Saffron (Spice)

Saffron (spice). Although its origins can be located in the Mediterranean, as well as in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and China. It is an essential spice for paellas, specifically Valencian. In the areas of La Mancha and Valencia, its history and those of paella are inextricably linked. But also Italy, parts of Switzerland, and India value this spice for very specific dishes from their culinary cultures.


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  • 1 History of saffron
  • 2 Feature
  • 3 Greco – Romana
    • 1 Legends
  • 4 Middle East
  • 5 India and China
    • 1 India
    • 2 China
  • 6 Post-classical European period
    • 1 European trade
  • 7 North America
  • 8 uses
  • 9 External links
  • 10 Sources

Saffron history

Ever since man discovered the additive flavors and smells of plants, his seeds and fruits have been grouped together, by the flavors, by the itchiness, and by also giving them dye according to the regions. Saffron is one of them and with certain very special characteristics because it is still the most expensive spice in the world, due to its cultivation, harvesting and drying. And finally, it has become a very specific use spice, due to the fact that it produces a very particular dye as well as giving a certain flavor and aroma. That is why it has been relegated to very specific recipes for certain countries while in others it is almost unknown. There is no paella without saffron, nor are there any curries without it, unless they use it as a coloring so that it does not itch like turmeric. Of course, there is also its medicinal use as something added

Saffron is one of humanity’s oldest spice crops and its history is linked to different cultures, regions or continents and various cultures, dating back more than 3,000 years. It was and is the most expensive spice in the world, it still continues to be in the modern world today, in relation to its weight and manufacture. They are actually the stigmas of the flower of Crocus sativus, a plant that grows to 15 centimeters in height. Its collection and processing is manual in its entirety. It has received the nickname “red gold” when compared in price ratio to five times that of vanilla and almost 30 times that of cardamom. It has a bitter taste and a hay-like fragrance with slightly metallic notes. Its use has happened to be a condiment, a dye, a fragrance and even as a drug for some diseases. Its native origin is southwest Asia, but its cultivation began in ancient Greece.


Flower of the Crocus sativus, and whose stigmas form the spice known as saffron.

The current saffron in the domesticated version of the wild Crocus cartwrightianus, which through artificial selection had abnormally large stigmas. On the island of Crete during the Bronze Age a mutant emerged between the varieties C. cartwrightianus and C. sativus.

In the 7th century BC, saffron was documented by Assyrian botanists in various compilations made at the time of Ashurbanipal for the first time. Since then, the use of saffron has been known for around 4,000 years, in which it has been used as a treatment for some 90 diseases. Its extension through Europe and Asia was slow, reaching parts of North Africa , North America and Oceania .

Sasfras is something else and with other uses.

It should not be confused with Sassafras or Sassafras which is something else. This is a tree of the Lauraceae family. Its essences from the bark, roots and fruit have been used as a fragrance in perfumes and soaps, in food (sassafras tea and sweet flavoring) and for aromatherapy . And as an analgesic, antiseptic in dental diseases. The marrow is used to calm eye inflammation and a mild cold. The leaves are used sauce and soups, and when they are dried and ground they are known as “filé powder” a dressing for seafood soup and other Louisiana dishes .

Greco – Romana

Saffron played an important role in the classical period of the Greco-Roman culture ( 18th century BC, until the 3rd century BC ). For Greek culture, its collection began to be portrayed in the frescoes of the Minoan Crete, where two young people are seen carefully collecting flowers. One of them is located in a building in Akrotiri called “X east 3”, on the Greek island of Santorini (formerly known as Thera). These frescoes have been dated to the period between 1600 – 1500 BC Although there are other dates, such as 3000 – 1100 BC, and the 17th centuryane There appears a mythological god who oversees the stigmata peel to make certain therapeutic drugs. Another fresco shows how a woman uses saffron to soothe her feet. Thera’s frescoes are graphs of the use of saffron as a home remedy. However, these two Minoan settlements corresponding to Thera and Akrotiri, both in Santorini, were destroyed by a devastating earthquake and Minoan eruption that occurred between 1645 BCE and 1500 BCE This event sank part of the island in the Aegean Seaand a large part of the saffron crops ceased to be relevant in what remained of the island. The frescoes on the cultivation of saffron were buried and preserved by volcanic ash in such a way that today we can enjoy them.

