What is saffron and why is it the most expensive spice in the world. Application in cooking, medicine, cosmetology and how to distinguish real saffron from fake.


Saffron is a spice used all over the world. In English it is known as saffron, but there is another name – “red gold”. The spice is rightly considered one of the most expensive on the planet. So we decided to tell you how to use saffron in cooking and more.

What is saffron and how is it made?

This oriental spice has long become popular all over the world. Its history is so ancient that mentions of it can even be found in the Bible and the works of Homer.

Many people are interested in how the spice saffron grows and what saffron is made from. In fact, it is made from the flowers of crocus sativum, a plant from the iris family.

The flowers are quite large, purple, and their stigmas are dark red. Therefore, we can say that crocus is another name for saffron.

Not every crocus plant is suitable for making spices. Crocus sativus is the only suitable of the 235 varieties of crocus. Grown saffron always belongs to this precious species.

To prepare crocus spice, only the stigmas are used. The remaining parts of the flowers, including the petals, are simply discarded. There are no other options for what saffron is obtained from.

Crocuses of the iris family are grown throughout the world, and commercially produced saffron is available in many countries. But the volumes of spice production are small due to the complexity of the process.

The most popular saffron is from Iran – this country is the world leader in export volumes. But in some countries (Spain, China, Italy) it is possible to obtain saffron with a more pronounced taste and smell than in Iran.

Having figured out what flower saffron is made from, it’s worth talking about the properties of the spice itself.

What it looks, smells and tastes like

So, calling a flower saffron is incorrect. The plant itself is crocus sativus, and red spice is different. It looks like this:

  • shape – thread;
  • color – brownish-red, but golden on one edge (not always);
  • length – from 3 to 5 cm;
  • diameter – from 1 to 2 mm.

Before using saffron for food, it is worth preparing for its specific smell. It is floral and at the same time spicy, with slight bitterness and spiciness, vaguely reminiscent of freshly cut grass.

The taste is appropriate – a mixture of sweetness and bitterness, it burns a little. Many people, having tried the spice, say that it resembles honey with a metallic taste.

Types of saffron

A variety of saffron

There are several types of saffron spice:

  • Kashmiri – the most expensive and elite, with a very strong smell, divided into 3 grades according to quality;
  • Spanish – slightly cheaper than Kashmiri, divided into 2 grades according to quality;
  • Italian;
  • Greek;
  • Iranian is the most budget-friendly;
  • yellow (named because of the color);
  • mesh – not used in cooking, but a tincture from its bulbs helps against seizures in epilepsy.

The Iranian variety is most often found in mass sale. You can usually buy expensive varieties only in specialized stores.

Benefits and contraindications

The rich composition of crocus flowers determines the beneficial properties of saffron. Numerous vitamins, omega fatty acids, essential oils and minerals have a beneficial effect on the human circulatory and digestive systems. Main factors:

  • improvement of appetite and digestion process;
  • normalization of the functioning of the digestive system;
  • normalization of intestinal motility;
  • dilution of bile;
  • removing cholesterol from the blood;
  • vasodilation;
  • lowering pressure (and to a normal state, without excesses);
  • reducing the load on a person’s heart (the heart rate decreases moderately, but each beat becomes more effective).

It has even been proven that the antioxidants contained in crocuses have cancer-fighting properties. In the early stages of tumor development, the use of spices often helps to achieve regression, and in the later stages it helps to stop the development.

But, of course, you cannot rely only on flowers in the fight against such a serious disease – complex treatment is needed.

The medicinal properties of saffron also include its analgesic effect. And in case of intoxication (poisoning or alcohol overdose), beneficial saffron works as an absorbent, reducing symptoms and helping the body cope with difficulties.

Finally, this spice is a powerful aphrodisiac.

The harm of saffron should not be ignored. There are few strict medical contraindications for the spice, but they do exist:

  • intestinal and stomach ulcers;
  • hypertension (only at the acute stage);
  • diabetes mellitus types I and II (use is possible, but only after consulting a doctor);
  • allergic reaction to spice.

In addition, you need to take the spice in small doses, as an overdose is possible. It is recommended to use no more than 5 strings of spice per dish and consume only 1 dish with spice per meal. In case of overdose, a couple of harmful effects of saffron appear:

  • symptoms of food poisoning (nausea and vomiting, dry mouth, intestinal upset);
  • yellowing of the skin and eye sclera.

