Smells can take us on a journey back through time and reawaken memories of long ago. You may, for example, take a trip back in time to your childhood by tasting a dish many years later. With spices like saffron, something similar happens. Just a pinch can transport you to another continent and make for heat-filled, exotic mouthfuls.
What is saffron?
There’s something very poetic about how saffron is produced. Unlike other seed spices (e.g., cumin and coriander) or tree barks (e.g., cinnamon), saffron strands are the dried stigmas of the pretty purple flowers of crocus sativus, a plant that belongs to the Iridaceae family.
Since each flower has only three stigmas that are picked by hand and 150,000 flowers are required to produce one kilogram of saffron, harvesting this spice is a very labour-intensive and expensive process. Unfortunately, as a result, saffron—often called “red gold”—is often doctored. Be sure to get a high-quality product from a recognized dealer (e.g., at Jean-Talon Market at Épices de Cru or at your local public market) and, rather than the powder, choose whole stigmas that have a beautiful earthy red colour, free from any yellow strands.
Today, the main producer of saffron is Iran, but the spice is also grown on a smaller scale around the world...even here in Quebec!
There’s something very poetic about how saffron is produced. The stigmas are handpicked from pretty purple flowers.
How to cook with saffron
Many times, the aroma of spices is released when dry-heated or heated in fat. On this front, however, saffron exhibits its capricious side. It prefers a good bath over a hot grill! Therefore, it should be infused in hot water like tea. Also, avoid simmering for too long when cooking. You’ll notice that in recipes saffron is often to a more or less liquid preparation about 15 to 20 minutes before the end of cooking.
A key ingredient in Spanish paella and various Persian dishes, the aroma of saffron pairs well with fish and seafood as well as sweet dishes.
Many times, the aroma of spices is released when dry-heated or heated in fat. On this front, however, saffron exhibits its capricious side.
Saffron contains more than one hundred distinct chemical compounds that, over time and depending on the culture, have gained a cult status as a cure for almost any ailment. It is said to cure coughs and digestive disorders, boost libido and so on. However, since most modern scientific studies only analyze one or more specific compounds extracted from Crocus sativus, it’s difficult to know the exact effect the integral “spice version” of saffron has on health when it’s used very occasionally in cooking.
It’s also true that saffron contains various carotenoids, including beta-carotene, recognized for their antioxidant properties that can be converted by the body into vitamin A. However, to see real benefits, you would have to consume large quantities (and have a great deal of money at your disposal). Carrots, winter squash, sweet potato and mango offer better, more economical options if you want to take advantage of the health benefits of carotenoids!
Since most modern scientific studies only analyze one or more specific compounds extracted from Crocus sativus, it’s difficult to know the exact effect the integral “spice version” of saffron has on health when it’s used very occasionally in cooking.
In short, saffron, like all spices, opens a door onto the world where your taste buds can roam. But, if you’re planning a trip, A REAL ONE (lucky you!), head to a Brunet-affiliated pharmacy to get vaccinated so that you can enjoy a worry-free vacation!
SAFFRON HUMMUS RECIPE
- 4 tbsp. hot, but not boiling, water
- 4 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 pinch saffron (about 20 strands)
- 1 540-ml can chickpeas
- 4 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp honey
- ½ clove garlic
- 1 pinch salt
In a small bowl, steep saffron in hot water and lemon juice for at least 20 minutes or overnight. Meanwhile, place remaining ingredients in a food processor container. Add saffron infusion (with stigmas) and grind into a smooth purée. Taste, then adjust seasoning and texture by adding a pinch of salt to enhance the taste, lemon juice for a small kick of acidity or a drizzle of olive oil for added smoothness.
Serve as an appetizer with Nordic prawns, oven-baked pita chips and cucumber slices or with crudités, crackers or sandwiches.
The Spicy Minute – Saffron, Ethné and Philippe de Vienne, Épices de cru, https://spicetrekkers.com/products/spices/saffron-quebec.
Saffron, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron.
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