Saffron
Overview
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus. Crocus
Crocus
Crocus is a genus in the iris family comprising about 80 species of perennials growing from corms. Many are cultivated for their flowers appearing in autumn, winter, or spring...

is a genus in the family Iridaceae
Iridaceae
The Iris family or Iridaceae is a family of perennial, herbaceous and bulbous plants included in the monocot order Asparagales, taking its name from the genus Iris. Almost worldwide in distribution and one of the most important families in horticulture, it includes more than 2000 species...

. Each saffron crocus grows to 20 – and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigma
Stigma (botany)
The stigma is the receptive tip of a carpel, or of several fused carpels, in the gynoecium of a flower. The stigma receives pollen at pollination and it is on the stigma that the pollen grain germinates. The stigma is adapted to catch and trap pollen with various hairs, flaps, or sculpturings...

s, which are each the distal end of a carpel. Together with the styles, or stalks that connect the stigmas to their host plant, the dried stigmas are used mainly in various cuisines as a seasoning and colouring agent.
Encyclopedia
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus. Crocus
Crocus
Crocus is a genus in the iris family comprising about 80 species of perennials growing from corms. Many are cultivated for their flowers appearing in autumn, winter, or spring...

is a genus in the family Iridaceae
Iridaceae
The Iris family or Iridaceae is a family of perennial, herbaceous and bulbous plants included in the monocot order Asparagales, taking its name from the genus Iris. Almost worldwide in distribution and one of the most important families in horticulture, it includes more than 2000 species...

. Each saffron crocus grows to 20 – and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigma
Stigma (botany)
The stigma is the receptive tip of a carpel, or of several fused carpels, in the gynoecium of a flower. The stigma receives pollen at pollination and it is on the stigma that the pollen grain germinates. The stigma is adapted to catch and trap pollen with various hairs, flaps, or sculpturings...

s, which are each the distal end of a carpel. Together with the styles, or stalks that connect the stigmas to their host plant, the dried stigmas are used mainly in various cuisines as a seasoning and colouring agent. Saffron, long among the world's most costly spices by weight, is native to Southwest Asia and was first cultivated in Greece. As a genetically monomorphic clone, it was slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia and was later brought to parts of North Africa, North America, and Oceania.

The saffron crocus, unknown in the wild, likely descends from Crocus cartwrightianus
Crocus cartwrightianus
Crocus cartwrightianus is an eastern Mediterranean autumn-flowering species of crocus, and is of the family Iridaceae . C. cartwrightianus is the presumed wild precursor of the domesticated and now widely cultivated triploid Crocus sativus — the saffron crocus flower , .This species is...

, which originated in Crete or Central Asia; C. thomasii and C. pallasii are other possible precursors. The saffron crocus is a triploid that is "self-incompatible" and male sterile; it undergoes aberrant meiosis and is hence incapable of independent sexual reproduction—all propagation is by vegetative multiplication via manual "divide-and-set" of a starter clone or by interspecific hybridisation. If C. sativus is a mutant form of C. cartwrightianus, then it may have emerged via plant breeding
Plant breeding
Plant breeding is the art and science of changing the genetics of plants in order to produce desired characteristics. Plant breeding can be accomplished through many different techniques ranging from simply selecting plants with desirable characteristics for propagation, to more complex molecular...

, which would have selected for elongated stigmas, in late Bronze-Age Crete.

Saffron's bitter taste and iodoform
Iodoform
Iodoform is the organoiodine compound with the formula CHI3. A pale yellow, crystalline, volatile substance, it has a penetrating odor and, analogous to chloroform, sweetish taste. It is occasionally used as a disinfectant...

- or hay-like fragrance result from the chemicals picrocrocin
Picrocrocin
Picrocrocin is a monoterpene glycoside precursor of safranal. It is found in the spice saffron, which comes from the crocus flower. Picrocrocin has a bitter taste and is the chemical most responsible for the taste of saffron....

 and safranal
Safranal
Safranal is an organic compound isolated from saffron, the spice consisting of the stigmas of crocus flowers . It is the constituent primarily responsible for the aroma of saffron....

. It also contains a carotenoid
Carotenoid
Carotenoids are tetraterpenoid organic pigments that are naturally occurring in the chloroplasts and chromoplasts of plants and some other photosynthetic organisms like algae, some bacteria, and some types of fungus. Carotenoids can be synthesized fats and other basic organic metabolic building...

 dye, crocin
Crocin
Crocin is a natural carotenoid chemical compound that is found in the flowers crocus and gardenia. It is the diester formed from the disaccharide gentiobiose and the dicarboxylic acid crocetin. It has a deep red color and forms crystals with a melting point of 186 °C...

, which imparts a rich golden-yellow hue
Saffron (color)
Saffron is a color that is a tone of golden yellow resembling the color of the tip of the saffron crocus thread, from which the spice saffron is derived.The first recorded use of saffron as a color name in English was in 1200...

 to dishes and textiles. Its recorded history
History of saffron
Human cultivation and use of saffron spans more than 3,500 years and spans cultures, continents, and civilizations. Saffron, a spice derived from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus , has through history remained among the world's most costly substances...

 is attested in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical treatise compiled under Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal |Ashur]] is creator of an heir"; 685 BC – c. 627 BC), also spelled Assurbanipal or Ashshurbanipal, was an Assyrian king, the son of Esarhaddon and the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire...

