Saffron: what is it and how to use it
There is no food like saffron. Live color, intense smell, as well as flavor, saffron is like a big actor who makes a smaller part. Even though saffron play a small part, it always become the absolute protagonist of a dish thanks to its extraordinary qualities. And so a risotto, a sauce or a dessert are transformed into something else with the strength enclosed in a few pistils. Let’s find out more about saffron and how to use it.
Saffron origins between myth and reality
For the origin of saffron, the ancient Greeks had even created two myths, both linked to the figure of Croco (which has become the technical name of the saffron’s flower). The first concerns a love between Crocus himself and a nymph. The gods didn’t agree this love and turned Crocus into this precious flower. The second wants Mercury mistakenly struck Croco with a lightning and to remember his friend paint the flower pistils with his blood. Certainly we know that saffron has ancient origins, is also quoted in the Old Testament and is present in some Egyptian papyrus. It seems that the flower comes from India and was introduced to Spain by the Arab conquerors. Was a monk of the Inquisition that introduced it in Italy and here his culture has developed especially in the regions of the center, thanks to travelers and pilgrims. Today, the main European countries producing saffron are Spain, Greece and Italy, where saffron is the most valuable.
What is saffron and how does it gather?
Saffron is not a plant, but a spice derived from the three stigmas of the crocus flower that is a herbaceous plant with a bulb that blooms in autumn. The flowers are of an intense purple color. This plant does not grow anywhere but needs clayey soil rich in nutrients and a rainy spring and dry climate in summer.
Autumn is the time of flowering and harvesting that is very special and needs to be done quickly and by hand (one of the reasons why the saffron costs a lot). Harvesting can be done from sunrise until 10 am because otherwise the flower opens too much and pistils could be damage. First you collect the flowers and then calmly and meticulously detache the stigmas.
To produce 1 kg of saffron, 100,000 flowers are needed, covering about one hectare of land and more than 400 hours of manpower.
Once the laborious selection of pistils has been completed, pistils have to be dryed. Saffron must be dried to avoid fermentation or decomposition processes but must remain elastic. This is really an art.
Properties of saffron
Although being used in very small quantities, saffron brings many benefits. First of all, it has excellent antioxidant properties and in recent years research has focused heavily on the strong anti-tumor properties that have its pigments. Antioxidant properties also benefit the brain by increasing the ability to learn and slow down the degenerative processes of Alzahimer. It also has healing properties of mood disorders and sexual dysfunctions. Saffron is an antidepressant and a natural aphrodisiac. It has been shown that saffron consumption cures the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and is applied with a mask is an excellent treatment for repairing skin cells to keep it nourished and elastic. It is important, however, not to exaggerate with saffron. It is certainly difficult to increase the doses used because of the intensity of its smell and flavor and of course because of its cost. It takes just a few pistils, a massive and inappropriate use can have opposite effects. Passing the gram per person in one dish (almost impossible, but we must know it) can create strong digestive problems. So do not exceed the amount of 0.25 grams of pistils per person. Consider that with this dose you can prepare a wonderful risotto for six people!
How to use saffron
To get a good result in kitchen you need to put the pistils for more than 40 minutes in a warm liquid that can be broth, milk or cream or simply hot water. The liquid should be lukewarm and is enough to fill a coffee cup. This procedure serves to release the aromatic qualities of saffron.
We’ve seen before that for a six-person risotto 0.25 gr of saffron in pistils is enough (one undred pistils more or less). Your eye will know the right dose approximately. The difference of 10-20 pistils is really small so in this case it is best to keep a little more abundant.
At Podere Il Casale we produce saffron that we use in our Restaurant or to flavor our organic raw milk cheeses