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Saffron (Crocus sativus L.)
Iridaceae (iris family)
Saffron originates from West Asia most likely Persia and Mediterranean areas. The crocus was cultivated in ancient Europe. The Mongols took saffron from Persia to India.
Today, saffron is cultivated from the Western Mediterranean (Spain) to India (Kashmir). Spain and Iran are the largest producers, accounting together for more than 80% of the world's production, which is approximately 300 tons per year. In Europe, saffron production is almost limited to the Mediterranean; Spanish (La Mancha) saffron is generally considered the best. In much smaller scale, saffron is also cultivated in Italy and Greece (Crete).
Used plant part
Stigma, also called style (central part of a flower, female sexual organ).
Approximately 150000 flowers are needed for one kilogram of dried saffron. Less expensive qualities include also the yellow stamina (male sexual organ), which do not have any taste of their own.
Very intensively fragrant, slightly bitter in taste. By soaking saffron in warm water, one gets a bright yellow-orange solution.
It adds not only pungent and aromatic flavour to foods, but also a beautiful golden yellow colour.
The intensive colour of saffron is caused by pigments like crocin, crocetin, carotene (oil soluble a- and ß-carotenes), lycopene, zeaxanthin and picrocrocin. Saffron's golden yellow-colour orange colour is primarily the result of a-crocin.
Whilst the colour is mainly due to the degraded carotenoids (crocin and crocetin), the flavour comes from the carotenoid oxidation products (safranal and the bitter glucoside picrocrocin).
A second element underlying saffron's aroma is 2-hydroxy-4,4,6-trimethyl-2,5-cyclohexadien-1-one, the scent of which has been described as “saffron, dried hay like”. This is the most powerful contributor to saffron's fragrance despite it being present in a lesser quantity than safranal.
In fresh saffron the compounds like picrocrocin are stable but as a result of heat and the passage of time it decomposes releasing safranal.
These flavour and aroma components of dry saffron are highly sensitive to fluctuating pH levels, and rapidly break down chemically in the presence of light and oxidizing agents. Saffron must therefore be stored away in air-tight containers.
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