Saffron

"Purple-flowered saffron is a wonderful plant to which nature has given a fascinating fragrance, pleasant flavor, a beautiful color, and a host of other qualities. Believed to have been originally native to the Mediterranean area, Asia Minor, and Iran, the saffron crocus has long been cultivated in Iran and was taken from this country to a number of other parts of the world as a result of trade after its high quality and distinctive properties were understood over centuries of its application."

Treasured for its golden-colored, pungent stigmas, which are dried used to flavor and color foods and as a dye, saffron cultivation is a particular Iranian agricultural product whose method of producing and preserving used to be an unspoken secret for many years in the hearts of the Iranian farmers who tried to limit its cultivation to within the confines of their own lands so that in this way they could keep its near monopoly.

With its strong, exotic aroma and bitter taste, saffron is named among the sweet-smelling herbs, the Song of Solomon.

A golden-colored water-soluble fabric dye was distilled from saffron stigmas in India in ancient times. Shortly after Buddha died, his priests made saffron the official color for their robes. The dye has been used for royal garments in several cultures.

"As a perfume, saffron was strewn in Greek and Roman halls, courts, theaters and balls; it became especially associated with the hetaerae, a professional class of Greek courtesans. The streets of Rome were sprinkled with saffron when Nero made his entry into the city."

Iran and Kashmir are among regions where saffron was cultivated for the first time, and its cultivation development in other parts of the world is regarded as a consequence of wars and conquests by foreign armies. When Spain was conquered by the Muslims some Products cultivable in territories under Muslim influence were taken there for cultivation in about 961 AD. Saffron is mentioned in an English leechbook, or healing manual of the 10th century but may have disappeared from Western Europe until reintroduced by the crusaders.

Saffron is supposed to have been introduced into China by the Mongol invasion that took its bulbs from Iran. It is mentioned in the Chinese material media (Pun tsaou 1552-78).

The above manner of dissemination has continued to this very day in different methods to regions whose climatic conditions allow for its cultivation. As the latest immigrants to the United States, some Iranians have taken up its cultivation in the state of California.

Saffron crocus, crocus sativus, is a bulbous perennial of the iris family (Iridaceae). Its plant has long and narrow leaves with no petiole and grows directly out of its bulb in dark green color. Its blossoms are usually seen in individual from but also grow occasionally in clusters.

Due to the long experience with the cultivation, and the transfer of growing and harvesting from person to person, or generation to generation, Iranian saffron has managed to keep its distinctive qualities in comparison with those produced in other regions of the world. That might also explain why Iranian saffron enjoys such an exceptional recognition for its fragrance, flavor and color at international markets.

A survey of the regions where saffron is grown will provide testimony to the fact that the knowledge of cultivating it, was transferred from Iran to other regions. In general, the cultivation centers of saffron are in those regions, which had political and commercial contacts with Iran.

The main saffron cultivation areas in Iran are in eastern and southeastern parts of the country. The Khorasan Province regions have managed to achieve an excellent position on the production and export of saffron over the years. To the extent that some 90% of saffron production in Iran is obtained from there. The Ghaenat region in this province is well known for its quality saffron.

There are other regions in Iran with a history of cultivation but their productions have been mainly for domestic consumption with minor role in the country ‘s export. These regions are in Fars Province, the Estahbanat mainly, and part of Kerman Province whose production is presently on the rise. In general, since the cultivation of saffron requires strong sunshine and warm climate with clayey or sandy land, the eastern part of Iran has an especially suitable environment for its cultivation, the land area under cultivation in Kerman is estimated at 6,000 hectares.

 Saffron cultivation is done on a cyclical basis, and that after the lapse of seven to nine years, the land in question should be switched to another crop such as grains for a period of approximately seven years so that the land can restore its lost nutrients.

Studies done on the production of saffron indicate that the maturity or age of land has a direct bearing on the volume of production, and that after the lapse of approximately seven years from the outset of cultivation, the land’s productivity begins to decline. However the average harvest from every hectare of land is between 20 to 25 kg under normal conditions. Between the second and the seventh year, the production would fluctuate from 5 to 20 kg per hectare, and that from every 1,000 grams of flower, some one percent or 10 grams of saffron is obtained.