, and it has been traded and used
Trade and use of saffron
Saffron has been a key seasoning, fragrance, dye, and medicine for over three millennia. One of the world's most expensive spice by weight, saffron consists of stigmas plucked from the vegetatively propagated and sterile Crocus sativus, known popularly as the saffron crocus...

 for over four millennia. Iran now accounts for the lion's share, or around 90%, of world production. Research into its many possible medicinal benefits, ranging from cancer suppression to mood improvement and appetite reduction, is ongoing.

Description

The domesticated saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, is an autumn-flowering
Flowering plant
The flowering plants , also known as Angiospermae or Magnoliophyta, are the most diverse group of land plants. Angiosperms are seed-producing plants like the gymnosperms and can be distinguished from the gymnosperms by a series of synapomorphies...

 perennial plant
Perennial plant
A perennial plant or simply perennial is a plant that lives for more than two years. The term is often used to differentiate a plant from shorter lived annuals and biennials. The term is sometimes misused by commercial gardeners or horticulturalists to describe only herbaceous perennials...

 unknown in the wild. It is often mistaken for the more plentiful common autumn crocus, Colchicum autumnale
Colchicum autumnale
Colchicum autumnale, commonly known as autumn crocus, meadow saffron or naked lady, is a flower which resembles the true crocuses, but flowering in autumn...

, which is also known as "meadow saffron" or "naked lady", causing deaths due to mistaken identity, though in high dosages saffron is also poisonous. It is a sterile triploid
Polyploidy
Polyploid is a term used to describe cells and organisms containing more than two paired sets of chromosomes. Most eukaryotic species are diploid, meaning they have two sets of chromosomes — one set inherited from each parent. However polyploidy is found in some organisms and is especially common...

 form, possibly of the eastern Mediterranean autumn-flowering Crocus cartwrightianus
Crocus cartwrightianus
Crocus cartwrightianus is an eastern Mediterranean autumn-flowering species of crocus, and is of the family Iridaceae . C. cartwrightianus is the presumed wild precursor of the domesticated and now widely cultivated triploid Crocus sativus — the saffron crocus flower , .This species is...

, which is also known as "wild saffron" and originated in Central Asia. "Triploid" means that three homologous sets of chromosome
Chromosome
A chromosome is an organized structure of DNA and protein found in cells. It is a single piece of coiled DNA containing many genes, regulatory elements and other nucleotide sequences. Chromosomes also contain DNA-bound proteins, which serve to package the DNA and control its functions.Chromosomes...

s compose each specimen's genetic complement; C. sativus bears eight chromosomal bodies per set, making for 24 in total. The saffron crocus likely resulted when C. cartwrightianus was subjected to extensive artificial selection
Artificial selection
Artificial selection describes intentional breeding for certain traits, or combination of traits. The term was utilized by Charles Darwin in contrast to natural selection, in which the differential reproduction of organisms with certain traits is attributed to improved survival or reproductive...

 by growers seeking longer stigmas. C. thomasii and C. pallasii are other possible sources. Being sterile, the purple flowers of Crocus sativus fail to produce viable seeds; reproduction hinges on human assistance: corm
Corm
A corm is a short, vertical, swollen underground plant stem that serves as a storage organ used by some plants to survive winter or other adverse conditions such as summer drought and heat ....

s, underground bulb-like starch-storing organs, must be dug up, broken apart, and replanted. A corm survives for one season, producing via this vegetative division up to ten "cormlets" that can grow into new plants in the next season. The compact corms are small brown globules that can measure as large as 5 centimetres (2 in) in diameter, have a flat base, and are shrouded in a dense mat of parallel fibers; this coat is referred to as the "corm tunic". Corms also bear vertical fibers, thin and net-like, that grow up to 5 cm above the plant's neck.
The plant grows to a height of 20 –, and sprouts 5–11 white and non-photosynthetic
Photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is a chemical process that converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars, using the energy from sunlight. Photosynthesis occurs in plants, algae, and many species of bacteria, but not in archaea. Photosynthetic organisms are called photoautotrophs, since they can...

 leafs known as cataphyll
Cataphyll
In plant morphology, a cataphyll is a leaf whose primary function is something other than photosynthesis...

s. They are membrane-like structures that cover and protect the crocus's 5–11 true leaves as they bud and develop. The latter are thin, straight, and blade-like green foliage leaves, which are 1–3 mm in diameter, either expand after the flowers have opened ("hysteranthous") or do so simultaneously with their blooming ("synanthous"). C. sativus cataphylls are suspected by some to manifest prior to blooming when the plant is irrigation relatively early in the growing season. Its floral axes, or flower-bearing structures, bear bract
Bract
In botany, a bract is a modified or specialized leaf, especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower, inflorescence axis, or cone scale. Bracts are often different from foliage leaves. They may be smaller, larger, or of a different color, shape, or texture...

eoles, or specialised leaves that sprout from the flower stems; the latter are known as pedicel
Pedicel (botany)
A pedicel is a stem that attaches single flowers to the main stem of the inflorescence. It is the branches or stalks that hold each flower in an inflorescence that contains more than one flower....

s. After aestivating
Aestivation (botany)
Aestivation or estivation, refers to the positional arrangement of the parts of a flower within a flower bud before it has opened. Aestivation is also sometimes referred to as praefoliation or prefoliation, but these terms may also mean vernation: the arrangement of leaves within a vegetative...

 in spring, the plant sends up its true leaves, each up to 40 cm (15.7 in) in length. In autumn, purple buds appear. Only in October, after most other flowering plants have released their seeds, do its brilliantly hued flowers develop; they range from a light pastel shade of lilac to a darker and more striated mauve. Upon flowering, plants average less than 30 cm (11.8 in) in height. A three-pronged style emerges from each flower. Each prong terminates with a vivid crimson stigma 25 – in length.

