What is saffron? Saffron has the distinction of being the most expensive spice in the world. Composed of the dried stigmas of the crocus sativus flower, this spice has an acrid taste and a sharp odor. Saffron is sold in two forms: the threads and as a powder. What makes saffron so valuable is the fact that only three stigmas form in each flower and more than 75,000 flowers are necessary to yield one pound of saffron threads.
History of Saffron
While originating in Asia Minor, the growing belt for saffron stretches from southern European countries into the Middle East and near Far East. In ancient Rome and Egypt saffron was used as a spice, dye, perfume, and medicine. Purportedly, Cleopatra used the spice to add color to her face and ladies of the English court tinted their hair with it. Monks have used it in religious ceremonies and, allegedly, saffron grew in King Solomon’s gardens. Returning Crusaders brought saffron to Europe where it was not only used in cooking but also used as incense.
What is Saffron in Cooking
Before answering “what is saffron” in cooking, it should be noted that the spice should be used sparingly since its taste is so pungent and will strengthen over time. The spice should be allowed to soak in hot water because heat releases its flavor. It can be allowed to steep directly in broths and soups but should soak for a minimum of two hours. Saffron can be ground or crushed to impart its spicy tang to several types of foods. An appropriate spice to use with seafood such as bouillabaisse, it is also used in a marinade for fish along with garlic, thyme and vinegar. The spice can also be used in tomato-based sauces, soups, rice dishes, and beef stew. Saffron is also incorporated in some baked breads and pastries. Besides its intense flavor, this spice also lends a yellowish-orange hue to the dishes it graces.
For a unique flavor, the following meatballs with saffron sauce recipe will provide a lively meal. Combine the following ingredients:
Remove the crust from the French bread and moisten it in water. Press dry then crumble. Mix the pork and veal with one tablespoon of parsley, one of the garlic cloves, egg, bread, salt, and pepper. Shape into balls and sauté in oil. Remove when done and set them aside. Next add onion to the oil with paprika, chicken broth, and wine. Add the meatballs to the oil and simmer. Add the remaining parsley, garlic, and saffron. Simmer and season to taste.
What is Saffron in Folk Medicine
In Indian medicine, saffron’s diuretic properties were employed to treat urinary tract disorders and it was used as a treatment for liver problems. Its antibiotic properties were used to treat skin diseases, infections, and inflammations. In western medicine, saffron has been used to treat headaches and hangovers. As well as serving as a metabolic stimulant, saffron has also been used as an abortifacient. Saffron was also used to regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle. Current medical research indicates some ability of saffron to shrink tumors.
The answer to the question “what is saffron” has many parts. It is a pungent spice that also adds color to the foods in which it is an ingredient. It has been used as a cosmetic, incense, dye, and medicine.