The harvest of saffron requires extensive manpower, and is generally regarded as a labor-intensive endeavor and includes three as follows.

The harvest of saffron crop begins with picking of the blossoms and separating the stigmas from them. The harvest period is traditionally from late September to the late December. The process should begin early in the morning before sunrise, and the period within which the blossoms are at their maximum are from 15 to 20 days. The stigmas thus collected are placed in shade in a warm and dried room for five to seven days in order to dry. In some cases the drying is done in a ritual of roasting. And finally, after the stigmas are dry, they are variously packed and stored away from Light and humidity.

Saffron is a sweet-smelling herb with a strong exotic aroma and a bitter taste. It is used to color and flavor a great number of dishes. It is used to extensively in pharmaceutical industry and a number of others.

Saffron has been used over the centuries as a natural coloring and aromatic in food, pastries and drinks. It is used in the making of tonic and digestive liqueurs to which it adds its golden color, as well as its lovely taste and smell. It is used in the Mediterranean and Oriental dishes particularly rice, chicken and fishes. It is also used in the preparation of special kinds of English, Scandinavian and Balkan breads. In general, saffron can be used as a value adding and important ingredient of any good style or custom of cooking or eating, with no limitations in its use.

Following is  a more comprehensive information about saffron


Saffron is the flower known scientifically as Crocus sativus L.  The Encyclopedia Americana states that this word derives from the Greek Corycus , the name of an area in Cilicia in the eastern Mediterranean.  Some believe saffron to have originated in the Media of ancient Iran (7th century BC); others believe it has its origins in a wider area of the earth including Greece, turkey, Asia Minor and Iran. Saffron, Crocus sativus Linnaeus, is a stem less perennial grass plant with a round sub-soil corm of 3-5cm diameter. Each corm produces 6 to 8 leaves similar to grass weeds.  The short sprinkle roots grow at the base and circumference of the corm .  i

The first part to appear in early autumn is the flower. The flower consists of three sepals and  three petals of the same lilac color which makes them hardly distinguishable. There are three stamens, and filaments are twice as long as the anthers.  Out of the single-ovule ovary in the center of the flower grows a long thin style of a light yellow color which ends in a triple stigma of 2-3 cm length and bright orange red color.  It is the dried stigmas (and style) that saffron the spice consists of. The stigmas of the saffron flower contain many chemical substances.  There are carbohydrates, minerals, musilage, vitamins (especially riboflavin and thiamin) and pigments including crocin, anthocianin, carotene, lycopene and zigzantin.  i

There is also an aromatic essence turpenic(safranal), and picrocrocin which gives saffron its distinctive flavor.

Saffron flowers are normally harvested in mid auntumn.  The flowers are picked by hand.  The flowers begin to grow after the first irrigation. The blooming period in southern Khorasan is usually late October to late November, and of course this depends on environmental and farming conditions.  Harvest is completed in at most twenty days. i

In the food processing industry saffron is used as a colorant in sausages, margarine, butter, cheese and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  It is also used for coloring and flavor in ice-cream and sauces and dressings.

It has also been used in the treatment of ailments such as dysentery, measles, enlargement of the liver and gall bladder and urological infections .

Botany

Saffron, Crocus sativas Linnaeus, is a stemless perennial grass plant with a round sub-soil corm of 3-5cm diameter.

Each corm produces 6 to 8 leaves similar to grass weeds. The short sprinkle roots grow at the base and circumference of the corm .

The first part to appear in early autamn is the flower. However, in the first year after planting, because the corms are too weak and not properly established in the deep soil yet, the flower buds are not stong enough to develop and even the leaves come out later than usual. The flower consists of three sepals and three petals of the same lilac color which makes them hardly distinguishable.

