All saffron comes from crocus flowers. But there are two different kinds of crocus flowers, with two different styles of stigmas.
The stigmas are the part that’s dried and sold as saffron. The petals and the rest of the flower are usually thrown away.
The two kinds of crocus flowers are called “corms” and “threads.” Corms have a fat, club-shaped stigma that looks like an ear of corn or a baby’s fist. Threads have a thin, curling stigma that looks like thread.
Tastes differ, but most people agree that corms produce better color and flavor than threads. So corms are what farmers grow. They look like this:
(Thanks to Wiki for the images)
Part B: What does it taste like?
Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, grows in stigmas within the flowers of a purple-flowered plant called Crocus sativus. The saffron crocus is a native of Greece; it was cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Persians, who grew it in fields they called “garlands.” The plant’s scientific name derives from its Latin name (Crocus), its Greek name (krokos), and the word for yellow (saffra).
How is saffron cultivated? Saffron is grown commercially in Iran, Spain, Italy, India, France, England and Kashmir. In Kashmir, where some of the most expensive saffron on earth is produced—the best grade being known as “magnum” saffron—the crocuses are farmed at elevations between 3,500 and 5,500 feet.
The stigmas are harvested by hand when the flowers are fully opened. Specialized craftsmen then remove the stigmas by hand and dry them.
Saffron is the most costly of spices and the most labor-intensive to cultivate. Crocus sativus, the purple flower from which saffron is derived, is a perennial plant native to Southwest Asia and was grown in Greece as early as 4000B.C. It did not reach Italy until 500A.D. or France until 800A.D., where it became known as “Crocus cartwrightianus.” The crocus grows best in the Levant, an area that has long been linked to trade routes in spices and perfumes.
In addition to its high value, saffron has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years: Hippocrates recommended it as a treatment for stomachaches and headaches; Cleopatra supposedly used it to enhance her beauty; and some practitioners used it in place of more dangerous poisons because it could be easily detected.
The crocus sativus blooms for approximately one week out of each year; consequently, its cultivation requires large amounts of manual labor to harvest the flowers during this time period.* However, only three stigmas (the part of the flower that produces saffron) need be collected from each flower–the remaining portion can be used as filler and sold cheaply. Because of this fact
Saffron, the spice we use to flavor our paella and pad thai, comes from a purple flower called Crocus sativus. Crocus sativus is a hardy perennial, a close relative of the crocuses that bloom in fall gardens, with one important difference: its flowers are sterile. In order to reproduce, you need to grow new plants from the seeds each year.
The saffron crocus doesn’t spread through its roots; it spreads by dropping its delicate dried stigmas, which blow about on the wind and get stuck wherever they land. Responsible gardeners pick up these stigmas before they can be blown away; once dried, they are no longer viable and will not grow into new plants. Saffron is an expensive spice because every saffron plant must be grown from a cutting of another plant.
And as though growing the plant were not enough of a trick, harvesting saffron turns out to be tricky too. The stigmas are hidden deep inside bright red flowers that open at sunrise—if you want to collect them at their freshest. But if you are making your way across a hillside in the dark of early morning, to pick flowers you can see only with your eyes
The stigmas, which are the red threads that make up a third of the weight of a saffron crocus flower, are hand-picked in October and November. They are then dried and stored until April or May.
Saffron contains an antioxidant that is thought to be helpful in preventing Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related mental disorders. Its scent is also said to help reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
Saffron is a spice that comes from a flower. But it is more than just an exotic culinary ingredient; it has many historical and traditional uses. While the name “saffron” derives from Arabic, the plant originated in Greece and was later introduced to Spain from where it spread to other parts of Europe during the Middle Ages.
Saffron has been known for centuries for its medicinal properties and has been used for curing almost all diseases. From Indian Ayurveda to Chinese traditional medicine, saffron is used as a cure for various ailments including depression, anxiety, hypertension, menstrual problems, skin ailments, heart disease and even cancer. In India, saffron is touted as a superb herbal antidepressant that elevates mood and helps fight stress and anxiety. It is also believed to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
A very small amount of saffron mixed with warm milk at bedtime is believed to help insomnia in adults while the same mix with warm water is given to children suffering from insomnia. Saffron contains certain chemicals that stimulate certain parts of brain responsible for relieving stress and boosting memory power.
Saffron is a spice used in cooking. It comes from a flower, which is the world’s most expensive spice. The flower is grown in Kashmir and Iran. The people who harvest the flowers have to be very careful, because the flowers are delicate and must be picked by hand.