Saffron is the red stigma of the crocus sativus flower that, when harvested and dried, is used as a culinary spice and coloring agent, and as an herbal supplement and remedy. Saffron is harvested by hand due to its delicate nature.
These terms indicate the trim of the Saffron stigma. Each crocus sativus flower has 3 Saffron stigmas, all 3 of which are connected to one yellow root, known as a “style”. The style is considered by some to be dead weight, because it provides no culinary, coloring, or nutritional value. Removal of the style is labor-intensive, thus driving the price of the resulting Saffron upwards. The trade-off is: higher potency, higher cost; lower potency, lower cost. The debate is a subjective matter, as while the style has no practical use, it also doesn’t have any negative effects. The choice becomes clear, however, if for example you see Pushal (style in-tact) being sold for the same price as Negin (style removed, all-red stigma’s only). Unfortunately, there are quite a few cases like this in the market, and often a trim will not even be specified, allowing merchants to get away with selling Pushal (Grade 3) at Negin prices to buyers who don’t know the style is dead weight. Mazaeus Saffron is strictly Negin (Grade 1), style removed, for the highest potency at the most fair, effective price.
Saffron is grown in just a few scattered regions of the world, primarily in the historic Khorasan region that straddles the border dividing Iran and Afghanistan, and the La Mancha region of Spain. As with coffee and tea, the origin of Saffron can affect its flavor and other characteristics. Cultural norms also factor into these differences; for example, Spanish Saffron typically includes the style, while Persian Saffron emphasizes trim in relation to potency.
Saffron comes from a flower, so Safflower just seems like a convenient compound word and cognate, right? Wrong. Safflower is sometimes used as a cheap substitute for Saffron, and unfortunately sometimes it is mislabeled and sold as Saffron. But Saffron and Safflower are two completely unrelated plants; Safflower does not have any of the chemical properties and health benefits of Saffron.
Saffron aids in the boosting of serotonin levels, making it a natural herbal supplement for anxiety relief and depression. Saffron has been used for millenia for these mood lifting qualities. Saffron is used as a digestive aid, to improve and maintain the longevity of ones’ eyesight, and to restore skin. Saffron adds a beautiful golden color and floral aroma in all its culinary applications. In the days before the availability of synthetic dyes, before chemistry gave us pharmaceuticals, these organic benefits made Saffron a prized ingredient. Today, as people seek organic products, Saffron is an appealing solution that ties us back to our agrarian past.
Saffron is comprised of the organic compounds safranal, crocin, and picocrocin. The National Institutes of Health reports the benefits of Saffron in relation to its chemical makeup.
There are many ways to use Saffron, and portioning will depend on your desired application and recipe. If you’re using Saffron in a culinary application, a general rule of thumb is to steep the Saffron in 4 parts room temperature liquid to 1 part Saffron for a half hour to allow for optimum solubility, to allow the Saffron to properly bloom. You can use water, milk, cream, stock, or broth, though each will have varying degrees of solubility and may differ in how much time is required to steep. Due to the presence of fat, milk and cream are significantly less soluble for Saffron steeping than water, stock or broth. If your intention is to infuse Saffron into milk or cream, the optimal method is to infuse the required amount of Saffron in water first, and then add that Saffron-infused water to your milk or cream.
As a general rule of thumb, to speed the steeping process up, you can add the Saffron into a mortar and pestle with a light pinch of kosher salt, grind the Saffron into a fine powder, then whisk in water, and then add that saffron-infused water to your liquid of choice or recipe. Please note, it’s not a good idea to add Saffron into a dish as it’s cooking, or to add hot liquid to Saffron. Saffron is a very delicate spice; hot temperatures may burn Saffron, resulting in unexpected, undesirable, or diminished flavors.
Saffron must be kept in a dry environment, away from direct light, and at room temperature. It’s optimal to keep the Saffron in its original container and/or packaging, and in a kitchen cupboard or pantry. Under these conditions, Saffron can last up to 3-4 years while maintaining its quality and potency.
Mazaeus is a boutique, family-owned and operated business --- with 15 years of experience in the culinary field, we approach Saffron with a critical eye and nose, and select Saffron that is notable for its sweet, earthy and pungent aromatic profile.
Saffron isn’t just a fancy cooking ingredient, or a food coloring. Many people rely on Saffron for herbal and apothecarial uses. It’s important to know the potency of each batch of Saffron from a scientific standpoint. For this reason, in addition to qualitative tests we run during crop selection, we submit each batch of Saffron for independent lab-testing. See our Lab Analysis.
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