Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Saffron, Zaffron

"Your lips drop sweetness like honeycomb, my bride,
syrup and milk are under your tongue,
and your dress had the scent of Lebanon.
Your cheeks are an orchard of pomegranates,
an orchard full of rare fruits,
spikenard and saffron, sweet cane and cinnamon." 

Song of Solomon

Saffron [saf-fron] the spice used in oh-so-many Arabic dishes, originates from the saffron crocus, a plant which bears just three stigmas.

Described as tasting like metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, fresh saffron stamens are vivid crimson in colour, contain a slight moistness and elasticity. The stamens are picked and once dried are added to food and textiles to produce a rich luminous yellow-orange colour:

Saffron has long been the world's most expensive spice and is sold by weight. Saffron prices range from around US$1,100 /kg (wholesale) to US$11,000 /kg (retail), equvialent to £5,500 or €7,500 per kilogram. Saffron costs £3.80 for a ½ gram in one UK supermarket, which translates into £7,600 per kilo

"A man who is stingy with saffron is capable of seducing his own grandmother."

Norman Douglas,
English Writer (1868-1952)

Picking Saffron
Half a kilo of dry saffron requires the picking of 50,000 to 75,000 flowers (about the size of a football field)

and is said to take around 20 hours. Stigmas are picked, dried and then stored in airtight containers.

Saffron is graded by crocin (colour), picrocrocin (taste), and safranal (fragrance). Additional extras such as, 'floral waste content' and inorganic material for example, 'ash' also dertmine the grade.

Grading standards are set by the International Organization for Standardization, with ISO 3632 being used only to describe saffron's colour intensity.

Most saffron is grown in an area of land which streches from the Mediterranean to Kashmir. Around 300 tonnes of saffron are produced worldwide each year, with Iran having the largest harvest (94 percent of world production).

America, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Greece, Azerbaijan, India and China all produce saffron too, see map below:

N.B. the darker the colour red, the more saffron is grown (pink indicates very small quantities)

Saffron in Food
Saffron is widely used to flavour rice and meat dishes in Iranian (Persian), Arab, Central Asian, Pakistani, Indian and Turkish food, with various methods being used to extract the colour and flavour:

1 - toast; dry roast the saffron and then soak in warmed milk for about half an hour, but this can be extended to two hours. Infusion is then added to the dish
2 - soak; add saffron to warm water for about half an hour and then tip the entire contents into the food/dish
3 - add the stamens to the food directly.

"I must have saffron to colour the warden pies;
mace; dates? none, that's out of my note;
nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger,
but that I may beg;
four pound of prunes, and as many of raisins o' the sun."
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Act IV, scene III, 'The Winter's Tale'

Saffron Rice
2 cups basmati rice
1 teaspoon saffron threads + 3 tablespoons boiling water
6 tablespoons butter
several cinnamon sticks
1 cup finely chopped onion (fried until golden)
2 teaspoons salt
6 - 8 cardamoms, cracked open

Place the saffron in a small bowl and cover with 3 tablespoons of boiling water. Soak for 30 minutes.

Wash rice until the water runs clear {see wgaw: COOKING RICE CAN TAKE SOME TIME}, put in boiling water and wait until the rice is just past al-dente.

While the rice is cooking, saute the onions until they turn slightly brown (golden)

Boil the rice until it is almost soft, but has a slightly hard bit in the middle. Remove the rice from the ring and put in a sieve. Wash the rice with cold water to stop it cooking

Dry the saucepan and add butter, ghee or margarine to the bottom of the pan and put on the ring to warm.  Add the cardamons, cinamon and the saffron and its soaking water

When the fat is melted, put the rice in the pan and warm on a low heat for an hour or so

Fluff and serve hot.

Saffron Tea
Tea is brewed as normal; tea is placed in a tea pot, however the smallest ammount of saffron is infused with the tea leaves.  Brew for upto 20 minutes and pour into small glass tea cups, with sugar being added to taste.  Leave the saffron threads in the liquid.

Storing Saffron
Because saffron is sensitive to light and moisture it should be stored in a container away from sunlight. Saffron easily absorbs other flavors and odours - be sure to clean any container before you use it to store saffron.

Historical Uses of Saffron
Saffron-based pigments were used as dyes and have been found in 50,000 year-old cave paintings in in Iran and Iraq.  Saffron has also been used as a fabric dye; Buddhist monks in India adopted saffron-coloured robes. However, the robes were not dyed with costly saffron but turmeric, a less expensive dye, or jackfruit.

Saffron threads would be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy. Historically, saffron's use as a drugging agent and aphrodisiac were feared.

During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used saffron in his baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander's troops imitated the practice
Medicinally saffron has long been part of the traditional healing tradition; Sumerians used saffron in their remedies and magical potions.

Apparently modern medicine uses saffron as both an anticarcinogenic (cancer-suppressing) agent, as well as an anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing).  Early studies show that saffron may protect the eyes from retinal stress and slow down macular degeneration.

Saffron Translated
Arabic 'Zaferan'
Farsi 'Zefrun' (in Persian,'zarparan' means a flower with a stigma which has a value equvialent to gold)
French 'Safrane'
Indian 'Zuffron'
Italian 'Zaferano'
Spanish 'Azafran'
Tamil 'Gnaazhal poo'
Turkish 'Zefrun'


SJ said...

Brilliant!!! Apart from writing, do you take photographs too?

SJ said...

Brilliant!!! The first photograph on the bud was amazing...

Preiyanka said...

Nice...but it is called KESAR in India!