Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, and is used in cooking as a seasoning and coloring agent. Crocus sativus is native to Southwest Asia, and most saffron is grown in a belt of land ranging from the Mediterranean in the west to Kashmir in the east. Saffron has bitter taste and an iodoform- or hay-like fragrance due to the chemical compound picrocrocin and safranal. A carotenoid dye, crocin, allows saffron to impart a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles.

Crocus sativus is an autumn-flowering perennial plant which prefers friable, loose, low-density, well-watered, and well-drained clay-calcareous soils with high organic content. It fare poorly in shady conditions; it grows best in strong sunlight. Planting depth and corm spacing, in concert with climate, are critical factors affecting yields. One kilogram of flowers are needed to produce 12 grams of dried saffron (72 grams freshly harvested). Stigmas are dried quickly upon extraction and (preferably) sealed in airtight containers. Vivid crimson colouring, slight moistness, elasticity, and lack of broken-off thread debris are all traits of fresh saffron. A pound (454 grams) of dry saffron requires 50,00075,000 flowers, and some forty hours of labour are needed to pick 150,000 flowers. The wholesale and retail price of saffron is ranged at US$500 to US$5,000 per pound (US$1,10011,000/kg).

Saffron's aroma is often described as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste is hay-like and sweet. Saffron is widely used in Iranian (Persian), Arab, Central Asian, European, Indian, Turkish, and Cornish cuisines. It gives food an appetising yellow-orange color. Safflower and turmeric are the common saffron substitutes.

Saffron has anticarcinogenic, anti-mutagenic, immunomodulating, and antioxidant-like properties. It also can protect the eyes from the direct effects of bright light and retinal stress apart from slowing down macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. In China and India, saffron has been used as a fabric dye and in perfumery.

Crocus sativus, taken in Osaka-fu, JapanCrocus sativus, taken in Osaka-fu, Japan
Author: KENPEI (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0-unported)

Crocus sativusCrocus sativus
Author: Liné1 (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0-unported)

Magnified view of Greek red crocus thread. Length is about 20mm.Magnified view of Greek red crocus thread. Length is about 20mm.
Author: Adamantios (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0-unported)

Iranian saffron threadsIranian saffron threads
Author: Rainer Zenz (public domain)

Seafood paellaSeafood paella
Author: Sandstein (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0-unported)

Tah-chin, a savory saffron rice-cake with a filling that is most usually marinated chicken fillets.Tah-chin, a savory saffron rice-cake with a filling that is most usually marinated chicken fillets.
Author: Waqcku (public domain)

 Index of 690 Plants in The Flowering Garden

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