There are three stamens with filaments twice as long as the anthers. Out of the single-ovule ovary in the center of the flower grows a long thin style of a light yellow color which ends in a triple stigma of 2-3 cm length and bright orange red color. It is the dried style and stigmas that or saffron the spice.

The anatomy of saffron is shown in the illustration.

 

Chemical Composition

The stigmas of the saffron flower contain many chemical substances.  There are carbohydrates, minerals, musilage, vitamins (especially riboflavin and thiamin) and pigments including crocin, anthocianin, carotene, lycopene and zigzantin. 

 There is also an aromatic essence turpenic (safranal), and picrocrocin which gives saffron its distinctive flavor.

 The saffron stigma, which is what basically forms commercial saffron, has a distinct and unique color, flavor and aroma and some of the groups of chemical compounds responsible for each of these properties have now been identified.

Saffron quality is based on color, taste, and aroma.  

 Color

Saffron’s coloring power is mainly produced by crocin (chemical composition: C44   H64   O24), which is one of the few naturally occurring  carotenoids easily soluble in water.

 This water solubility is one of the reasons for its widely preferred application as a colorant in food and medicine.

 Chemical Composition of Crocin:  In addition to crocin saffron contains aglicon crocetin as a free agent and small amounts of  the pigment anthocianin.  There are also oil soluble pigments including alphacarotene, betacarotene and zegxantin.  One of the most important parameters in evaluating the quality of saffron is its coloring power, which is determined by measuring by spectrophotometry the amount of coloring factors present at 443 nanometers. 

Flavor

The principal element giving saffron its special “bitter” flavor is the glycosid picrocrocin (C16 H26 O7).  This bitter tasting substance can be crystalized and produces glucose and the aldehyde safranal by hydrolysis.   

Aroma

Saffron has a strong aroma which is produced by certain special volatile oils and essences.  The main aroma factor in saffron is safranal, which comprises about 60% of the volatile components of saffron.  In fresh saffron this substance exists as stable picrocrocin but as a result of heat and the passage of time it decomposes releasing the volatile aldehyde saffranal. 

Chemical composition of safranal : safranal is a volatile liquid oil which produces a light yellow spot in water vapor and is readily soluble in ethanol, methanol and petroleam ether. 

In order to extract the ethereal oils of saffron it is dissolved in pure water and distilled in a CO2 current.  The distillate is separated with ether, which is then removed by heat.  The oil obtained is a yellow liquid with a strong aroma of saffron.  This substance is a terpen, which is highly susceptible to oxidization and must be stored under special conditions.

 

lassification is based on the purity of saffron stigmas, and how close to the yellow styles stigmas are cut. The more styles present in the mix the lower grade saffron would be. In general, there are three classification

1. Sargol Comes in two qualities, in one stigmas are cut short with very little styles left with an average coloring strength of 215, the other stigmas are cut free from any style, therefore it would have shorter length of stigmas but higher coloring strength of 240 or more. This is the best saffron available, and it is the brand we carry.

  

2.Pushally red stigmas are joined and attached to yellow styles, hence lower coloring strength.

 

3.Dasteh red stigmas attached to the whole styles grouped together, this would yield the lowest coloring strength. 

 

Saffron Uses

Properties, Applications and Uses

Because of its chemical composition saffron has unique qualities and properties.  It is a rich source of the  B  group of vitamins, especially riboflavin.  But more important perhaps are its properties of color, aroma and taste.  The coloring agent crocin is readily soluble in water and it is this water solubility that makes it preferred to other carotenoids as a colorant for food and medicine.

 Uses

In the food processing industry saffron is used as a colorant in sausages, margarine, butter, cheese and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  It is also used for coloring and flavor in ice-cream and sauces and dressings.

Medicinal Uses

Since anciant times saffron has been considered to have a number of therapeutic properties.  It has been used as a sedatives, a tonic, a stimulant of the stomach and an expectorant.

 It has also been used in the treatment of ailments such as dysentery, measles, enlargement of the liver and gall bladder and urological infections .

 The effects of the compounds in saffron on certain types of cancer are being studied and positive results have been obtained in experiments on lab animals.

 

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