Latin name: Crocus sativus

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”. Saffron crocus grows to 20–30 cm (8–12 in) and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas, which are the distal end of a carpel. Together with the styles—stalks that connect each stigma to their respective ovary—the dried stigmas are used in culinary applications as a seasoning and colouring agent. Saffron, long among the world’s most costly spices by weight, was probably first cultivated near Greece. As a genetically monomorphic clone, it was slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia and was later brought to parts of North Africa, North America, and Oceania.

Saffron’s taste and iodoform- or hay-like fragrance result from the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a carotenoid pigment, crocin, which imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles. Its recorded history is attested in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical treatise compiled under Ashurbanipal, and it has been traded and used for over four millennia. Iran now accounts for approximately 90% of the world production of saffron.

A degree of uncertainty surrounds the origin of the English word “saffron”. It might be derived from the 12th-century Old French term safran, which comes from the Latin word safranum or from Arabic ṣafra. These words all share a common root, srăf/ṣafrā, meaning “yellow”. Safranum comes from the adjective rang ( Persian : reng , “red-orange”) or safar (“yellow”). The root of these terms is Proto-Indo-European *sap-, meaning “seep”, “ooze” or “fluid”, with the actual derivation being horizontal root extension *sep-.

Amoracce and amorach are etymologically related to saffron. They come from Middle English and Old French respectively and both refer to celandine, the yellow-flowered herb native to southwestern Asia, which Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder described as having a root that “is much like saffron”. Theophrastus’s Enquiry into Plants gives a source for amoracia and amorache in Western Asia. Saffron was used as a dye price of gold on clothing in 14th century England.

Saffron from Iran, the largest producer of saffron, is classified into various grades according to its crocin content (the main active ingredient), safranal content and other proportions. More than 95% of the world’s saffron is Iranian Saffron also called Kashmiri Saffron or Iranian Red Gold. There are three grades of Iranian saffron: “sargol” (red gold), which consists of the red stigmas; “pushal” or “bunch” saffron, which consists of a tiny portion of the yellow style in addition to the stigmas; and “konge”, which is reddish-brown in colour and includes parts of the flower.

Kashmiri Saffron has very long, thick and deep crimson stigmas with orange pistils that give it its rich hue, aroma, bitterness and exceptional coloring strength – up to 250 times stronger than turmeric. Kashmir Saffron is also known for having fewer bitter undertones making it more palatable than other types of saffrons.

The two main producers of Kashmir Saffron are the Pampore region south of Srinagar and the village of Aiwen in Budgam district. According to official statistics, about 150 metric tons (330,000 lb) of dry saffron are produced each year, the majority from Iran with 75 to 80 tonnes (170,000 to 180,000 lb), but somewhat less from Kashmir; however, these figures do not reflect the large informal market.

The crocus is a member of the Iris family and is an early-flowering plant known for its deep crimson stigma which are actually dried stigmas or threads. The saffron crocus bears up to 20 flowers which must be carefully hand-picked and then the stigmas must be painstakingly separated from the other parts of the flower. It takes approximately 150 flowers to produce just one gram (0.035 oz) of dry saffron threads.

The plant grows best in well-drained soil rich in limestone. The corms are planted in the autumn and bloom in the spring. Once the flowers have been pollinated, they wither and die and the corms enter a resting phase before resuming growth in late summer. Once the corm has finished blooming, it is dug up, dried and then replanted for the next season.

Saffron has been used as a seasoning, fragrance and colouring agent for thousands of years. In ancient times, it was used as a medicine and was even believed to have magical powers. The first recorded use of saffron was in the 15th century BC in Egypt where it was used as an ingredient in perfumes. It was also used by the ancient Greeks and Romans who used it to flavour their food and dye their clothes.

Saffron was introduced to China in the 7th century AD by Buddhist monks and it quickly became a prized ingredient in Chinese cuisine. Saffron is still used extensively in Chinese cooking, particularly in Cantonese and Sichuan dishes.

Saffron is also popular in Indian cuisine where it is used to flavour rice, curries and other dishes. In India, saffron is known as “kesar” or “zaffran”.

Saffron is used in a variety of Middle Eastern dishes such as rice, stews and soups. It is also used to flavour baked goods such as biscuits, cakes and pastries.

In Europe, saffron is most commonly used in Spanish and Italian cooking. It is used to flavour paella, risotto, bouillabaisse and other seafood dishes. Saffron is also used in many French dishes such as coq au vin and bouillabaisse.

Saffron is a very popular ingredient in Scandinavian baking where it is used to flavour a variety of breads, cakes and pastries.

Saffron is available throughout the year but it is at its peak in autumn.

Benefits:

Saffron is rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties.

Saffron can help to improve digestion and can also help to relieve gas and bloating.

Saffron can help to boost cognitive function and memory.

Saffron may help to improve mood and reduce anxiety.

Saffron can be used as a natural treatment for insomnia.

Saffron may help to protect against age-related cognitive decline.

Saffron may help to lower blood pressure and improve heart health.

Risks:

Saffron may interact with certain medications, so it is important to speak to a healthcare professional before taking saffron supplements.

Interaction:

With other drugs Saffron may interact with certain medications, such as those used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. Saffron may also interact with blood thinners, heart medications and diabetes medications. It is important to speak to a healthcare professional before taking saffron supplements.

Possible side effects:

High doses of saffron can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Saffron can also cause skin irritation. If you experience any adverse effects after taking saffron, stop taking the supplement and speak to a healthcare professional.

Saffron is a spice that has been used for thousands of years in a variety of cuisines around the world.

Dosage:

Saffron supplements are available in capsules, tablets and liquid form. The recommended dose is 300-600mg per day.

It is important to speak to a healthcare professional before taking saffron supplements.

Precautions:

Saffron may interact with certain medications, so it is important to speak to a healthcare professional before taking saffron supplements.