmetics for problem skin are prepared. It is also used in the manufacture of tanning products.
Crocus stigmas have many useful properties, which allows it to be used to treat diseases of the digestive system, heart and blood vessels, sexual dysfunctions, diseases of the nervous system. The effectiveness of saffron remedies in the treatment of cancer has been scientifically proven.