Everyone associates it with Milanese risotto, but saffron is used in a large number of recipes, both sweet and savory. This precious spice is a substance used to give flavor and an intense yellow color to various dishes.
The cost of the product is considerable, but it is also true that to enrich the dishes with itstenso aroma an infinitesimal quantity is enough. Saffron is present in all cuisines, however few people are aware of the benefits that this food brings to health. Let’s see below what are the characteristics of saffron and its beneficial properties.
The “Crocus Sativus“, known as saffron, is a perennial bulbous plant belonging to the botanical family of Iridaceae that grows wild throughout the Mediterranean basin and has been cultivated since ancient times.
Saffron has a tuft of long, narrow leaves that arise directly from the bulb. Each head forms two to five flowers that vary in color from light lilac to purple and bloom between September and November.
At the center of the corolla, in the terminal part of a white filament, there are three large bright red stigmas: it is from the latter that the fragrant and tasty powder is obtained that dyes the different preparations yellow. And it is to the yellow color, asfar in Persian, that the term saffron is based.
The history of this spice is very ancient: originally from Asia Minor, it was cultivated for the first time in Greece.
According to Greek mythology, the birth of this beautiful plant is to be attributed to the accidental killing of the mortal Crocos, in love with the nymph Smilace. The god Mercury, moved by compassion for the death of his friend, decided to color the flower of the same name (Crocus) with his blood.
In our country, the cultivation of saffron dates back to Roman times, but with the fall of the Empire it was lost. It can be said with certainty that it was the Arabs who reintroduced it in Italy, through Spain, around the thirteenth century. Today the largest producer of saffron is Iran, which exports red gold, as it is called, to over 50 countries around the world.
What are its properties?
Saffron is in great demand for the aroma and color it gives to dishes, but not everyone knows that this precious spice also boasts numerous nutritional properties. These beneficial effects derive from the set of elements present in its composition.
- To begin with, saffron contains many vitamins with antioxidant effects (A, C), which keep the skin young and elastic, reduce the risk of tumors and infections and exert an immunomodulatory action.
- There are also B vitamins, which are involved in energy metabolism and the functioning of the nervous system, and a good dose of mineral salts, especially potassium, phosphorus and magnesium.
- It is now established that saffron is an excellent digestive as it is able to stimulate the secretion of gastric juices. Not surprisingly, from the infusion of the pistils a liqueur with an intense yellow color is obtained, considered a real panacea for digestion. Click here to discover the best tips to improve digestion.
- In addition, some studies have shown that the tasty red powder exerts a purifying action as it is able to protect the liver and promote the elimination of toxins.
- Among the elements that attribute to saffron its specific organoleptic properties there is crocin, a carotenoid associated with the color of the stigmas which, dissolved in water, gives the solution its typical yellow-orange color. This pigment has strong antioxidant properties and has been found to protect the body from a number of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
- Another important active ingredient of saffron is picrocrocin glucoside responsible for the characteristic bitter taste of pistils. This substance has demonstrated antiproliferative activity against cancer cells.
- The composition of saffron is completed by safranal, a predominant element of the essential oil, which is believed to have beneficial effects on mood and for this reason it is considered a very useful natural antidepressant in times of stress and to counteract states of anxiety. Moreover, it seems to be effective in appeasing PMS disorders.
- Among the many properties of saffron there is also the aphrodisiac, known since ancient times.
- In addition, this food is able to stimulate blood circulation, decrease blood pressure, reduce inflammation, treat cough and reconcile sleep thanks to the presence of serotonin. But be careful: being highly sensitive to light and air, it should be stored in a cool place away from light.
Uses of saffron
In ancient times, saffron was used to dye fabrics and create bases for oils and perfumes. Today it is best known for its culinary uses.
Beloved in the Milanese risotto, saffron gladdens tables all over the world with appetizing dishes such as paella and bouillabaisse, a tasty soup typical of the French tradition. It is also used to give color and flavor to various preparationsbased on fish, chicken and vegetables not only in Italy, Spain and Provence, but also in African countries bordering the Mediterranean.
Saffron price: how much does it cost?
Saffron is one of the most expensive foods in the world. In fact, its price can vary from 15 thousand to 30 thousand euros per kilo, depending on the variety and purity. The high cost of the spice is explained by the fact that to obtain a kilo of saffron in filaments you need 150 thousand flowers, all harvested by hand and gently.
On the other hand, in the kitchen it makes a lot: just think that with a gram of saffron you can flavor 25 portions of Milanese risotto!