Saffron anyone ? (nice holiday gift idea for the cook)


Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus.Saffron’s bitter taste and iodoform- or hay-like fragrance result from the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a carotenoid dye, crocin, which imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles. It has been traded and used for over four millennia. Iran now accounts for the lion’s share, or around 90%, of world production. Research into its many possible medicinal benefits, ranging from cancer suppression to mood improvement and appetite reduction, is ongoing.

Did you know that saffron is cultivated in one of Italy’s most famous hill towns….San Gimignano…known for it’s towers, vineyards, & sunflower fields. See this fascinating excerpt of an article just published in Florence’s local ragsheet.

San Gimignano

“Saffron has long been one of the world’s most expensive foods. The carefully picked red stigmas of the lilac-coloured crocus flower have been cultivated, fought over and treasured for centuries. Cleopatra used to bathe in saffron-infused water, Alexander the Great used it to treat battle wounds and the Ancient Romans planted it across their entire empire. While the plant is native to central Asia, the spice was already well known in Italy in the Middle Ages, introduced through trade in port cities like Venice and Genoa. Today, saffron in Italy is grown most notably in Sardegna, Abruzzo and Tuscany, with San Gimignano the region’s saffron capital. Documents date saffron in San Gimignano trade routes to the 1200s, where it was treated as currency and contributed to the city’s wealth. The saffron of San Gimignano is cultivated using natural methods and sold whole, in crimson-red threads, instead of as a powder. In 2005, it was awarded Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) certification. This autumnal plant likes the sun and blooms for a very short period in late October or early November, where it requires a speedy and labour intensive harvest. Flowers are picked early in the morning and the stigmas removed before the blooms wilt. Each flower contains only three stigmas. One kilogram of fresh flowers produces just 72 grams of fresh stigmas, or a mere 12 grams of dried stigmas. Luckily, a little goes a long way to impart a rich golden yellow colour and just enough of its characteristic, hay-like flavour to food. There is no sense in trying to impress people by adding extra saffron, as it will taste bitter if there is too much. For a dish to serve four people, a pinch of 10 strands is plenty. Saffron can be used in many recipes from liqueurs to desserts and is wonderful in rice dishes, like in this adaption of a risotto milanese, which makes the most out of autumn’s bounty.”

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