Cultivation

Crocus sativus thrives in the Mediterranean maquis
Maquis shrubland
thumb|220px|Low Maquis in Corsica.220px|thumb|High macchia in Sardinia.Maquis or macchia is a shrubland biome in the Mediterranean region, typically consisting of densely growing evergreen shrubs such as holm oak, tree heath, strawberry tree, sage, juniper, buckthorn, spurge olive and myrtle...

, an ecotype superficially resembling the North American chaparral
Chaparral
Chaparral is a shrubland or heathland plant community found primarily in the U.S. state of California and in the northern portion of the Baja California peninsula, Mexico...

, and similar climates where hot and dry summer breezes sweep semi-arid lands. It can nonetheless survive cold winters, tolerating frosts as low as −10 C and short periods of snow cover. Irrigation is required if grown outside of moist environments such as Kashmir, where annual rainfall averages1000 –; saffron-growing regions in Greece (500 mm or 19.7 in annually) and Spain (400 mm or 15.7 in) are far drier than the main cultivating Iranian regions. What makes this possible is the timing of the local wet seasons; generous spring rains and drier summers are optimal. Rain immediately preceding flowering boosts saffron yields; rainy or cold weather during flowering promotes disease and reduces yields. Persistently damp and hot conditions harm the crops, and rabbits, rats, and birds cause damage by digging up corms. Nematode
Nematode
The nematodes or roundworms are the most diverse phylum of pseudocoelomates, and one of the most diverse of all animals. Nematode species are very difficult to distinguish; over 28,000 have been described, of which over 16,000 are parasitic. It has been estimated that the total number of nematode...

s, leaf rusts
Rust (fungus)
Rusts are plant diseases caused by pathogenic fungi of the order Pucciniales. About 7800 species are known. Rusts can affect a variety of plants; leaves, stems, fruits and seeds. Rust is most commonly seen as coloured powder, composed off tiny aeciospores which land on vegetation producing...

, and corm rot pose other threats. Yet Bacillus subtilis
Bacillus subtilis
Bacillus subtilis, known also as the hay bacillus or grass bacillus, is a Gram-positive, catalase-positive bacterium commonly found in soil. A member of the genus Bacillus, B. subtilis is rod-shaped, and has the ability to form a tough, protective endospore, allowing the organism to tolerate...

inoculation may provide some benefit to growers by speeding corm growth and increasing stigma biomass yield.
The plants fare poorly in shady conditions; they grow best in full sunlight. Fields that slope towards the sunlight are optimal (i.e., south-sloping in the Northern Hemisphere). Planting is mostly done in June in the Northern Hemisphere, where corms are lodged 7 – deep; its roots, stems, and leaves can develop between October and February. Planting depth and corm spacing, in concert with climate, are critical factors in determining yields. Mother corms planted deeper yield higher-quality saffron, though form fewer flower buds and daughter corms. Italian growers optimise thread yield by planting 15 cm (5.9 in) deep and in rows 2 – apart; depths of 8 – optimises flower and corm production. Greek, Moroccan, and Spanish growers employ distinct depths and spacings that suit their locales.

C. sativus prefers friable, loose, low-density, well-watered, and well-drained clay-calcareous
Calcareous
Calcareous is an adjective meaning mostly or partly composed of calcium carbonate, in other words, containing lime or being chalky. The term is used in a wide variety of scientific disciplines.-In zoology:...

 soils with high organic content. Traditional raised beds promote good drainage. Soil organic content was historically boosted via application of some 20–30 tonnes of manure per hectare. Afterwards, and with no further manure application, corms were planted. After a period of dormancy through the summer, the corms send up their narrow leaves and begin to bud in early autumn. Only in mid-autumn do they flower. Harvests are by necessity a speedy affair: after blossoming at dawn, flowers quickly wilt as the day passes. All plants bloom within a window of one or two weeks. Roughly 150 flowers together yield but 1 g (0.035273962105112 oz) of dry saffron threads; to produce 12 g (0.423287545261344 oz) of dried saffron (or 72 g (2.5 oz) moist and freshly harvested), 1 kg (2.2 lb) of flowers are needed; 1 lb (0.45359237 kg) yields 0.2 oz (5.7 g) of dried saffron. One freshly picked flower yields an average 30 mg (0.00105821886315336 oz) of fresh saffron or 7 mg (0.000246917734735784 oz) dried.

Chemistry

Saffron contains more than 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds. It also has many nonvolatile active components, many of which are carotenoids, including zeaxanthin
Zeaxanthin
Zeaxanthin is one of the most common carotenoid alcohols found in nature. It is important in the xanthophyll cycle. Synthesized in plants & some micro-organisms, it is the pigment that gives paprika , corn, saffron, and many other plants & microbes their characteristic color.The name is derived...

, lycopene
Lycopene
Lycopene is a bright red carotene and carotenoid pigment and phytochemical found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables, such as red carrots, watermelons and papayas...

, and various α- and β-carotene
Carotene
The term carotene is used for several related unsaturated hydrocarbon substances having the formula C40Hx, which are synthesized by plants but cannot be made by animals. Carotene is an orange photosynthetic pigment important for photosynthesis. Carotenes are all coloured to the human eye...

s. However, saffron's golden yellow-orange colour is primarily the result of α-crocin. This crocin is trans-crocetin
Crocetin
Crocetin is a natural carotenoid dicarboxylic acid that is found in the crocus flower and Gardenia jasminoides . It forms brick red crystals with a melting point of 285 °C....

 di-(β-D-gentiobiosyl
Gentiobiose
Gentiobiose is a disaccharide composed of two units of D-glucose joined with a β linkage. It is a white crystalline solid that is soluble in water or hot methanol. Gentiobiose is incorporated into the chemical structure of crocin, the chemical compound that gives saffron its color. It is a...

