Saffron is a spice derived from the stylus and stigmas of the Saffron crocus / Crocus sativus plant. This plant is considered to be native to Western Asia and the Mediterranean.
In India, we see mothers and mother in laws insisting the pregnant lady to take milk and saffron at night every day so that the baby is born with a fair complexion. I do not know how far this is true but this spice has been in use for as long as 3000 years!!!!
Saffron is acclaimed to be the most expensive spice in the world. This can be easily explained by the fact that its production is becoming rarer and it is labor intensive. It is said that 80,000 flowers yield just 500 grams of this spice!! Now we know why this is the most expensive spice….
Though it is so heavily priced it is considered as dear as Gold by herbalists and nutritionists. Here is why they are considered precious…
• Saffron has certain unique compounds like crocin and safrenel that are a part of the Carotenoid family. These compounds are also the reason behind its beautiful color. As we are aware, the carotenoids are important for proper vision. These compounds protect the eyes from the harmful Ultra violet rays and considerably slow down the progression of macular degeneration.
• Crocin and safranel also have anti tumor properties.
• Intake of saffron is said to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
• Saffron boosts immunity.
• There is good news for those suffering from Premenstrual symptoms syndrome. Saffron eases depression, and lowers the typical symptoms like mood swings, irritability etc.
• Saffron coats the membranes of the stomach and colon and aids in soothing the symptoms of colic and acidity.
• It is a blood purifier
• It possesses anti inflammatory properties.
• Saffron is said to be an excellent cure for insomnia.
• It decreases the chances of hardening of arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis.
• Saffron increases the oxygen content in the body and promotes the over all health and well being of the individual.
• It is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc , manganese , etc.
• It is also rich in nutrients like folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin C, etc.
• Last but not the least, when it is added to dishes, it makes it exotic, improves appetite and digestion
Just because it has so many health benefits, it should not be taken in huge doses. When used in foods as a flavoring / coloring agent, too much should not be used. Just a few strands are enough to bring out its qualities. Too much of it can cause bitterness of the dish.
Though in many cultures, saffron is taken with milk by pregnant women, saffron is said to be a uterine stimulant when taken in large doses. Hence it is advisable to seek medical advice before taking this spice during pregnancy.
Selection and storage
Buy saffron from authentic stores. Good quality saffron will be orange – yellow in color and each ‘thread’ will measure around 2-4 centimeters in length. It is always better to buy whole stigma instead of powdered saffron.
It should be stored in well sealed containers / boxes with tight fitting lids. Keep it in a cool dark place as sunlight oxidizes the pigments and changed the flavor of the spice.
As said earlier, Saffron is an expensive spice. But due to the fact that it used as an exotic spice in foods and for its noted health benefits, in spite of its hefty price tag, it often falls victim to adulteration. Imitation saffron strands are sold at the same price of original saffron! It may not be easy to detect the originality of the saffron at the store, but there is a simple test for it.
Soak a few strands of saffron in warm milk. If the milk colors golden red immediately then the saffron is fake. Original saffron takes at least 10-15 minutes for the color to develop.
Disclaimer: This article is not a medical advice.