Affiche: please click on every rolling album thumbnails see the clearly larger photos!Tel: +886-887-8818555 Mail: tiger82045@gmail.com
  • Saffron Crocus

  • Area: Shangri-La
  • Saffron (pronounced /ˈsæfrɒn/) is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus. Crocus is a genus in the family Iridaceae. Each saffron crocus grows to 20–30 cm (8–12 in) and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas, which are each the distal end of a carpel. Together with the styles, or stalks that connect the stigmas to their host plant, the dried stigmas are used mainly in various cuisines as a seasoning and colouring agent. Saffron, long among the world's most costly spices by weight, is native to Southwest Asiaand was first cultivated in 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.

History

The documented history of saffron cultivation spans more than three millennia.The wild precursor of domesticated saffron crocus was Crocus cartwrightianus. Human cultivators bred wild specimens by selecting for unusually long stigmas; thus, a sterile mutant form of C. cartwrightianus, C. sativus, likely emerged in late Bronze Age Crete.

Eastern
Buddhist adepts pray in the Hundred Dragons Hall, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, Singapore.Saffron was detailed in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal. Documentation of saffron's use over the span of 4,000 years in the treatment of some 90 illnesses has been uncovered. Saffron-based pigments have indeed been found in 50,000 year-old depictions of prehistoric places in northwest Iran.[38][39] The Sumerians later used wild-growing saffron in their remedies and magical potions. Saffron was an article of long-distance trade before the Minoan palace culture's 2nd millennium BC peak. Ancient Persians cultivated Persian saffron (Crocus sativus 'Hausknechtii') in Derbena, Isfahan, and Khorasan by the 10th century BC. At such sites, saffron threads were woven into textiles,ritually offered to divinities, and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and body washes. Saffron threads would thus be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy. Non-Persians also feared the Persians' usage of saffron as a drugging agent and aphrodisiac. During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander's troops imitated the practice from the Persians and brought saffron-bathing to Greece.

Conflicting theories explain saffron's arrival in South Asia. Kashmiri and Chinese accounts date its arrival anywhere between 900–2500 years ago. Historians studying ancient Persian records date the arrival to sometime prior to 500 BC, attributing it to either Persian transplantation of saffron corms to stock new gardens and parks or to a Persian invasion and colonization of Kashmir. Phoenicians then marketed Kashmiri saffron as a dye and a treatment for melancholy. Its use in foods and dyes subsequently spread throughout South Asia. Buddhist monks in India adopted saffron-coloured robes after the Gautama Buddha's death. This color is now used widely in all Buddhist countries. However, the robes were not dyed with costly saffron but turmeric, a less expensive dye, or jackfruit.Gamboge is now used to dye the robes.

Some historians believe that saffron came to China with Mongol invaders from Persia.Yet saffron is mentioned in ancient Chinese medical texts, including the forty-volume pharmacopoeia titled Shennong Bencaojing (神農本草經: "Shennong's Great Herbal", also known as Pen Ts'ao or Pun Tsao), a tome dating from 200–300 BC. Traditionally credited to the fabled Yan ("Fire") Emperor (炎帝) Shennong, it discusses 252 phytochemical-based medical treatments for various disorders. Nevertheless, around the 3rd century AD, the Chinese were referring to saffron as having a Kashmiri provenance. According to Chinese herbalist Wan Zhen, "[t]he habitat of saffron is in Kashmir, where people grow it principally to offer it to the Buddha." Wan also reflected on how it was used in his time: "The flower withers after a few days, and then the saffron is obtained. It is valued for its uniform yellow colour. It can be used to aromatise wine."

Western
Preserved "safran", Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Karlsruhe, Germany.
Saffron-based dyes frequently feature in medieval illuminated manuscripts, such as this 13th-century depiction of Thomas Becket's assassination.The Minoans portrayed saffron in their palace frescoes by 1500–1600 BC; they hint at its possible use as a therapeutic drug. Ancient Greek legends told of sea voyages to Cilicia, where adventurers sought what they thought to be the world's most valued threads.Another legend tells of Crocus and Smilax, whereby Crocus is bewitched and transformed into the first saffron crocus. Ancient perfumers in Egypt, physicians in Gaza, townspeople in Rhodes, and the Greek hetaerae courtesans used saffron in their scented waters, perfumes and potpourris, mascaras and ointments, divine offerings, and medical treatments.

In late Hellenistic Egypt, Cleopatra used saffron in her baths so that lovemaking would be more pleasurable. Egyptian healers used saffron as a treatment for all varieties of gastrointestinal ailments. Saffron was also used as a fabric dye in such Levantine cities as Sidon and Tyre.Aulus Cornelius Celsus prescribes saffron in medicines for wounds, cough, colic, and scabies, and in the mithridatium. Such was the Romans' love of saffron that Roman colonists took it with them when they settled in southern Gaul, where it was extensively cultivated until Rome's fall. Competing theories state that saffron only returned to France with 8th-century AD Moors or with the Avignon papacy in the 14th century AD.

