Friday, April 29, 2011

The Most Expensive Spice of the Universe!

Saffron  is a spice derived from the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus).Crocus is a genus in the family Iridaceae. A C. sativus flower bears three stigmas, each the distal end of a carpel. Together with the styles — stalks that connect the stigmas to their host plant — the dried stigmas are used in cooking as a seasoning and colouring agent. Saffron, long the world's most expensive spice by weight, is native to Southwest Asia.
Saffron's bitter taste and iodoform- or hay-like fragrance result from the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. Saffron also contains a carotenoid dye, crocin, which imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles.

Saffron contains more than 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds. It also has many nonvolatile active components
 The bitter glucoside picrocrocin is responsible for saffron's flavour. 
 Saffron has many medicinal uses  A 2010 double-blind, placebo-controlled study found saffron helped mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. Crocetin, an important carotenoid constituent of saffron, has shown significant potential as an anti-tumor agent in animal models and cell culture systems. Saffron inhibits DMBA-induced skin carcinoma in mice when treated early. Both saffron stigma and petals are said to be helpful for depression.

 The history of saffron cultivation reaches back more than 3,000 years. 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. cartwrightianusC. sativus, emerged in late Bronze Age Crete.

 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 Iranian(Persian), Arab, Central Asian, European, Pakistani, Indian, and Turkish cuisines. Confectionaries 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). Medicinally, saffron has a long 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. 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.Saffron has also been used as a fabric dye, particularly in China and India, and in perfumery.

 Most saffron is grown in a belt of land ranging from the Mediterranean in the west to Kashmir in the east. Annually, around 300 tonnes of saffron are produced worldwide. Iran, Spain, India, Greece, Azerbaijan, Morocco, and Italy, in decreasing order of production, are the major producers of saffron. Iran with its cultivation of different varieties, is the largest producer of saffron with 93.7% of the world's total production.
A pound (454 grams) of dry saffron requires 50,000–75,000 flowers, the equivalent of a football field's area of cultivation (110,000-170,000 flowers or two football fields for a 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 (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 CAN$18,000 per kilogram. In Western countries, the average retail price is $1,000/£500/€700 per pound (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.

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