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saffron

Saffron: What You Need To Know About This Golden Spice

Saffron (Crocus sativus) is an Asian herb, and the world’s most expensive spice, commonly used for culinary purposes.

Saffron spice is made from dried stigmas of the crocus’ flower. This spice has a rich history, having been used by ancient Egyptians and Greeks both as a spice and a medicine.

Traditionally, saffron was used to relieve symptoms of fever, menstrual disorders, epilepsy and problems associated with the digestive system. However, this spice has slowly dominated the kitchen, with countless recipes using it as an essential ingredient.

How to Identify Saffron

Saffron
Saffron (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saffron has a rich red-orange color when used in liquids, and it gives dishes and baked items a rich yellow color. This is one of the main reasons why this spice is used for culinary purposes, in addition to its aromatic properties. When buying saffron, here are a few insights into buying the real stuff:

  • If you are on the go and want to buy saffron, you may probably find it powdered. To ascertain that the powder is indeed saffron, take a pinch and stir it in warm water. If the water is instantly colored, the powder is not genuine saffron. The authentic spice should take at least ten minutes to color the water since it takes some time to infuse.
  • Red stigmas mixed with yellow styles.
    Red stigmas and yellow styles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    If you prefer the strands, it is good to learn how to identify high quality saffron. The quality of this golden spice is evident in the color of the stigmas. A high intensity of the color red means that the spice is of high quality, which also translates to a high price. However, to avoid buying dyed counterfeits at exorbitant prices, ascertain that the tips are a lighter red compared to the rest of the strand.

A saffron crocus flower.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To identify fresh saffron, one should know the basic characteristics of the plant. Crocus sativus is in the family of the Iridaceous plants. It grows to about 20 or 30 cm, and bears a maximum of 4 purple flowers per plant. Each flower bears only three bright crimson stigmas, which are connected to the carpel, along with the stalks. The flower emits a characteristic hay-like fragrance, which is hard to miss.

How Can You Get the Best Out of Saffron?

From simple preparation, crush a few strands of saffron and soak them in hot liquid for a minimum of 15 minutes. This allows enough time to infuse and give out maximum color and fragrance. The resulting mixture can be used in small quantities in teas, soups, pastries, confectionary and meals.

It is important to remember that saffron should be taken in minimal amounts. When using saffron as a spice, use only a few strands or a few drops of infused saffron. Too much of the spice makes meals and drinks bitter, and leave a medicine-like after taste.

What Are the Benefits of Using Saffron?

Since this is the most expensive spice, anyone would think twice before making a purchase. However, before you decide not to use it, here is a list of the benefits you will miss out on.

Saffron was, and still is, used relieve symptoms of troubled digestive system. It is a natural remedy for low appetite, nausea and vomiting, as well as diarrhea. It also offers relief from a bloated stomach and acidity. A few drops of the infused saffron in tea, soup or juice are enough.

The bright red-orange color characteristic of the spice is proof of the presence of carotenoids. This is a chemical that is vital for strong bones and healthy eyes. According to recent studies, this herb has enough of the carotenoids to cure arthritis and prevent blindness in old age. It also offers improved vision to people suffering from cataracts.

This golden spice is a mild antidepressant. This makes it the perfect remedy for mild and moderate depression. This property also helps to relieve sleep disorders such as insomnia. A small pinch of saffron powder taken in milk should suffice.

Traditionally, this spice was used to relieve menstrual conditions and regulate the periods. It can also be used to relieve muscle pains and spasms. This herb also clears any clotting in the uterine system, which can lead to excessive bleeding. Pregnant women are, therefore, advised to take this spice in extremely minimal quantities.

Saffron is an antioxidant. Therefore it is very useful in the prevention of cancer. It also relieves fever and acne, and boosts memory and blood circulation. It is a natural aphrodisiac, effective in both men and women.

Keep in mind that saffron is the most expensive spice, which makes it a perfect target for counterfeiters. When using this herb, ensure that you use the genuine one, not an adulterated version.