) ester
Ester
Esters are chemical compounds derived by reacting an oxoacid with a hydroxyl compound such as an alcohol or phenol. Esters are usually derived from an inorganic acid or organic acid in which at least one -OH group is replaced by an -O-alkyl group, and most commonly from carboxylic acids and...

; it bears the systematic (IUPAC) name
IUPAC nomenclature
A chemical nomenclature is a set of rules to generate systematic names for chemical compounds. The nomenclature used most frequently worldwide is the one created and developed by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry ....

 8,8-diapo-8,8-carotenoic acid. This means that the crocin underlying saffron's aroma is a digentiobiose ester of the carotenoid crocetin. Crocins themselves are a series of hydrophilic
Hydrophile
A hydrophile, from the Greek "water" and φιλια "love," is a molecule or other molecular entity that is attracted to, and tends to be dissolved by water. A hydrophilic molecule or portion of a molecule is one that has a tendency to interact with or be dissolved by, water and other polar substances...

 carotenoids that are either monoglycosyl
Glycosyl
A glycosyl group is a univalent free radical or substituent structure obtained by removing the hemiacetal hydroxyl group from the cyclic form of a monosaccharide and, by extension, of a lower oligosaccharide....

 or diglycosyl polyene
Polyene
Polyenes are poly-unsaturated organic compounds that contain one or more sequences of alternating double and single carbon-carbon bonds. These double carbon-carbon bonds interact in a process known as conjugation, which results in an overall lower energy state of the molecule.Organic compounds with...

 esters of crocetin. Crocetin is a conjugated
Conjugated system
In chemistry, a conjugated system is a system of connected p-orbitals with delocalized electrons in compounds with alternating single and multiple bonds, which in general may lower the overall energy of the molecule and increase stability. Lone pairs, radicals or carbenium ions may be part of the...

 polyene dicarboxylic acid
Carboxylic acid
Carboxylic acids are organic acids characterized by the presence of at least one carboxyl group. The general formula of a carboxylic acid is R-COOH, where R is some monovalent functional group...

 that is hydrophobic
Hydrophile
A hydrophile, from the Greek "water" and φιλια "love," is a molecule or other molecular entity that is attracted to, and tends to be dissolved by water. A hydrophilic molecule or portion of a molecule is one that has a tendency to interact with or be dissolved by, water and other polar substances...

, and thus oil-soluble. When crocetin is esterified with two water-soluble gentiobioses, which are sugars
Carbohydrate
A carbohydrate is an organic compound with the empirical formula ; that is, consists only of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, with a hydrogen:oxygen atom ratio of 2:1 . However, there are exceptions to this. One common example would be deoxyribose, a component of DNA, which has the empirical...

, a product results that is itself water-soluble. The resultant α-crocin is a carotenoid pigment that may comprise more than 10% of dry saffron's mass. The two esterified gentiobioses make α-crocin ideal for colouring water-based and non-fatty foods such as rice dishes.

The bitter glucoside
Glucoside
A glucoside is a glycoside that is derived from glucose. Glucosides are common in plants, but rare in animals. Glucose is produced when a glucoside is hydrolysed by purely chemical means, or decomposed by fermentation or enzymes....

 picrocrocin is responsible for saffron's flavour. Picrocrocin (chemical formula
Chemical formula
A chemical formula or molecular formula is a way of expressing information about the atoms that constitute a particular chemical compound....

: ; systematic name: 4-(β-D-glucopyranosyloxy)-2,6,6- trimethylcyclohex-1-ene-1-carboxaldehyde) is a union of an aldehyde
Aldehyde
An aldehyde is an organic compound containing a formyl group. This functional group, with the structure R-CHO, consists of a carbonyl center bonded to hydrogen and an R group....

 sub-element known as safranal (systematic name: 2,6,6-trimethylcyclohexa-1,3-diene-1-carboxaldehyde) and a carbohydrate. It has insecticidal and pesticidal properties, and may comprise up to 4% of dry saffron. Picrocrocin is a truncated version of the carotenoid zeaxanthin
Zeaxanthin
Zeaxanthin is one of the most common carotenoid alcohols found in nature. It is important in the xanthophyll cycle. Synthesized in plants & some micro-organisms, it is the pigment that gives paprika , corn, saffron, and many other plants & microbes their characteristic color.The name is derived...

 that is produced via oxidative
Redox
Redox reactions describe all chemical reactions in which atoms have their oxidation state changed....

 cleavage, and is the glycoside
Glycoside
In chemistry, a glycoside is a molecule in which a sugar is bound to a non-carbohydrate moiety, usually a small organic molecule. Glycosides play numerous important roles in living organisms. Many plants store chemicals in the form of inactive glycosides. These can be activated by enzyme...

 of the terpene
Terpene
Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants, particularly conifers, though also by some insects such as termites or swallowtail butterflies, which emit terpenes from their osmeterium. They are often strong smelling and thus may have had a protective...

 aldehyde
Aldehyde
An aldehyde is an organic compound containing a formyl group. This functional group, with the structure R-CHO, consists of a carbonyl center bonded to hydrogen and an R group....

 safranal. The reddish-coloured zeaxanthin is, incidentally, one of the carotenoids naturally present within the retina
Retina
The vertebrate retina is a light-sensitive tissue lining the inner surface of the eye. The optics of the eye create an image of the visual world on the retina, which serves much the same function as the film in a camera. Light striking the retina initiates a cascade of chemical and electrical...

 of the human eye.

