Saffron is said to be one of the most expensive and valued spices in the world. This article provides a brief insight on the history, uses, and benefits, of this wonderfully flavored spice.
It is derived from the flower ‘saffron crocus’, which belongs to the species Crocus sativus and family Iridaceae. The threads or filaments of this spice are the dried stigmas of this breathtakingly beautiful, royal purple flower. Each flower contains only three stigmas. Thousands of saffron crocus flowers are required to produce just one pound of threads. This makes it one of the most expensive spices. It is native to the Mediterranean, but is now grown in countries including India, China, Turkey, and Iran.
The history of saffron’s cultivation dates back to more than 3,000 years, and is believed to have originated in Greece or Asia Minor (now part of Turkey). The Babylonians used it for healing and coloring purposes, while the ancient Greeks and Romans sprayed water that was infused with its powder to scent their banquet halls and theaters.
The ancient Egyptians used to burn the same powder during religious ceremonies, considering it as auspicious. As per biblical tradition, it was one of the most sweet-smelling plants that grew in King Solomon’s gardens.
Well-known for its sweet taste, this spice is used sparingly due to its strong coloring (orange/yellow) power and intense flavor. Moreover, since it has an intense coloring property, flavor, and aroma, a very little quantity is required to create the desired effect on a dish. This spice is commonly used to color and flavor different dessert recipes, rice dishes, etc. All you have to do is soak a pinch of it in a cup of warm water, broth, wine, or milk. The liquid is then added to a dish. This gives the food a rich, exotic look, and flavor.
Considering the various health benefits of this spice, we can say that it is worthy of its price. It contains antispasmodic, diaphoretic, carminative, and sedative properties. Hence, it can be used to cure or prevent many health problems. It also helps in reducing the risks of heart disease by strengthening the blood circulatory system. Being high in minerals like thiamine and riboflavin, it promotes a healthy heart and prevents different cardiac problems. For this, one needs to drink a cup of hot milk containing a pinch of saffron, daily.
To prepare this healthy drink, take one cup milk and bring it to boil. Now, add a pinch of this spice and reduce the heat. Let it simmer for 2-3 minutes, before taking it off the heat. Pour this into glasses and drink while it’s warm.
This multipurpose spice also acts as a mood booster. It helps to overcome mood swings and clears the mind. All you need to do is add a pinch of it in 3 oz. of spirit (50% alcohol), store the mixture in a jar for 2 weeks, and then drink it. Besides these health benefits, it has been associated with other numerous healing effects. It is used for treating bladder, kidney, and liver disorders, even diabetes. It also helps to combat tumors, relieve certain side effects of chemotherapy, and overcome the effects of brain degeneration due to alcohol abuse. The spice is also used to treat arthritis, asthma, fever, and depression. It also acts as an antidote for premenstrual syndrome.
Though saffron is available in both thread and powder form, it is better to purchase it as strands, since they contain better aroma and flavor. Always buy whole dried threads from a genuine brand, as they offer a deep orange color and a delectable flavor when used in different recipes. Apart from these, it is extremely important to store the threads in an airtight container and placed in a cool dry place.