Whole Saffron Threads from San Gavino, Sardinia.
One of the highest quality saffron in the world, grown traditionally (no pesticide, natural fertilizers, hand weeding) by small farmers.
1g glass jar
Saffron, by far the most expensive spice in the world, is obtained from the flower of the crocus sativus. The stigmas of the flower, called threads, are harvested in autumn and dried; they are used for seasoning food, as a coloring agent and for medicinal purposes.
With only three stigmas per flower, saffron harvesting is a long process: as many as 150000 flowers are needed to produce 1kg of dried saffron, so the market prices, up to 20€/g, are understandable.
Crocus sativus is a variety probably selected for its longer stigmas and domesticated from a wild plant in Late Bronze Age in Crete. Since then it is an important and precious crop in various countries (Iran and Spain have the most cultivated surface, then Morocco, Italy, Greece, India and Azerbaijan).
Its taste is slightly bitter, but with a honey-like sweetness and a unique aroma. Safranal, the major aromatic compound of dried saffron (it is not present in fresh stigmas), is responsible for saffron aroma, while picrocrocin is mostly responsible for its taste. The deep red color of saffron is due to another chemical compound, crocin (that is water soluble).
The name of saffron is originated from the persian zar parān (with golden leaves), while the botanical name crocus comes from Krokus, ancient greek for thread. Zarparan become safranum in medieval latin and az-zafaran in Arabic, and all modern names come from this same root.
Throughout history saffron has been legendary: Cleopatra used to bath in a saffron-infused mare’s milk (for its cosmetic and aphrodisiac properties) and even Alexander the Great used water with saffron to cure its wounds (a practice learnt in Persia) and drank it as tea.
Scientists have found saffron pigments is cave paintings in Iran, and Persian kings wore saffron-dyed clothes. Always a symbol of wealth, it was even used as a remedy against the plague in 14th century.
We source our saffron in Sardinia, a region where this crop is traditional and well established. The village of San Gavino Monreale is famous for its Zaffaranu (saffron), thanks to its climate and soil that are ideal to saffron cultivation. The resulting product is of outstanding quality, being high in crocin (responsible of coloring power), picrocrocin (the major component of saffron taste) and safranal (responsible of aroma).
Here, in the plains around San Gavino, the Curreli family grows it naturally generation after generation without use of pesticides, with only natural fertilizers and hand weeding, and we buy it each year from them just after harvest, at the end of autumn.
NOTE: A protected geographical indication called “Zafferano di Sardegna” exists: the production disciplinary includes the use of extra-virgin olive oil to slightly wet the saffron threads before drying (a practice that unfortunately reduces shelf life), and the use of glass or ceramic containers (with conditioning being done in the territory of production). We choose not to sell certified saffron because the added bureaucracy increases the price and limits packaging options without giving better product in term of taste and aroma (which is our priority).
TASTE AND USES IN THE KITCHEN
Saffron aromatic molecules are water soluble, so it is best to infuse threads in liquid for an hour or even overnight (cover and store the container in the fridge if using milk or broth). Add this liquid early in the cooking process to increase color extraction, or later for a better taste and aroma. If the threads are ground (it is easily done in a mortar) the infusion time can be cut to just 10 minutes.
Persian cuisine makes extensive use of saffron: in rice dishes, in marinades for roasted meats, in chicken or lamb stews… some saffron-infused water is always among the ingredients, and it’s a big part of an authentic Persian meal.
In Europe saffron is mostly used in Italy, Spain, Greece and France, where it is one of the main ingredients in dishes like paella valenciana, risotto alla Milanese, bouillabaisse… Sardinia, with its long history of saffron growing, has a long list of dishes that use this golden spice, from malloreddus and fregula (types of pasta made with durum wheat that can be made with some added saffron for color and taste), to tomato based sauces (add a few powdered thread to your sausage ragout and see for yourself), to soups and sweets (like in pardulas, a typical Easter treat with a farce made of saffron mixed with ricotta, sugar, eggs and orange zest)
Spices – Anise, Nutmeg, Fennel, Cinnamon, Rosebuds
Seasonings and herbs – Basil, Bay Leaves, Preserved Lemons, Dried Mint, Tarragon, Cilantro
Fruits & Vegetables – Onion, Tomato, Pumpkin and Squashes
Proteins – Chicken, Lamb, Fish, Seafood
Other – Ricotta, Pasta, Rice, Tea, Olive Oil, Coconut Milk
Already used as an aphrodisiac spice by Assyrian in the 7th century BC, and by many other ancient cultures in the Mediterranean area, the potential therapeutic role of saffron in treating erectile dysfunction (ED) has been tested in a pilot study that showed promising results. Efficacy of saffron to treat mild depression has been proved in clinical trials (a 50% reduction in the hamilton rating scale for depression).
A randomized double-blind trial conducted by the University of Medical Science of Tehran showed that a treatment with a daily 30 mg dose of saffron reduced PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms in nearly 80% of the women in the trial.
This post was updated on February 2nd, 2019
San Gavino Monreale, Sardinia, Italy
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