Saffron, golden-colored, pungent stigmas (pollen-bearing structures) of the autumn crocus
(Crocus sativus), which are dried and used as a spice to flavor foods and as a dye to color foods and other products.
Saffron has a strong, exotic aroma and a bitter taste and is used to color and flavor many Mediterranean and Asian dishes, particularly rice and fish, and English, Scandinavian, and Balkan breads. It is an important ingredient in bouillabaisse soup.
Saffron is cultivated chiefly in Iran but is also grown in Spain, France, Italy (on the lower spurs of the Apennines Range), and parts of India. A labor-intensive crop, the three stigmas are handpicked from each flower, spread on trays, and dried over charcoal fires for use as a food flavoring and coloring. A pound (0.45 kilogram) of saffron represents 75,000 blossoms. Saffron contains 0.5 to 1 percent essential oil, the principal component of which is picrocrocin. The coloring matter is croc in.
History and uses
Believed native to the Mediterranean area, Asia Minor, and Iran, the saffron crocus has long been cultivated in Iran and Kashmir and is supposed to have been introduced into Cathay by the Mongol invasion. It is mentioned in the Chinese materia medica (Pun tsaou, 1552–78). In early times, however, the chief seat of cultivation was in Cilicia, in Asia Minor. It was cultivated by the Arabs in Spain about 961 and is mentioned in an English leech book, or healing manual, of the 10th century but may have disappeared from western Europe until reintroduced by the crusaders. During various periods, saffron has been worth much more than its weight in gold; it is still the most expensive spice in the world.
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