When saffron is dried after its harvest, the heat, combined with enzymatic action, splits picrocrocin to yield D–glucose
Glucose
Glucose is a simple sugar and an important carbohydrate in biology. Cells use it as the primary source of energy and a metabolic intermediate...

 and a free safranal molecule. Safranal, a volatile
Essential oil
An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils or aetherolea, or simply as the "oil of" the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove...

 oil, gives saffron much of its distinctive aroma. Safranal is less bitter than picrocrocin and may comprise up to 70% of dry saffron's volatile fraction in some samples. 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". Chemists found this to be the most powerful contributor to saffron's fragrance despite its being present in a lesser quantity than safranal. Dry saffron is highly sensitive to fluctuating pH
PH
In chemistry, pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution. Pure water is said to be neutral, with a pH close to 7.0 at . Solutions with a pH less than 7 are said to be acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline...

 levels, and rapidly breaks down chemically in the presence of light and oxidizing
Redox
Redox reactions describe all chemical reactions in which atoms have their oxidation state changed....

 agents. It must therefore be stored away in air-tight containers in order to minimise contact with atmospheric oxygen. Saffron is somewhat more resistant to heat.

Grades

Saffron is graded via laboratory measurement of crocin (colour), picrocrocin (taste), and safranal (fragrance) content. Determination of non-stigma content ("floral waste content") and other extraneous matter such as inorganic material ("ash
Ash (analytical chemistry)
In analytical chemistry, ashing is the process of mineralization for preconcentration of trace substances prior to chemical analysis. Ash is the name given to all non-aqueous residue that remains after a sample is burned, and consist mostly of metal oxides....

") are also key. Grading standards are set by the International Organization for Standardization
International Organization for Standardization
The International Organization for Standardization , widely known as ISO, is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. Founded on February 23, 1947, the organization promulgates worldwide proprietary, industrial and commercial...

, a federation of national standards bodies. ISO 3632 deals exclusively with saffron and establishes four empirical colour intensity grades: IV (poorest), III, II, and I (finest quality). Samples are assigned grades by gauging the spice's crocin content, revealed by measurements of crocin-specific spectroscopic absorbance. Absorbance is defined as , with as absorbance (Beer-Lambert law
Beer-Lambert law
In optics, the Beer–Lambert law, also known as Beer's law or the Lambert–Beer law or the Beer–Lambert–Bouguer law relates the absorption of light to the properties of the material through which the light is travelling.-Equations:The law states that there is a logarithmic dependence between the...

) and indicates degree of transparency (, the ratio of light intensity exiting the sample to that of the incident light) to a given wavelength of light.

Graders measure absorbances of 440-nm light by dry saffron samples. Higher absorbances imply greater crocin concentration, and thus a greater colourative intensity. These data are measured through spectrophotometry
Spectrophotometry
In chemistry, spectrophotometry is the quantitative measurement of the reflection or transmission properties of a material as a function of wavelength...

 reports at certified testing laboratories worldwide. These colour grades proceed from grades with absorbances lower than 80 (for all category IV saffron) up to 190 or greater (for category I). The world's finest samples (the selected most red-maroon tips of stigmas picked from the finest flowers) receive absorbance scores in excess of 250. Market prices for saffron types follow directly from these ISO scores. However, many growers, traders, and consumers reject such lab test numbers. They prefer a more holistic method of sampling batches of thread for taste, aroma, pliability, and other traits in a fashion similar to that practiced by practised wine tasters.
Despite such attempts at quality control and standardisation, an extensive history of saffron adulteration—particularly among the cheapest grades—continues into modern times. Adulteration was first documented in Europe's Middle Ages, when those found selling adulterated saffron were executed under the Safranschou code. Typical methods include mixing in extraneous substances like beets, pomegranate fibers, red-dyed silk fibers, or the saffron crocus's tasteless and odorless yellow stamens. Other methods included dousing saffron fibers with viscid substances like honey or vegetable oil. However, powdered saffron is more prone to adulteration, with turmeric, paprika, and other powders used as diluting fillers. Adulteration can also consist of selling mislabeled mixes of different saffron grades. Thus, in India, high-grade Kashmiri saffron is often sold and mixed with cheaper Iranian imports; these mixes are then marketed as pure Kashmiri saffron, a development that has cost Kashmiri growers much of their income.

Varieties

The various saffron crocus cultivars give rise to thread types that are often regionally distributed and characteristically distinct. Varieties from Spain, including the tradenames "Spanish Superior" and "Creme", are generally mellower in colour, flavour, and aroma; they are graded by government-imposed standards. Italian varieties are slightly more potent than Spanish; the most intense varieties tend to be Iranian. Various "boutique" crops are available from New Zealand, France, Switzerland, England, the United States, and other countries, some of them organically grown. In the U.S., Pennsylvania Dutch saffron—known for its "earthy" notes—is marketed in small quantities.

Consumers may regard certain cultivars as "premium" quality. The "Aquila" saffron, or zafferano dell'Aquila, is defined by high safranal and crocin content, distinctive thread shape, unusually pungent aroma, and intense colour; it is grown exclusively on eight hectares in the Navelli Valley of Italy's Abruzzo
Abruzzo
Abruzzo is a region in Italy, its western border lying less than due east of Rome. Abruzzo borders the region of Marche to the north, Lazio to the west and south-west, Molise to the south-east, and the Adriatic Sea to the east...

 region, near L'Aquila
L'Aquila
L'Aquila is a city and comune in central Italy, both the capital city of the Abruzzo region and of the Province of L'Aquila. , it has a population of 73,150 inhabitants, but has a daily presence in the territory of 100,000 people for study, tertiary activities, jobs and tourism...

