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Home > Types of Spices > Flowers > Saffron
Saffron Flower
Saffron FlowerBotanical name: Crocus sativus Linn.
Family name:Iridaceae.

Indian names are as follows:
Hindi:Zaffran, Kesar
Kannada:Kunkuma Kesari
Marathi:Kesar, Kesara
Punjabi:Zaffran, Kesar
Sanskrit:Keshara, Kunkuma, Aruna, Asra, Asrika
Urdu:Zaffran, Jafranekar.

Saffron is well known all over the world added to various food items for coloring, flavoring and for taste. Saffron is one of the oldest and certainly among the world`s most expensive spices.

Cool dry climate and rich soil with excellent drainage and organic content provide the ideal environment for saffron cultivationHigh quality saffron is produced on a large scale in the Jammu and Kashmir valley followed by Himachal Pradesh.

Saffron consists of the dried stigmas of the plant, which grows 15 to 25 cm high. It is a bulbous perennial. It is a low growing plant with an underground globular corm. It is cultivated for its large, scented, blue or lavender flowers. The flowers have trifid, orange colored stigmas, which along with the style-tops yield the saffron of commerce.

The flowering period starts during middle or late October and lasts only until the first or second week of November. The flowers must be picked each morning before the sun gets too hot. The flowers are cleaned during the day and the style and stigmas are separated from perianth. These operations require much labor, which, coupled with the small yield per acre, accounts for the very high cost of good quality saffron. The duration of picking depends upon the time of blooming. The number of flowers and time of blooming in any year are dependent upon the temperature prevalent in spring and autumn, and upon the amount of rainfall. A warm spring and long autumn are conducive to early flowering.

Saffron The average composition of commercial saffron is as follows:

Starch and sugars:13.00%
Essential oil:0.6%
Fixed oil:5.63%
Total ash:4.27%
Nitrogen free extract:43.64%.

The ash is rich in potassium and phosphorus and contains races of boron. The principal coloring agent of saffron is the glycoside crocin; the bitter substance is the glucoside picrocrocin.

Separation of stigmas from the perianth has to be carried out every day, otherwise the flowers wilt. If the flowers are left for a couple of days, operations become very difficult. The collected flowers are picked up individually. The female workers employed for this job holds a flower in his hand and with the thumb nail of the same hand, she removes the pistils below the perianth, at the same time tearing of the stigmas with the fingers of the right hand and depositing these in the containers held for this purpose.

The value of saffron depends mainly on the method by which the stigmas are dried. The techniques followed in Kashmir and Spain are different.

In Kashmir they are sun dried and throwing them into water makes gradation. Those which sinks are considered to be better grade and those which floats are subjected to beating and same process of gradation continue. Finally three grades known in the market as Shahi Saffron, Mogra saffron, Lachha Saffron are produced. The saffron from Kashmir is considered inferior in global standard.

In Spain, where the process is called `toasting`, the stigmas are placed in sieves, in layers 2 to 3 cm thick over an almost spent fire. The sieves are placed 15 cm above the fire and by stacking them and changing their order and position, the product is carefully dried. In addition, the process may utilize special stoves for the purpose that the saffron has to be kept protected from dampness and light because light bleaches it into dull yellow. During recent years modern driers has been developed in Spain and Europe to dry saffron stigmas that ensures good quality.

SaffronSaffron is famous for its extraordinary flavoring and coloring properties. In India, a number of sweet dishes are prepared with saffron as one of the ingredient. The famous Mughlai dishes like Biriyani and meat preparations cannot be imagined without saffron. In Italy several dishes of meat, fish and rice are prepared adding saffron for color, flavor and taste. Spanish rice preparations and French fish preparations are unthinkable without saffron. It is also used in fine bread in many countries, in Scandinavia as well as in the Balkans.

Saffron is credited with various medicinal properties. It is used in fevers, melancholia and enlargement of liver and spleen. It has also stimulant and stomachic properties and is considered to be a remedy for catarrhal affections of children. However, stigmas in overdoses are narcotic.

Saffron is an important ingredient of the Ayurvedic and Unani systems of medicine in India. It is popularly known as stimulant, warm and dry in action, helping in urinary, digestive and uterine troubles. It is mixed with other drugs to help in normal menstruation. Its oil is used as an external application in uterine sores. When pounded with ghee, it is reported to be very effective in diabetes. It is also reported to give strength to the heart and brain.
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