Saffron is an agricultural product classified in the family of spices. It is obtained by the cultivation of Crocus sativus. (Iridaceae) and by removal and dehydration of the three red stigmas (distal ends of the carpels of the plant), who’s length generally varies between 2.5 to 3.2 cm.
The domestic “crocus sativus” is a perennial plant with autumnal flowering, non-existent in the wild. Style and stigma are often used in cooking, as seasoning or as a colouring agent.
Saffron, sometimes called "red gold", is the most difficult spice to produce in the world and therefore of high value.
He hails from Crete, then spread to the Middle East. It was cultivated for the first time in the Greek provinces, by the Minoan civilization, more than 35 centuries ago.
Saffron is characterized by a bitter taste and a fragrance similar to iodoform, or hay, caused by picrocrocin and safranin. It also contains a carotenoid, the crocin, which gives a yellow-gold colour to dishes containing saffron.
Saffron has six gastronomic properties. Renowned for its colouring and aromatic property, saffron still has four unknown properties: it is an antioxidant, enhancer, harmonizing energizer, which gives it a very wide range of versatility, covering the entire spectrum of human nutrition, as well as effects culinary variety, which makes the use and control of this spice sometimes complex and difficult. Saffron is widely used in Arabic, European, Indian, Iranian and Central Asian cuisines. Its aroma is described by cooks and lovers of saffron as resembling honey, but with metallic notes.
These characteristics make saffron a highly prized condiment for many culinary specialities all over the world, especially in Persian cuisine.
Saffron also has medical applications.
Several saffron cultivars are grown around the world.
In Europe, at least 3 strains would exist, distinguished on the basis of morphological criteria. Spanish varieties, including the Spanish Superior and Crème trade names, are evaluated by government standards and generally have a softer colour, aroma and fragrance.
Italian varieties are more powerful, while the most intense varieties are from Greek Macedonia, Iran or India. Westerners face significant barriers to obtaining Indian saffron, as the country has banned the export of better quality saffron. Apart from these, other commercial varieties are available, from New Zealand, France, Switzerland, England, the United States, or other countries. In the United States, Pennsylvania Dutch Saffron, known for its earthy notes, is sold in small quantities. Consumers consider some cultivars to be of "superior" quality.
An example is the "saffron of Aquila" (zafferano dell'Aquila),
This saffron has a high concentration of safranin and crocin, a particular shape, an exceptionally pungent aroma and an intense colour; it is cultivated exclusively on eight hectares of the Navelli Valley in the Italian region of Abruzzo, near Aquila.