. It was first introduced to Italy by a Dominican monk from Inquisition-era Spain. But the biggest saffron cultivation in Italy is in San Gavino Monreale
San Gavino Monreale
San Gavino Monreale is a comune in the Province of Medio Campidano in the Italian region Sardinia, located about 45 km northwest of Cagliari, and roughly halfway between the latter and the town of Oristano....

, Sardinia, where it is grown on 40 hectares, representing 60% of Italian production; it too has unusully high crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal content. Another is the "Mongra" or "Lacha" saffron of Kashmir (Crocus sativus 'Cashmirianus'), which is among the most difficult for consumers to obtain. Repeated droughts, blights, and crop failures in the Indian-controlled areas of Kashmir combine with an Indian export ban to contribute to its prohibitive overseas prices. Kashmiri saffron is recognisable by its dark maroon-purple hue; it among the world's darkest, which hints at strong flavour, aroma, and colourative effect.

History

The documented history of saffron cultivation spans more than three millennia. The wild precursor of domesticated saffron crocus was Crocus cartwrightianus. Human cultivators bred wild specimens by selecting for unusually long stigmas; thus, a sterile mutant form of C. cartwrightianus, C. sativus, likely emerged in late Bronze Age Crete.

Eastern

Saffron was detailed in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal |Ashur]] is creator of an heir"; 685 BC – c. 627 BC), also spelled Assurbanipal or Ashshurbanipal, was an Assyrian king, the son of Esarhaddon and the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire...

. Documentation of saffron's use over the span of 4,000 years in the treatment of some 90 illnesses has been uncovered. Saffron-based pigments have indeed been found in 50,000 year-old depictions of prehistoric places in northwest Iran. The Sumerians later used wild-growing saffron in their remedies and magical potions. Saffron was an article of long-distance trade before the Minoan palace culture's 2nd millennium BC peak. Ancient Persians cultivated Persian saffron (Crocus sativus 'Hausknechtii') in Derbena, Isfahan, and Khorasan by the 10th century BC. At such sites, saffron threads were woven into textiles, ritually offered to divinities, and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and body washes. Saffron threads would thus be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy. Non-Persians also feared the Persians' usage of saffron as a drugging agent and aphrodisiac. During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander's troops imitated the practice from the Persians and brought saffron-bathing to Greece.

Conflicting theories explain saffron's arrival in South Asia. Kashmiri and Chinese accounts date its arrival anywhere between 900–2500 years ago. Historians studying ancient Persian records date the arrival to sometime prior to 500 BC, attributing it to either Persian transplantation of saffron corms to stock new gardens and parks or to a Persian invasion and colonization of Kashmir. Phoenicians then marketed Kashmiri saffron as a dye and a treatment for melancholy. Its use in foods and dyes subsequently spread throughout South Asia. Buddhist monks in India adopted saffron-coloured robes after the Gautama Buddha's death. This color is now used widely in all Buddhist countries. However, the robes were not dyed with costly saffron but turmeric
Turmeric
Turmeric is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It is native to tropical South Asia and needs temperatures between 20 °C and 30 °C and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive...

, a less expensive dye, or jackfruit
Jackfruit
The jackfruit is a species of tree in the Artocarpus genus of the mulberry family . It is native to parts of Southern and Southeast Asia. It is the national fruit of Bangladesh, . The jackfruit tree is believed to be indigenous to the southwestern rain forests of India...

. Gamboge
Gamboge
Gamboge is a partially transparent dark mustard yellow pigment.Other forms and spellings are: cambodia, cambogium, camboge, cambugium, gambaugium, gambogia, gambozia, gamboidea, gambogium, gumbouge, gambouge, gamboge, gambooge, gambugia...

 is now used to dye the robes.

Some historians believe that saffron came to China with Mongol invaders from Persia. Yet saffron is mentioned in ancient Chinese medical texts, including the forty-volume pharmacopoeia titled Shennong Bencaojing (神農本草經: "Shennong's Great Herbal", also known as Pen Ts'ao or Pun Tsao), a tome dating from 200–300 BC. Traditionally credited to the fabled Yan ("Fire") Emperor (炎帝) Shennong
Shennong
Shennong , which names mean "Divine Farmer", but also known as the Emperor of the Five Grains , was a legendary ruler of China and culture hero reputed to have lived some 5,000 years ago...

, it discusses 252 phytochemical-based medical treatments for various disorders. Nevertheless, around the 3rd century AD, the Chinese were referring to saffron as having a Kashmiri provenance. According to Chinese herbalist Wan Zhen, "[t]he habitat of saffron is in Kashmir, where people grow it principally to offer it to the Buddha." Wan also reflected on how it was used in his time: "The flower withers after a few days, and then the saffron is obtained. It is valued for its uniform yellow colour. It can be used to aromatise wine."

Western

The Minoans
Minoan civilization
The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of the British archaeologist Arthur Evans...

 portrayed saffron in their palace frescoes by 1500–1600 BC; they hint at its possible use as a therapeutic drug. Ancient Greek legends told of sea voyages to Cilicia
Cilicia
In antiquity, Cilicia was the south coastal region of Asia Minor, south of the central Anatolian plateau. It existed as a political entity from Hittite times into the Byzantine empire...