When the spice is taken as a medicine, the course of treatment usually lasts no more than 5-6 weeks. Long-term use may have harmful effects on the body.

Why is saffron so expensive?

The average cost of spices around the world is about $4,000 per 1 kg. But, for example, Iranian saffron costs only $470 per 1 kg. Experts claim that it is less fragrant and also spoils much faster. The Greek variety is more expensive – $800 per 1 kg.

The Italian variety costs much more – the price is close to the average. The reason is a richer taste than “cheap” varieties.

But the most expensive variety is Kashmiri. Thanks to its extremely exquisite aroma, it sells for approximately $30,000 per 1 kg. And these are only wholesale purchases. In retail, a gram of Kashmiri spice is more expensive than a gram of gold.

There are 4 reasons for such a high price, and each of them is quite understandable.

Reason Description
The short period of flowering of crocuses from which the spice is made Plants of this variety bloom only once a year, and no longer than 2 weeks. And no technology helps. This short period is the only one in the year when raw materials for spices can be obtained.
Labor intensity of harvesting To obtain 1 g of dry spice, you need to cut about 150 crocus flowers, and then carefully separate the stigmas (of which each flower has only 3 pieces). In addition, these same stigmas are very delicate, and direct sunlight is harmful to them. Therefore, each saffron flower must be collected before dawn.
Manual labor In addition to labor intensity, the problem is that the collection procedure cannot be mechanized. The stigma must be cut by hand. In addition to the fact that it takes a long time, workers need to be paid, and this is reflected in the price of the finished product.
Short shelf life The flavor and aromatic properties of the spice last a long time, but the beneficial properties do not. Antioxidants, which the plant is rich in, quickly oxidize and stop working. Therefore, producers cannot simply prepare saffron for years to come – they have to work constantly.

Use in cooking

Rice with saffron

Where to add saffron

The range of uses for spices is extensive. It is added to a variety of culinary dishes – from soups to desserts. Used both separately and in combination with other spices.

In addition to cooking, the spice is added to medicinal infusions and cosmetics. It is often added to herbal tea.

Ground saffron is widely used in cooking. It is worth adding saffron to a dish to give it a specific spicy aroma, golden color and a slight bitter-spicy aftertaste. It is recommended to take the spice in the form of strings and grind it right before adding it to food.

Where saffron is added is a difficult question. The thing is that the spice is used almost everywhere at the request of the cook. Here are some popular examples of where ground saffron is added:

  • vegetable, meat and fish soups;
  • dishes made from rice (traditional pilaf is impossible without this spice) and peas;
  • meat dishes;
  • sauces for meat and fish;
  • secret;
  • sausages
  • salads and dressings for them;
  • Dessert.

Even in a sweet dish, saffron works well if the proportions are respected. As a rule, 4-5 threads of spice are enough for the first or second course, and no more than 3 for a salad or dessert. If you overdo it, the aroma will be too strong and unpleasant.

Very tasty and unusual sauces and marinades with saffron, which go well with chicken and fish.

Along with the addition of saffron as an independent spice, it is often combined with other seasonings. It goes well with:

But this list is not an exhaustive example of where to add saffron in cooking. Ultimately, deciding which dishes saffron is suitable for is purely a matter of taste.

How can you replace saffron in cooking?

It is impossible to completely replace this spice – it is unique. But in many cases, saffron is replaced with turmeric. If this is real Indian turmeric and not a fake, then its islandy-bitter taste is quite similar to saffron.

The aroma is less pronounced, but the golden color of the dish will be almost identical to the original.

There are other alternatives too:

  • safflower (good with seafood and stews, but less rich);
  • cardamom (its taste is very different, but in rice dishes, tea and desserts it becomes similar);
  • annatto (a Latin American spice with a nutty flavor, different from crocus, but with an identical color);
  • calendula, or marigold (it imitates color well and vaguely resembles taste).

Use in folk medicine

Traditional medicine has a strictly positive attitude towards saffron. Infusions and decoctions are prepared from the plant for internal and external use.

Thus, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, heart and blood vessels are often treated with the following infusion:

  1. Fry 10-15 dry crocus stigmas in a dry frying pan. The fire should be strong and the frying time should be no longer than 10 seconds.
  2. Pour in water heated to 70°C (approximately).
  3. Cover with a saucer.
  4. Leave for 3 hours. There is no need to strain after this.

