Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
This article is about the spice. For other uses, see Saffron (disambiguation)
Saffron is the name given to the dried stigmata and part of the style of the saffron crocus, traditionally called Crocus sativus, which are harvested, dried, and used for cooking. Saffron has a pleasant spicy smell, and it contains a dye that colors food a distinctive deep golden colour. Safflower, Carthamus tinctorius, is often used as a less expensive substitute for saffron, as is turmeric, Curcuma longa, which mimics saffron's color well but has a very different flavour.
In European cuisine, saffron is, for example, used in many Spanish recipes, including paella and Fabada Asturiana, and in the most famous saffron-based Italian dish, the risotto alla milanese. Outside Europe, it is a vital ingredient of many Indian, Arabian and Central Asian dishes. In herbal medicine, saffron is used for its eupeptic , carminative, and emmenagogic properties.
The saffron crocus is a natural chromosome mutation, a sterile triploid variant of an eastern Mediterranean autumn-flowering crocus, C. cartwrightianus, that may have originated in Crete. Being sterile, the plant must be propagated by human aid, lifting and dividing the corms.
Saffron stigma found in Sumerian sites provide evidence that saffron was an article of long-distance trade before the Minoan palace-culture reached a peak in the 2nd millennium BC. Written records show that saffron has been used medicinally in the treatment of 90 illnesses for over four millennia. According to recent research based on Minoan frescoes on the island of Santorini in the Aegean, saffron may have been used as a medicine in the 15th century BC. Persian Saffron (Crocus sativus var. Hausknechtii) was cultivated at Derbena and Isfahan in Iran in the 10th Century.
The word "saffron" in English is also used for a shade of yellow as well as to refer to the plant. Though it is the most expensive spice in the world, saffron has also been used as a fabric dye. Traditionally, clothes colored by this particularly luminous dye were worn by the noble classes, giving the plant a ritualized caste significance.
Spain, India, and Iran are producers of saffron. Saffron is expensive because of the difficulty of extracting the stigmata of the crocus individually by hand and the number of croci it takes to make up a given weight, because the aromatic parts are so small. A pound (1/2 kg) of saffron requires approximately 35,000 - 100,000 flowers - depending on the size of each stigma; each crocus contributes three.
Saffron is, at least superficially, the subject of Donovan's song "Mellow Yellow".
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