, where adventurers sought what they thought to be the world's most valued threads. Another legend tells of Crocus and Smilax, whereby Crocus is bewitched and transformed into the first saffron crocus. Ancient perfumers in Egypt, physicians in Gaza
Gaza
Gaza , also referred to as Gaza City, is a Palestinian city in the Gaza Strip, with a population of about 450,000, making it the largest city in the Palestinian territories.Inhabited since at least the 15th century BC,...

, townspeople in Rhodes
Rhodes
Rhodes is an island in Greece, located in the eastern Aegean Sea. It is the largest of the Dodecanese islands in terms of both land area and population, with a population of 117,007, and also the island group's historical capital. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within...

, and the Greek hetaerae courtesans used saffron in their scented water
Scented water
Scented water, odoriferous water or sweet water, is a water with a sweet aromatic smell. It is made of flowers or herbs and is the precursor of the modern day perfume...

s, perfumes and potpourris, mascaras and ointments, divine offerings, and medical treatments.

In late Hellenistic
Hellenistic civilization
Hellenistic civilization represents the zenith of Greek influence in the ancient world from 323 BCE to about 146 BCE...

 Egypt, Cleopatra
Cleopatra VII of Egypt
Cleopatra VII Philopator was the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.She was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a family of Greek origin that ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great's death during the Hellenistic period...

 used saffron in her baths so that lovemaking would be more pleasurable. Egyptian healers used saffron as a treatment for all varieties of gastrointestinal ailments. Saffron was also used as a fabric dye in such Levant
Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

ine cities as Sidon
Sidon
Sidon or Saïda is the third-largest city in Lebanon. It is located in the South Governorate of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean coast, about 40 km north of Tyre and 40 km south of the capital Beirut. In Genesis, Sidon is the son of Canaan the grandson of Noah...

 and Tyre. Aulus Cornelius Celsus
Aulus Cornelius Celsus
Aulus Cornelius Celsus was a Roman encyclopedist, known for his extant medical work, De Medicina, which is believed to be the only surviving section of a much larger encyclopedia. The De Medicina is a primary source on diet, pharmacy, surgery and related fields, and it is one of the best sources...

 prescribes saffron in medicines for wounds, cough, colic, and scabies, and in the mithridatium. Such was the Romans' love of saffron that Roman colonists took it with them when they settled in southern Gaul, where it was extensively cultivated until Rome's fall. Competing theories state that saffron only returned to France with 8th-century AD Moors or with the Avignon
Avignon
Avignon is a French commune in southeastern France in the départment of the Vaucluse bordered by the left bank of the Rhône river. Of the 94,787 inhabitants of the city on 1 January 2010, 12 000 live in the ancient town centre surrounded by its medieval ramparts.Often referred to as the...

 papacy in the 14th century AD.

European saffron cultivation plummeted after the Roman Empire went into eclipse. As with France, the spread of Islamic civilization may have helped reintroduce the crop to Spain and Italy. The 14th-century Black Death caused demand for saffron-based medicaments to peak, and large quantities of threads had to be imported via Venetian and Genoan ships from southern and Mediterranean lands such as Rhodes; the theft of one such shipment by noblemen sparked the fourteen-week long "Saffron War". The conflict and resulting fear of rampant saffron piracy spurred corm cultivation in Basel
Basel
Basel or Basle In the national languages of Switzerland the city is also known as Bâle , Basilea and Basilea is Switzerland's third most populous city with about 166,000 inhabitants. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany...

; it thereby grew prosperous. The crop then spread to Nuremberg
Nuremberg
Nuremberg[p] is a city in the German state of Bavaria, in the administrative region of Middle Franconia. Situated on the Pegnitz river and the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, it is located about north of Munich and is Franconia's largest city. The population is 505,664...

, where endemic and insalubrious adulteration brought on the Safranschou code—whereby culprits were variously fined, imprisoned, and executed. The corms soon spread throughout England, especially Norfolk and Suffolk. The Essex town of Saffron Walden
Saffron Walden
Saffron Walden is a medium-sized market town in the Uttlesford district of Essex, England. It is located north of Bishop's Stortford, south of Cambridge and approx north of London...

, named for its new specialty crop, emerged as England's prime saffron growing and trading center. However, an influx of more exotic spices—chocolate, coffee, tea, and vanilla—from newly contacted Eastern and overseas countries caused European cultivation and usage of saffron to decline. Only in southern France, Italy, and Spain did the clone significantly endure.

Europeans introduced saffron to the Americas when immigrant members of the Schwenkfelder Church
Schwenkfelder Church
The Schwenkfelder Church is a small American Christian body rooted in the 16th century Protestant Reformation teachings of Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig .-History:...

 left Europe with a trunk containing its corms; church members had widely grown it in Europe. By 1730, the Pennsylvania Dutch
Pennsylvania Dutch
Pennsylvania Dutch refers to immigrants and their descendants from southwestern Germany and Switzerland who settled in Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries...

 were cultivating saffron throughout eastern Pennsylvania. Spanish colonies in the Caribbean bought large amounts of this new American saffron, and high demand ensured that saffron's list price on the Philadelphia commodities exchange was set equal to that of gold. The trade with the Caribbean later collapsed in the aftermath of the War of 1812, when many saffron-bearing merchant vessels were destroyed. Yet the Pennsylvania Dutch continued to grow lesser amounts of saffron for local trade and use in their cakes, noodles, and chicken or trout dishes. American saffron cultivation survived into modern times mainly in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Lancaster County, known as the Garden Spot of America or Pennsylvania Dutch Country, is a county located in the southeastern part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in the United States. As of 2010 the population was 519,445. Lancaster County forms the Lancaster Metropolitan Statistical Area, the...

