Saffron- A History

Saffron- A History

Saffron features prominently in Persian and Mediterranean cuisine. You can’t possibly make a paella (the typical Spanish seafood and rice dish) or an Adas Polow ( a Persian dish consisting of rice, lentils and raisins) without saffron. Apart from its use in savory dishes, saffron is also used in cakes and other sweets.

Saffron, considered one of the world’s most expensive spices ( $1000-$1500 per pound) comes from the crocus sativa, a  wild crocus which grows predominantly in mild Mediterranean climates. You might ask yourself,  What makes saffron so expensive? Well, the expense is  the result of its labor intensive harvesting process, low yield, and a slow growing time.  It takes approximately three years for this particular crocus plant to produce flowers; each plant produces up to 4 flowers. Each flower in turn has only three stigma which need to be picked by hand. It takes about 70,000-80,000 stigma to make one pound of saffron.

Saffron has often played a prominent role in world history.  In ancient Egypt for example, it was used as an additive to perfume, as a dye and also as medicine. It also had a religious use: saffron cakes were used as offerings the gods.  In ancient Mesopotamia saffron was used as both an aromatic and as an aphrodisiac.  And, in the profitable spice trade of the Middle Ages it was considered among the most desired spices along with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.

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