10 Surprising facts about saffron

10 Surprising facts about saffron
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Probably, not everyone knows that saffron is the three crimson stigmas of the crocus flower.

With its captivating beauty, the crocus flower is a stunning testament of spring, a symbol of hope and renewal. It offers a promise of brighter days to come, inspiring us to embrace change, embrace resilience, and cherish the fleeting moments of life’s most precious gifts. And saffron does the same to us.

10 Surprising facts about saffron

10 Surprising facts about saffron

10 Surprising facts about saffron1

Saffron has been used for millennia

Since 1,000 B.C., in Ancient Egypt saffron was greatly valued as a perfume and as a dye. It could be used in embalming and coloring of shrouds where the mummies were covered – the females in yellow and the males in red. Saffron is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and the Old Testament, in the Song of Songs, as a precious spice and has featured as a dye and fragrance throughout written history. In ancient Greece and Rome saffron was used to color wedding clothes.


Each crocus flower has three crimson stigmas

10 Surprising facts about saffronEach crocus flower features three vivid crimson stigmas, which are the saffron threads. So, one flower only produces a few precious threads, and it takes a large number of flowers to yield a relatively small amount of saffron.


Saffron is produced manually

10 Surprising facts about saffronSaffron production involves a meticulous and hand-labor-intensive process.

  • Crocus flowers are collected manually. Crocus flower harvesting is usually done early in the morning when the flowers have just bloomed and the stigmas are fresh and fully developed.
  • Separation: After harvesting, skilled workers delicately pluck the stigmas using their fingertips or small scissors.
  • Drying: The freshly harvested threads are carefully spread out in a thin layer on trays or screens and placed in a well-ventilated area to dry. Traditionally, this drying process takes place in a dark, cool room or under the shade of the sun. It can take several days for the saffron threads to dry completely.

10 Surprising facts about saffron4

Jaw dropping numbers

  • To glean 1 kilogram of dry saffron requires the harvest of 110,000–170,000 flowers. The flowers have to be individually hand-picked when they fully open.
  • 40 hours of labour are needed to pick 150,000 flowers. Stigmas are dried quickly upon extraction and have to be sealed in airtight containers.
  • Saffron prices at wholesale and retail rates range from $1,100 to $11,000 per kilogram. A pound contains between 70,000 and 200,000 threads. Vivid crimson coloring, slight moistness, elasticity, and lack of broken-off thread debris are all traits of fresh saffron.
  • Iran is responsible for around 45% of global production.

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Saffron – world’s most expensive spice

10 Surprising facts about saffronSaffron is considered the world’s most expensive spice due to several factors that contribute to its high cost:

  1. Hand Labor-Intensive Harvesting: The process of harvesting saffron is extremely labor-intensive. Saffron threads are handpicked from each individual crocus flower. It takes a significant amount of time and effort to harvest a large quantity of saffron, as each flower only produces a few precious threads. The delicate nature of the process and the precision required contribute to the high labor costs associated with saffron production.
  2. Low Yield: Each saffron crocus flower produces only three stigmas, which are the saffron threads used as the spice. It takes a substantial number of flowers to obtain a significant amount of saffron. It is estimated that around 150,000 saffron flowers are needed to produce just one kilogram of saffron spice. The limited yield per flower adds to the scarcity and cost of saffron.
  3. Time-Sensitive Harvesting: Saffron must be harvested at precisely the right time when the flowers are in full bloom. The timing is critical, as the stigmas need to be picked before they wilt and lose their quality. This narrow window of harvest, usually in the early morning hours, requires quick and skilled work, contributing to the overall cost of saffron production.
  4. Geographical Limitations: Saffron cultivation is geographically limited to specific regions with suitable climate and soil conditions. Almost all saffron grows in a belt from Spain in the west to India in the east. Iran is responsible for around 45% of global production. The cultivation of saffron requires specific temperature variations, well-drained soil, and a sunny climate. The limited geographical availability and specific growing conditions further contribute to the scarcity and high cost of saffron.
  5. Unique Flavor and Properties: Saffron possesses a distinct and captivating flavor, aroma, and vibrant color that cannot be easily replicated. It is highly valued for its ability to enhance the taste and appearance of dishes, making it a sought-after ingredient in various cuisines around the world. The unique combination of flavor, aroma, and color, along with its cultural significance, increases the demand and value of saffron.