.

Trade and use

Trade

Almost all saffron grows in a belt bounded by the Mediterranean in the west and the rugged region encompassing Iran and disputed Kashmir in the east. The other continents, except Antarctica, produce smaller amounts. Some 300 t (300,000 kg) of dried whole threads and powder are gleaned yearly, of which 50 t (50,000 kg) is top-grade "coupe" saffron. Iran answers for around 90–93% of global production and exports much of it. A few of Iran's drier eastern and southeastern provinces, including Fars, Kerman, and those in the Khorasan region, glean the bulk of modern global production. In 2005, the second-ranked Greece produced 5.7 t (5,700 kg), while Morocco and Kashmir, tied for third rank, each produced 2.3 t (2,300 kg). Nevertheless, Iranian crop yields and profit margins on a per-acre basis are relatively low; margins in Spain, followed by Greece and Italy, are far higher.

In recent years, Afghan cultivation has risen; in restive Kashmir it has declined. Azerbaijan, Morocco, and Italy are, in decreasing order, lesser producers. Prohibitively high labour costs and abundant Iranian imports mean that only select locales continue the tedious harvest in Austria, England, Germany, and Switzerland—among them the Swiss village of Mund, whose annual output is a few kilograms.Tasmania, China, Egypt, France, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Turkey (mainly around the town of Safranbolu
Safranbolu
Safranbolu is a town and district of Karabük Province in the Black Sea region of Turkey. It is about two hundred kilometers north of Ankara and about a hundred kilometers south of the Black Sea coast, or more precisely about 9 kilometers north of the city of Karabük...

), California, and Central Africa are microscale cultivators.

To glean an amount of dry saffron weighing 1 lb (453.6 g) is to harvest 50,000–75,000 flowers, the equivalent of an association football field's area of cultivation; 110,000–170,000 flowers or two football fields are needed to gross one kilogram. Forty hours of labour are needed to pick 150,000 flowers. Stigmas are dried quickly upon extraction and (preferably) sealed in airtight containers. Saffron prices at wholesale and retail rates range from US$500 to US$5,000 per pound, or US$1,100–11,000/kg, equivalent to £2,500/€3,500 per pound or £5,500/€7,500 per kilogram. The price in Canada recently rose to per kilogram. In Western countries, the average retail price is $1,000/£500/€700 per pound, or US$2,200/£1,100/€1,550 per kilogram. A pound comprises between 70,000 and 200,000 threads. Vivid crimson colouring, slight moistness, elasticity, and lack of broken-off thread debris are all traits of fresh saffron.

Use

Saffron's aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as hay-like and sweet. Saffron also contributes a luminous yellow-orange colouring to foods. Saffron is widely used in European, Arab, South and Central Asian, Persian, and Turkish cuisines. Confectioneries and liquors also often include saffron. Common saffron substitutes include safflower
Safflower
Safflower is a highly branched, herbaceous, thistle-like annual. It is commercially cultivated for vegetable oil extracted from the seeds. Plants are 30 to 150 cm tall with globular flower heads having yellow, orange or red flowers. Each branch will usually have from one to five flower heads...

 (Carthamus tinctorius, which is often sold as "Portuguese saffron" or "açafrão"), annatto, and turmeric (Curcuma longa). Saffron has also been used as a fabric dye
Dye
A dye is a colored substance that has an affinity to the substrate to which it is being applied. The dye is generally applied in an aqueous solution, and requires a mordant to improve the fastness of the dye on the fiber....

, particularly in China and India, and in perfumery. It is used for religious purposes in India, and is widely used in cooking in many ethnic cuisines: these range, for example, from the Milanese risotto of Italy or the bouillabaise of France to biryani with various meat accompaniments in South Asia.

Saffron has a long medicinal history as part of traditional healing; modern medicine has also discovered saffron as having anticarcinogen
Anticarcinogen
An anticarcinogen is any chemical which reduces the occurrence of cancers, reduces the severity of cancers that do occur, or acts against cancers that do occur, based on evidence from in vitro studies, animal models, epidemiological studies and/or clinical studies.Preventative anticarcinogens act...

ic (cancer-suppressing), anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing), immunomodulating, and antioxidant
Antioxidant
An antioxidant is a molecule capable of inhibiting the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that transfers electrons or hydrogen from a substance to an oxidizing agent. Oxidation reactions can produce free radicals. In turn, these radicals can start chain reactions. When...

-like properties. Saffron stigmas, and even petals, have been said to be helpful for depression. Early studies show that saffron may protect the eyes from the direct effects of bright light and retinal stress apart from slowing down macular degeneration
Macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration is a medical condition which usually affects older adults and results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field because of damage to the retina. It occurs in “dry” and “wet” forms. It is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment in older adults...

 and retinitis pigmentosa
Retinitis pigmentosa
Retinitis pigmentosa is a group of genetic eye conditions that leads to incurable blindness. In the progression of symptoms for RP, night blindness generally precedes tunnel vision by years or even decades. Many people with RP do not become legally blind until their 40s or 50s and retain some...

. (Most saffron-related research refers to the stigmas, but this is often not made explicit in research papers.)

Health benefits

Controlled research studies have indicated that saffron may have many potential medicinal uses:

Nutritional information

1tbsp of saffron spices contains the following nutritional information according to the USDA:
  • Calories :7
  • Fat: 0.12
  • Carbohydrates: 1.37
  • Fibers: 0.1
  • Protein: 0.24

External links

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The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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