The cultures that lived in the ancient Mediterranean used the saffron collected in the coastal city of Cilicia , called Soli, and considered the most valuable, specifically for perfumes and cosmetics. Hence, figures of the time, such as Herodotus and Pliny the Elder, mention as a rival to the Greek saffron that they come from the Assyrian and Babylon markets in the Fertile Crescent, as they are the best for treatments against gastrointestinal and kidney problems.

At the end of the Ptolemaic Period , CleopatraHe used a quarter cup of saffron in his hot baths for its coloring and cosmetic properties. He also used it before his palatial encounters in the belief that saffron would have a more pleasant effect. Egyptian doctors used it for treatment in a range of gastrointestinal diseases. In fact, when the stomach ached until it had internal bleeding, the Egyptians made an ointment made from ground saffron seeds and mixed with the leaves of the Aager tree, beef fat, coriander and myrrh. All this was put on as a poultice, applied externally to the body. Physicists believed that this way would expel blood through the mouth or rectum. This time the urinary system also object of medicinal application with was mixed in an emulsion with oil with immature saffron mixed with its own flowers and the roasted seeds; for topical use in men. The women ingested a more complicated preparation.


The legends of the ancient Greeks mention sailors and travelers, who after risky and risky journeys carry packages of this spice from the land of Cilicia. The long trips mentioned were made to procure quantities at a lower price. The best-known legend in ancient Greek culture that has saffron as its main element, is the tragedy of Crocus and Smilax narrated by Ovid : The young and beautiful Crocus sets out to pursue the nymph Smilax in the nearby forests of Athens.. The fun of love and flattery games follow one another. However, soon after Smilax begins to tire of Crocus, which increases Crocus’s desire to please by surprising her, in this delusion Crocus is transformed by the gods into a flower of radiant colors as a symbol of Crocus’s passion for beauty Smilax nymph. The tragedy about the spice was portrayed by Ovid.

middle East

Saffron-based pigments have been found in some prehistoric caves in what is now the territory of Iraq, in which animals were represented in freedom, their antiquity has been dated to 50 thousand years. Later it was learned that it was used as an ingredient by the Sumerians in their magic potions and remedies. And it is even known that the Sumerians did not cultivate the flower, and they only dedicated themselves to collecting the wild specimens for the belief that only the divine intervention allowed the saffron to have its magical and medicinal properties. These evidences give an idea of ​​saffron as a commodity, transported from long distances before the Minoan culture in the 20th century BC Saffron was honored as a fragrant spice for three millennia before in the Hebrew Tanakh.

In ancient Persia, (Crocus sativus ‘Hausknechtii’) was cultivated in Derbena and Isfahan in the 10th century BC.. Saffron threads have been found in the interweaving of some carpets and funerary objects dating from this time. He was used as part of the offering ritual to the gods. Also as a colorant that provides a strong yellow, as well as perfume, and medicine. The saffron threads were scattered throughout the rooms, on the bed and were taken in infusions in order to cure melancholy. In fact, they were frequently used in flavoring various dishes, flavoring teas and was highly appreciated by foreigners who came to Persia for believing that it had narcotic and aphrodisiac effects. This belief created fear in the travelers that once there they were served dishes with saffron.

Furthermore, saffron was dissolved in sandalwood along with water to be used as a skin cleansing agent, and to withstand the scorching Persian sun. Later, the Persian saffron was used in a certain habit by Alexander the Great and his troops during the campaigns on Asia.. They used it in making their teas and in dishes with rice. Alexander used it directly in the hot water of the bathroom in the belief that it healed war wounds. He is known to have advised this and the Greek soldiers took this advice as a belief about its healing properties and continued with it when they returned to Macedonia after the campaigns. Saffron cultivation reached what is now Turkey, concentrating its cultivation in the north of the city of Safranbolu (the city of saffron); The area is known today for its annual festivals dedicated to saffron harvesting.

India and China


There is a difference between the accounts of the arrival of saffron in Asia, between the southern and the central. One considers that various Persian expeditions to the area produced contact. Proponents of this theory rank the first area in India for increased contacts with the Persians. This was due to the trade and export of aesthetic customs for the preparation and cultivation of parks and gardens. Another part attributes it to the conquest of Kashmir with the product from the Kashmir horn, locating it before 500 BC. This Kashmir saffron was used as a treatment against melancholy.

