Saffron, a mystical spice
Saffron is so rare and mystical that a dedicated post is our way to give it the love deserved.
Today we want to bring light to this fantastic exotic spice that has been part of Humanity due to cultivation and usage since more than 3,500 years ago (and way, even more, thousand years than that) across cultures, continents, and civilizations.
Let's start with how and where to obtain Saffron.
This spice comes from the stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower, a plant that grows to just over 15 cm in height, which is the domestic species of the flower used in saffron cultivation. The wild precursor is presumably the Crocus cartwrightianus, which originated in Crete (Greek's more oversized island) or Central Asia. Other possible sources are Crocus Thomasii and Crocus Pallasii.
Saffron is also known as Red Gold. It has remained for centuries as one of the most expensive spices by weight. That nickname comes from the fact that it costs —proportionally per gram— three times as Vanilla and five times the cost of Cardamom.
It is believed that Saffron was originated in Iran (Persia) there are some doubts since Greece and Mesopotamia have also been suggested as the possible region of origin of this plant.
There is even evidence of Saffron being harvested in a Minoan fresco from the excavation of Akrotiri on the Aegean island of Santorini (Greece). Back in the XVI b.C century, a devastating earthquake caused a volcanic eruption that shattered the territory, sinking an extensive part of the land, causing the loss of many saffron crops, therefore its relevance.
The volcanic ashes of the Minoan eruption buried the illustrative frescos of saffron crops, preserving them to enjoy and learn about them today.
Wild saffron crocus is incapable of sexual reproduction, it reproduces by vegetative multiplication via "divide-and-set" actions. With that in mind, Crocus sativus is a mutant form of Crocus cartwrightianus that may have emerged via plant breeding in late Bronze Age Crete, selected for its elongated stigmas (as we explained before, the part of the flower that' used to make saffron spice).
Ancient Greek legends tell of brazen sailors embarking on long and dangerous voyages to the remote land of Cilicia, where they traveled to obtain what they believed was the world's most valuable Saffron.
What does Saffron taste like?
Saffron has a bitter taste, and its fragrance is similar to hay with metallic notes as well.
This spice has been used both as a condiment, fragrance, dye, and drug against some diseases. Saffron's medical role within Humanity is known since ancient times, and thanks to some murals (some of the frescos we talked before), we learned about how it was used for that purpose.
Such evidence suggests that Saffron was an article of long-distance trade before Crete's Minoan palace culture reached a peak in the 2nd millennium BC. Saffron was also honored as a sweet-smelling spice over three millennia ago.
Persian saffron threads, used to spice foods and teas, were widely suspected by foreigners of being a drugging agent and aphrodisiac.
Curiosities on Saffron
For the ancient Mediterraneans, Saffron gathered around the Cilician coastal town of Soli was of top value, particularly for use in perfumes and ointments.
Assyrian and Babylonian Saffron from the Fertile Crescent as best to treat gastrointestinal or renal upsets.
Cleopatra of late Ptolemaic Egypt used a quarter-cup of Saffron in her warm baths, as she prized its coloring and cosmetic properties. She used it before encounters with men, trusting that Saffron would render lovemaking yet more pleasurable.
Egyptian healers used Saffron to treat all varieties of gastrointestinal ailments when stomach pains progressed to internal hemorrhaging. Urinary tract conditions were also treated with an oil-based emulsion of premature saffron flowers mixed with roasted beans.
Large dye works operating in Sidon and Tyre used saffron baths as a substitute; there, royal robes were triple-dipped in deep purple dyes; for the robes of royal pretenders and commoners, the last two dips were replaced with a saffron dip, which gave a less intense purple hue. This is one of the reasons that purple is the color associated with wealth and royalty.
Crocus flowers happen to have purple petals. The ancient Greeks and Romans prized Saffron as a perfume or deodorizer and scattered it about their public spaces: royal halls, courts, and amphitheaters alike.
When Nero (Roman emperor) entered Rome, they spread Saffron along the streets. Wealthy Romans partook of daily saffron baths. They used it as mascara, stirred saffron threads into their wines, cast it aloft in their halls and streets as a potpourri, and offered it to their deities.
At TVT Trade Brands we are specialized in Saffron from our selected suppliers from Spain and Greece.
With brilliant color and intense aroma, precious strands are bought as if they were precious metals.
Saffron roses have inside yellow stamens and three orange-red filaments. These, once extracted and dried, are what we know as Saffron.
Mediterranean cuisine is closely linked to this valuable spice. It is traditionally used as a coloring and seasoning in many stews (paellas, rice, vermicelli, fideuàs, etc.). A couple of strands of Saffron are enough to flavor and improve a particular dish.
See the rest of our spices downloading our 2021 catalog.