10 Surprising facts about saffronConsidering the labor-intensive harvesting process, low yield per flower, time sensitivity, geographical limitations, and the unique characteristics of saffron, its scarcity and high production costs contribute to its status as the most expensive spice in the world.


Health benefits of phytochemical safranal

10 Surprising facts about saffronSaffron contains phytochemicals such as crocin, crocetin, and safranal. Saffron’s unique taste and aroma result from safranal and carotenoid crocin is responsible for a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles. But many scientific studies suggest that safranal also has strong antioxidant properties. It exhibits high antioxidant and free radical scavenging activity, along with cytotoxicity towards cancer cells. One of its anticancer mechanisms of action involves disruption of the normal assembly dynamics of cellular microtubules. Safranal is an effective anticonvulsant. It has also been shown to have antidepressant properties. There is some evidence to suggest that saffron helps with depression.


Beauty benefits of saffron

10 Surprising facts about saffronSince time immemorial, saffron has been used for female beauty. It is said that Cleopatra, the ancient Egyptian queen known for her beauty, used saffron in her skincare regimen. She reportedly added saffron to her milk baths for its skin-enhancing properties.


Saffron plays a significant role in many cultures

10 Surprising facts about saffronSaffron plays a significant role in various cultures around the world, often revered for its culinary, medicinal, and cultural significance:

  • Persian culture: Saffron holds immense importance in Persian cuisine, where it is considered the “red gold.” It is a key ingredient in traditional Persian dishes such as saffron rice (polow), saffron-infused stews (khoresht), and saffron-flavored desserts like saffron ice cream (bastani) and saffron-scented rice pudding (sholeh zard). Saffron is also used in Persian tea, spices, and traditional herbal medicine, as well as in cultural rituals and ceremonies.
  • India: Saffron is highly valued in Indian cuisine and is used to enhance the flavor and color of a wide range of dishes. It is a prominent ingredient in popular Indian recipes like biryani, kheer (rice pudding), and various sweets. Saffron is also used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine and is believed to have medicinal properties such as promoting digestion, improving mood, and enhancing complexion. In Indian culture, saffron is associated with spirituality and is used as an offering in religious ceremonies and rituals.
  • Spain: Saffron is an integral part of Spanish cuisine, particularly in the region of Valencia. It is a key ingredient in the famous Spanish dish, paella, giving it its distinctive yellow color and unique flavor. Saffron is also used in Spanish desserts, such as saffron-infused custards and cakes. In Spain, saffron has cultural and historical significance and is associated with festivals and traditions, including the annual La Tomatina festival in Buñol, where participants throw tomatoes and saffron at each other.
  • Middle East: Saffron is widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine, adding a rich aroma and golden color to dishes. It is a common ingredient in dishes like rice pilaf, saffron-infused teas, and sweets like baklava. Saffron is also valued for its medicinal properties in traditional Middle Eastern medicine, where it is believed to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and mood-enhancing effects. It is used in celebrations, weddings, and religious ceremonies.
  • Mediterranean and European Cultures: There, saffron has historical significance Saffron is used in Italian risotto, French bouillabaisse, and Swedish saffron buns (lussekatter). In European traditions, saffron is associated with festive occasions, such as Christmas and Easter, and is used in special dishes and pastries.


Saffron robes of Buddhist monks

10 Surprising facts about saffronSince ancient times, Buddhist monks and Hindu ascetics have been wearing saffron robes. The color stands for the renunciation of material life, which is an integral part of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. Saffron contains a carotenoid pigment, crocin, which gives a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles.


Saffron Bahubali statue

10 Surprising facts about saffronBahubali is a much revered figure in Jainism, one of the ancient religions in India. Carved out of a single block of granite, his colossal, 17m high, monolithic statue majestically stands on top of a hill in Shravanabelagola (160km from Bangalore, India). During Jain Festival the Bahubali Statue becomes golden due to pouring saffron water over it.

10 Surprising facts about saffron

10 Surprising facts about saffron

10 Surprising facts about saffron

10 Surprising facts about saffron

10 Surprising facts about saffron

10 Surprising facts about saffron

10 Surprising facts about saffron



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