But, there is a traditional Kashmiri legend indicating that saffron arrived between the 11th and 12th centuries., when two foreigners and traveling ascetics of the Sufi, Khwaja Masood Wali and Sheik Shariffudin of Hazrat, roamed Kashmir. The foreigners, having fallen ill, begged a cure for the disease from a local tribal chief. When the local cacique sent a doctor to heal them, they gratefully gave him a saffron bulb as payment and thanks for the healing treatments received. Today they are prayed as a thank you during the harvest of the saffron in the season in the fall. They have a chapel and a vaulted tomb with gold dedicated to saffron in the village of Pampore, India. However, the poet and scholar Mohammed Yusuf Teng of Kashmir disputes this popular claim. He indicates that cashmere cultivated it for more than two millennia before. In fact,


In ancient Buddhist China , the Mula-Sarvastivadin vinaya (monastic order) has other evidence of the arrival of saffron in India. According to legend, an arhat ( 5th century AD Buddhist missionary ) of Indian origin sent from Kashmir and named Madhyântika (or Majjhantika) and mentions that he carried the first strands of saffron. From here, it spread throughout the Indian subcontinent. Being used in the preparation of meals, saffron was soaked in water to acquire a yellowish color and thus be used as a dye. Such was the admiration of the people, that immediately, after the death of Buddha Siddhartha Guatama, his monks decided to use the color of saffron as the typical color of their robes and coats.

Some historians say that saffron was introduced from China with the Mongol tribes that invaded Persia . Saffron is mentioned in some Chinese medical texts, including the vast pharmacopoeia Bencao Gangmu (“Great Herb”), a tome from around 1600 BC , (and attributed to Emperor Shen-Ung) that goes on to document thousands of phytochemical drugs for the treatment of different diseases. Even in the 3rd centuryThe Chinese refer to saffron as a cashmere product. For example, Wan Zhen, a Chinese medical expert, mentions that “The natural habitat for saffron is Kashmir, where people cultivate it mainly to be offered to the Buddha.” Wan also refers to how saffron was used at this time: “The crocus flower wilts for a few days, and for this reason it is collected immediately. It is valued due to its uniform yellow color. It can be used to flavor wine.

Currently, the cultivation of saffron has spread in some areas such as Afghanistan, mainly due to the efforts of the European Union to promote the cultivation of saffron flower among the poorest areas and thus be able to obtain a legal economic income, compared to opium-growing culture. The effort that is made on this area is due in part to the climatic conditions of sun and temperature, which are ideal for flower growth.

Post-classical European period

Collection of the Flower of Crocus sativus, in the fields of La Mancha, Spain.

Cultivation in Europe was interrupted and began to decline with the fall of the Roman Empire . For several centuries after this event, the cultivation of saffron was rare or non-existent throughout the territory of Europe. The situation changed when Arab tribes entered the establishment and expansion of Al-Andalus in southern Spain and parts of France and southern Italy from North Africa . One of the theories mentions that saffron was reintroduced in Europe around the Poitiers region after the famous Battle of Poitiers in which Carlos Martel was found in 732commanding an army of francs against the Arab troops that tried to settle in the south of France. Two centuries after the conquest of Spain, saffron began to be planted again in the southern provinces of Andalusia , Castilla-La Mancha , and Valencia .

When the black plague lashes Europe between 1347 and 1350Curiously, the demand for saffron as well as its cultivation increased suddenly, due in part to the fact that it was a highly coveted medicinal remedy by the victims of the plague, so many of the growers made great efforts to improve their plantation. Large amounts of saffron threads came from imports by non-European countries. Furthermore, it was not possible to obtain in Europe the very good quality threads that came from the Muslim countries due in part to the contention that the crusades represented. In this way imports from places like the island of Rhodes supplied the central and northern part of Europe. Saffron during this time was one of the reasons for the hostility of the wealthier classes towards the increasingly wealthy merchants.

For example, the “Saffron War” that lasted fourteen weeks was started when it became known that a 360 kg merchandise had been stolen by the nobility. The saffron cargo, which had been destined for the Swiss city of Basel , today at current market prices would have been valued at more than US $ 500,000. The ship carrying the merchandise finally returned to its owners, however this event did not prevent the piracy carried out on the routes that transported the saffron merchandise for much of the 13th century . In fact, the pirates who walked through the Mediterranean Sea ignored the existing gold warehouses and preferred to make their forays into the transport of the goods that were sailing to the markets of Veniceand from Genoa . The inhabitants of Basel, careful of future piracy on its borders, dedicated themselves to planting their own saffron. After several years of good harvests and quite lucrative, Basel became extremely prosperous, becoming able to compare with other European cities of the time. Basel sought to protect its state by prohibiting the transport of crocus outside the city borders; They named special protectors and mercenaries to help them prevent the possibility of flower thefts from the harvest or damaging the saffron harvest. However, despite much care after ten years the harvest began to fail, and Basel abandoned cultivation.