European saffron cultivation plummeted after the Roman Empire went into eclipse. As with France, the spread of Islamic civilization may have helped reintroduce the crop to Spain and Italy. The 14th-century Black Death caused demand for saffron-based medicaments to peak, and large quantities of threads had to be imported via Venetian and Genoan ships from southern and Mediterranean lands such as Rhodes; the theft of one such shipment by noblemen sparked the fourteen-week long "Saffron War".The conflict and resulting fear of rampant saffron piracy spurred corm cultivation in Basel; it thereby grew prosperous.The crop then spread to Nuremberg, where endemic and insalubrious adulteration brought on the Safranschou code—whereby culprits were variously fined, imprisoned, and executed. The corms soon spread throughout England, especially Norfolk and Suffolk. The Essex town of Saffron Walden, named for its new specialty crop, emerged as England's prime saffron growing and trading center. However, an influx of more exotic spices—chocolate, coffee, tea, and vanilla—from newly contacted Eastern and overseas countries caused European cultivation and usage of saffron to decline.Only in southern France, Italy, and Spain did the clone significantly endure.

Europeans introduced saffron to the Americas when immigrant members of the Schwenkfelder Church left Europe with a trunk containing its corms; church members had widely grown it in Europe.By 1730, the Pennsylvania Dutch were cultivating saffron throughout eastern Pennsylvania. Spanish colonies in the Caribbean bought large amounts of this new American saffron, and high demand ensured that saffron's list price on the Philadelphia commodities exchange was set equal to that of gold.The trade with the Caribbean later collapsed in the aftermath of the War of 1812, when many saffron-bearing merchant vessels were destroyed.Yet the Pennsylvania Dutch continued to grow lesser amounts of saffron for local trade and use in their cakes, noodles, and chicken or trout dishes.American saffron cultivation survived into modern times mainly in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Trade and use

Trade
Almost all saffron grows in a belt bounded by the Mediterranean in the west and the rugged region encompassing Iran and disputed Kashmir in the east. The other continents, except Antarctica, produce smaller amounts. Some 300 t (300,000 kg) of dried whole threads and powder are gleaned yearly,of which 50 t (50,000 kg) is top-grade "coupe" saffron.Iran answers for around 90–93% of global production and exports much of it.A few of Iran's drier eastern and southeastern provinces, including Fars, Kerman, and those in the Khorasan region, glean the bulk of modern global production. In 2005, the second-ranked Greece produced 5.7 t (5,700.0 kg), while Morocco and Kashmir, tied for third rank, each produced 2.3 t (2,300.0 kg).[14] Nevertheless, Iranian crop yields and profit margins on a per-acre basis are relatively low; margins in Spain, followed by Greece and Italy, are far higher.

In recent years, Afghan cultivation has risen; in restive Kashmir it has declined.Azerbaijan, Morocco, and Italy are, in decreasing order, lesser producers. Prohibitively high labour costs and abundant Iranian imports mean that only select locales continue the tedious harvest in Austria, England, Germany, and Switzerland—among them the Swiss village of Mund, whose annual output is a few kilograms.Tasmania,China, Egypt, France, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Turkey (mainly around the town of Safranbolu), California, and Central Africa are microscale cultivators.

To glean an amount of dry saffron weighing 1 lb (450 g) is to harvest 50,000–75,000 flowers, the equivalent of an association football field's area of cultivation; 110,000–170,000 flowers or two football fields are needed to gross one kilogram.Forty hours of labour are needed to pick 150,000 flowers.Stigmas are dried quickly upon extraction and (preferably) sealed in airtight containers. Saffron prices at wholesale and retail rates range from US$500 to US$5,000 per pound, or US$1,100–11,000/kg, equivalent to £2,500/€3,500 per pound or £5,500/€7,500 per kilogram. The price in Canada recently rose to CAD 18,000 per kilogram. In Western countries, the average retail price is $1,000/£500/€700 per pound, or US$2,200/£1,100/€1,550 per kilogram.A pound comprises between 70,000 and 200,000 threads. Vivid crimson colouring, slight moistness, elasticity, and lack of broken-off thread debris are all traits of fresh saffron.

Use
Threads are soaked in hot—but not boiling—water for several minutes prior to use in cuisine. This helps release the beneficial components.Saffron's aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as hay-like and sweet. Saffron also contributes a luminous yellow-orange colouring to foods. Saffron is widely used in European, Arab, South and Central Asian, Persian, and Turkish cuisines. Confectioneries and liquors also often include saffron. Common saffron substitutes include safflower (Carthamus tinctorius, which is often sold as "Portuguese saffron" or "açafrão"), annatto, and turmeric (Curcuma longa). Saffron has also been used as a fabric dye, particularly in China and India, and in perfumery. It is used for religious purposes in India, and is widely used in cooking in many ethnic cuisines: these range, for example, from the Milanese risotto of Italy or the bouillabaise of France to biryani with various meat accompaniments in South Asia.

Saffron has a long medicinal history as part of traditional healing; modern medicine has also discovered saffron as having anticarcinogenic (cancer-suppressing), anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing), immunomodulating, and antioxidant-like properties.Saffron stigmas, and even petals, have been said to be helpful for depression. Early studies show that saffron may protect the eyes from the direct effects of bright light and retinal stress apart from slowing down macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.[81] (Most saffron-related research refers to the stigmas, but this is often not made explicit in research papers.)