This infusion is drunk before meals, 1-2 tsp. no more than 3 times a day. A similar recipe is used for oncology.

External use of saffron (more precisely, products based on it) is practiced for skin diseases. The spice can treat dermatitis, various rashes and purulent wounds.

It also copes with eye inflammation, including conjunctivitis. And compresses from crocus infusion are used for migraines and insomnia.

Application in cosmetology

In cosmetology, saffron is used as an additive to creams and lotions. The extract or essential oil of this plant can be found in many popular products. Preparations containing it effectively moisturize the skin, relieve inflammation and even out the tone.

And the popular use of saffron is mainly in face masks (usually with honey or lemon juice). They are applied for 10-15 minutes, after which they are washed off with warm water.

Is it possible for children, pregnant and lactating

pregnant women and saffron

It is prohibited to use saffron:

  • pregnant women;
  • children under 3 years old.

Many spices, including the popular bay leaf and cinnamon, have a cleansing effect on the female reproductive system. Simply put, they cause contractions of the uterus, which is very undesirable during pregnancy. Dried crocuses belong to the same group of spices.

The situation is similar with young children under 3 years of age. Almost all spices are prohibited for them.

But nursing mothers are allowed to use this spice. The main thing is to slowly and gradually introduce it into the diet, while observing the child’s reaction. If there is a negative effect, you should stop taking it. But clinical studies show that no danger to the child has been found.

How to spot a fake

The expensive spice saffron attracts many people, which is taken advantage of by unscrupulous businessmen. They offer, under the guise of a spice, a counterfeit that has neither the taste nor the medicinal properties of the original flower.

In fact, it is easy to distinguish a fake. There are several techniques:

  • if the cost is lower than other brands, it is most likely not a real product;
  • cheap packaging (tray, box) – the real spice in such a container will lose its aroma, but the fake one won’t care;
  • unnatural color (in the original it is always dark orange);
  • the aroma of original crocuses is quite sharp and “pharmacy” when inhaling, but then sweet, spicy, woody;
  • the taste should be sweet and very tart.

It is worth looking at the consistency. It is better to buy the spice in the form of threads than in ground form. Solid threads (stigmas) are very easy to distinguish from fakes. If the spice was ground into powder, perhaps this was an attempt to hide the substitution.

It also happens that the packaging does not just say “Saffron”, but there is an additional word. In some cases, this is also a fake.

Indian saffron

Indian saffron seasoning is simply turmeric root, dried in a special way. There are similarities with the original spice, but very minor.

The only option to use this variety as a substitute for the original is in combination with a large number of other spices.

In Indian cuisine they do this, adding curry and other local things.

Mexican saffron

Sometimes you can see sellers offering safflower and saying that it is saffron seasoning. Safflower is really similar to the original spice – that’s why it was even called Mexican saffron.

But in preparing the spice, a flower of a completely different family is used, and petals are taken instead of stigmas. The taste is much less intense – to achieve the “saffron effect”, you need to add much more safflower.

Imereti saffron

Saffron is an expensive seasoning – it always has been. Therefore, many centuries ago, its cheaper analogue appeared, called Imeretian. In fact, these are other flowers, very similar to saffron stigmas both in their rich color and taste.

But there is a problem – almost complete absence of smell. Just smell it once and the difference will be noticeable. The Imereti variety is still suitable for cooking (for example, it is widely used in Georgian cuisine), but is not suitable for dishes where a strong aroma is important.

How to select and store

There are 2 reliable ways to select spices:

  • buy in popular stores that value their reputation;
  • if purchased at the market, then only if the seller allows you to smell it (saffron is a spice with a characteristic odor, and this is the easiest way to recognize a fake).

The packaging should be beautiful and expensive. Plastic and metal containers are not suitable – their aromatic properties are greatly deteriorated. It is advisable that the seller has a product quality certificate.

The spice can be stored for no longer than 6 months, after which it becomes useless. To prevent the spice from spoiling even earlier, it must be placed in:

  • glass jar with an airtight lid;
  • dry dark place;
  • away from the stove and heating appliances;
  • away from other spices that have a strong aroma.

Ссылка на основную публикацию