Saffron: The red treasure of Persia

Saffron: The red treasure of Persia

Saffron is the world’s most expensive and valuable spice. Due to its special color and taste, it is used in many foods in different cuisines. The plant also has a high variety of chemicals which gives it pharmaceutical and cosmetic properties.
A great amount of world’s saffron is produced and exported from Iran.

What is saffron?

Saffron is derived from a plant called Crocus sativus. Saffron crocus is planted in spring. It blossoms in autumn and has about 20 days for harvesting. Only the violet flowers should be collected during the harvest. The bulb remains in the earth and is able to bloom for about seven years. After harvesting, the crimson stigma of each flower should be separated and dried right after.
The final dried product is the saffron we know. It can be used for foods and beverages, homemade facial masks and much more.

What are the benefits of saffron?


Saffron is high on chemical properties and has many benefits. Saffron is known for its antidepressant and mood boosting effects. It is also good for the eye insight, memory, weight loss and even for pains such as premenstrual syndrome.
The plant is also effective when applied topically. Due to its antimicrobial properties, it is a good choice for face acnes. It also consists brightening agents which help the skin become fairer.
The important thing is that a very high amount of saffron can be toxic. Using as much as 1.5 grams of saffron per day is safe, however consuming only 30 milligrams is enough to get the benefits. More than 5 grams of saffron per day is toxic and should be avoided.
Small amounts of saffron is generally safe during pregnancy and even has benefits of its own. The excess amount however can have side effects which should be highly avoided.

Saffron and Iran

The main origin of saffron is still unknown but many say that saffron was harvested in Iran and then spread all around the world. Being the first place to have saffron or not, Iran is its biggest producer in the world. Covering more than 90 percent of the total amount of export, Iran stands as the first exporter of saffron worldwide.
Saffron grows in many cities in Iran. However most of the saffron fields are in Khorasan province, in northeast of Iran. This area has a cold climate with enough rain which provides the
best condition for saffron to grow. The climate and soil in which saffron is planted, directly affects the quality of the final product.
The best saffron among Iranian fields grows in the city of Ghaen, in southern parts of Khorasan.
Gonabad’s saffron field is also very famous globally as it gets water from the oldest Qanat (a traditional way of getting water from the underground) in the world. This field has been stated as a globally important agricultural heritage system by FAO.

The cultivation process

To cultivate saffron, high quality bulbs are needed. The bulbs should get washed so they won’t have any fungal diseases or other pollutions. After washing, the workmen plant the bulbs manually within a specific distance. The time that each flower blooms, depends on the first time that very plant has been watered. To prevent all the flowers of one field bloom in the exact same time, farmers divide the field and water each part with an interval of a day or two.
After about 3 months, the flowers are ready for harvesting. The flowers should be picked immediately because they live only for a few days. Besides, the flowers should not be exposed to sunlight and heat for a long time. The best time to pick the flowers is early in the morning, as the blossom has not been opened yet and the stigmas are better protected.
Then a trained worker, gently separates the stigmas and put them together to form a small bouquet. The bouquet of stigmas then rest in a place away from the sunlight for a few days to get fully dry.

What are Saffron frauds?

As it is an expensive substance, saffron is highly capable of facing frauds. The most common form of cheating on saffron is to replace it with safflower. Saffron and safflower are somewhat alike in shape and color. However safflower does not have the same odor or chemicals as saffron, therefore it cannot result in all the benefits which saffron has. Some may add a bulk of safflower or colored corn silk to a small amount of real saffron to keep the fragrance. Grounded saffron can be mixed with fillers like turmeric or corn starch which reduces the purity of the product. Another fraud for saffron is by moisturizing it. With spraying water on the stigmas, they gain weight, therefore they can be sold more expensive. The saffron you buy should be well dried, have the stunning crimson color of its own and a bittersweet smell.

How to make sure the saffron is real?

There are some simple tests you can apply on the substance you have to make sure it is pure saffron. Saffron has its specific fragrance and color, if you are familiar with the smell you can tell if it’s a fake one or not. Saffron has a bitter taste, unlike its smell which is bittersweet. So when tasting saffron, it should not taste sweet unless it is not a pure one. Another test is to pour icy water on saffron. The pure saffron does not color the water instantly, instead a shade of reddish golden appears around the stigma pieces and it spreads to the whole water slowly. The final color should be a dark golden yellow. If it is a rich red or other colors in this shade, the saffron is probably fake and contains chemical colors. Also, the stigmas do not break apart with pressure or get oily when being crushed. If you notice any of the signs above, there is a good chance your saffron is not completely pure.