Saffron Flowers (Crocus Sativus)
Saffron, which is known as one of the most expensive spices by weight, is derived from Crocus sativus or the saffron flower. The saffron strands are basically the crimson styles and stigmas of the flowers, which are collected and dried over a period.
Common Name: Saffron | Scientific Name: Crocus
This perhaps is the costliest spice in the world by weight and is believed to be first cultivated in Greece, followed by Eurasia, North Africa, North America and Oceania. Saffron’s unique taste and the hay-like fragrance are mainly due to the presence of chemicals such as safranal and picrocrocin. The golden yellow hue is due to a carotenoid pigment called crocin. The spice isn’t a new discovery and in fact, in trade and use for over five millennia now. Iran is the largest exporter of saffron and accounts for over 90 percent of the spice of the world production.
The Saffron Flower in India
Saffron crocus or Crocus sativus is a perennial plant. The flowers bloom in autumn. The flower has always been a centre of attraction and research. The plant has been a part of the artificial selection in a quest to grow longer stigmas. Apart from Greece, the credit to its extension to the other parts of the world such as in Eurasia goes to genetic monomorphic cloning. Human intervention also becomes important because the flower is sterile and can’t produce viable seeds. They depend on human assistance to be divided and replanted. The flowers bloom in the month of October and are red-orange in colour. The flowers have a sweet, almost honey-like fragrance. Each plant would bear up to four flowers and each flower would sport a red stigma.
An average of 30 mg saffron can be yielded from a freshly plucked saffron flower. When dried, the quantity of saffron is reduced to only 7 mg. To yield 1 gram of dry saffron strands, 150 saffron flowers are needed and to get up to a kilogram of dry saffron strands, about 170,000 flowers are needed and which in turn, would require forty hours of manual labour.
Types of Saffron
The quality, colour and taste of saffron are different in every country and mainly depend on their method of picking and drying the stigma. Spanish saffron is milder in colour, flavour and aroma whereas Italian varieties are much better. The best, undoubtedly, is the Iranian saffron. Saffron flowers are now available in various boutique species in various parts of the world such as England, New Zealand, France and the United States. The premium quality saffron is grown in organic content and has a high amount of compounds like crocin and safranal. Such types of saffron threads might also have a potent aroma, flavour and different thread shape.
Back home in India, Kashmiri saffron is the most popular. It is also known as Lacha or Mongra. It is very difficult to obtain given the crop failures, weather extremities and droughts. It has dark maroon hue, which is also the world’s darkest hue for the crop. No wonder, it also has strong aroma and colour.