European trade

Processing of the stigmas of the Flor del Crocus s., In La Mancha, Spain.

The European Saffron Marketing Center was then moved to the German city of Nuremberg, while merchants from Venice dominated the market in the Mediterranean Sea. Saffron from different origins in Austria , Crete , France , Greece , the Ottoman Empire , Sicily and Spain was marketed here.. Among all these merchandise entered adulterated material, including that saffron soaked in honey, in marigold petals, or stored in damp cells to increase weight. These illegal activities caused the Nuremberg authorities to be alerted and their trade was soon regulated with what was called the Safranschou code, the purpose of which was to regulate the trade and distribution of this spice. The adulterations made on the saffron were punished and executed for immolation. Soon after, England emerged as one of the largest European saffron producers.

Saffron, according to a legend, spread along the west coast of England in the 14th century during the reign of Edward III thanks to a pilgrim who brought a saffron bulb hidden in the hollow cane that he carried from the East to the City of Walden . There the bulb was planted and began to reproduce giving the city great prosperity. During these years saffron was successfully cultivated throughout the territory of England. Some cities like: Norfolk, Suffolk and in the south of Cambridgeshire where a variety with great stigmas was cultivated. Rowland Parker provides examples of cultivation at Foxton Village during the 16th and 17th centuries, “the people dedicated a small portion of their cultivation”; one acre planted could provide about £ 6 (6 Pounds Sterling), by making a good harvest a grower could lead a good life. ”

However, the cultivation carried out in England over time was decreasing until the small production that has survived and that is carried out in the surroundings of the county of Essex. In fact the name of the city of Saffron Walden took its name from its famous saffron cultivation, being also an important trade center in northern Europe. Its original name was Cheppinge Walden and the name of the city changed in order to show the importance of this cultivation and trade; today the city’s coat of arms shows a flower of Crocus sativus. With the advent of puritanism in the Middle Ages, they favored the use of more austere and simple dishes without the use of spices, and left saffron in English cuisine. The cultivation was affected by this new trend.Asia from the sea routes of India made saffron less and less considered in the preparation of traditional dishes.

This tendency to use less and less saffron was later documented by the Rev. William Herbert, who was the Dean of Manchester. Herbert set about collecting examples and information from many aspects of the cultivation and history of the saffron flower. He spent time in his life and seemed concerned about the reasons for its decreasing use in seventeenth-century European cuisineand its almost complete abandonment after the Industrial revolution. This was mainly due to the introduction in Europe of new culinary species such as corn and potatoes, which began to displace the area cultivated for saffron. Furthermore, the social classes that consumed saffron were now beginning to take an interest in new species that came from the ‘New World’ such as chocolate, coffee, tea, and vanilla. Nowadays only in the south of France , Italy and Spain , saffron continues to be used because its use is deeply incorporated into the cultural traditions of the populations of these countries.

North America

The saffron made its way to the Americas with thousands of Alsatians, Germans, and Swiss Anabaptists, Dunkards, and other persecuted practitioners of European religions migrated there. Much of them settled in western Pennsylvania , in the Susquehanna River Valley. These settlers were the founders of what would later be called the Pennsylvania Dutch, it is very possible that by the year 1730 there were already saffron crops for the first time in America.


This spice is an indissoluble part of various culinary cultures of specific regions, independent of some other countries, and they continue to use it as a photochemical drug. :

Traditional Valencian paella with chicken and rabbit.

  • Although there are several regional cuisines in India , saffron remains an almost essential ingredient in numerous rice, sweet and even ice cream recipes (with and after English rule). Here it is also used in Ayurvedic medicine as an ingredient in numerous recipes and as well as in religious cults for its dye. Although turmeric
  • In Saudi Arabia , an authentic Arab coffee must have cardamom and saffron.
  • In northern Italy and southern Switzerland (Italian Cantons), remember that Switzerland does not have a kitchen as such but rather acquires the heritage of the regional Canton, saffron is essential in the preparation of the famous Rissotto.
  • In Sweden , it is a tradition to make saffron bread on Saint Lucia’s day . But there and in other Scandinavian countries they also use it in other types of breads and pastries.
  • Finally in Spain , saffron is an essential ingredient in such famous dishes as Paella , Fabada or Pote Gallego . And it is precisely this ingredient that determines many of the regional dishes of this country.


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