Monday, December 07, 2009

Crocus Sativus - producer of saffron, the most expensive spice in the world

Guest Blog by Wendy Kiang-Spray
Crocus Sativus - this delicate little autumn bloom is the producer of saffron, the most expensive spice in the world.
Sure the bright orange-red stigma is striking against the lavender petals of the crocus, but why all the fuss? Consider the many uses:

•Cooking - candies, liquors, breads, desserts, Spanish paella, and other food from practically every culture. Personally, I love saffron because it is used in many of my favorite Indian dishes.

•Medicinal - cancer suppressant properties, antioxidant, antidepressant, mutation suppressant properties, protects the eyes, and general healing. Saffron has been linked to the healing of over 90 illnesses!

•Other purposes - fabric dye, perfumery, general food coloring.

Believe it...

•Saffron's history reaches back 4000 years.

•One pound of saffron requires 50,000 to 75,000 flowers - the growing area equivalent to a football field.

•One pound of saffron would cost between 500-5000 US dollars depending on the grade (color, taste, and fragrance).

Growing information:

•Plant new bulbs in the very early autumn for bloom around October. To begin with, try planting about 2 dozen.

•Crocus sativus will thrive in full sun, with loose well-watered and well-drained soil (what wouldn't??).

•Bloom period is about 1-2 weeks.

To harvest the precious little threads:
•Be sure to catch the blossoms when they open. Most blooms will last one day and will wilt as the day passes.

•Pluck the 3 orange-red stigmas in the center of the crocus sometime in the mid-morning on a sunny day when the bloom is fully opened.

•Let air dry then store in an air-tight container.

To use the most expensive spice in the world:

•Steep about 1 teaspoon saffron in about 3 teaspoons of hot water or broth for about 2 hours.

•Add both threads and steeping liquid early in the cooking or baking process.

IF, and this is a big IF, a cute little lavender flower doesn't appeal to you, IF you don't have a tiny patch of garden to plant some unassuming bulbs, IF you can't use a little extra color in October, and IF the process of harvesting your own very expensive spice from a very cheap bulb doesn't appeal to you, you could think about buying saffron at the store to try. Here are some tips:
•Buy threads, not powdered saffron. The powder could be cut with turmeric, a cheap spice that imparts a similar color. It may be cheaper, but will require more to be used for the same flavor impact.

•Sometimes saffron is dyed to give that red color cooks want. This is not good. You want to look for the real thing - the saffron thread should be red, but the tips should be slightly lighter in color.

Enjoy the color and fragrance of saffron in your favorite food tonight...

Wendy Kiang-Spray is a blogger and gardener in Rockville, MD. She is a high school counselor by day and a landscape architect and master gardener by night in my dreams.

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