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Saffron crocus.

Saffron coming from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, it takes 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 hand picked stigmas to make a single pound which explains why it is the world's most expensive spice.


Saffron is a spice, used in cooking as a seasoning and coloring agent. Saffron derived from the dried stigma of the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), a species of crocus in the family Iridaceae. The flower has three stigmas, which are the distal ends of the plant's carpals.

The basic ingredient of crocus is crocin, the source of its strong coloring property. In antiquity it was a very rare and expensive substance and the colours it produced and signified a high status or royalty. Romans used it to dye their hair and the 'purple carpet' of saffron of Irish kings was such impressive examples.

Chemical Constituents:

The word saffron originated from the 12th-century Old French term safran, which derives from the Latin word safranum. Safranum is also related to the Italian zafferano and Spanish azafran. Safranum comes from the Arabic word ASFAR, which means "yellow," via the Persian paronymous "zafaran" Saffron is one of the three essential ingredients in the Spanish paella valenciana, and is responsible for its characteristic brilliant yellow coloring. Pigments of carotenoid type cause this intensive colour of saffron. Although saffron contains some conventional carotenoids (a-and a-carotene, lycopin and zeaxanthin), its staining capability is mostly caused by crocetine esters; crocetin is a dicarboxylic acid with a carotenoid-like C18 backbone, which is formed from carotenoid precursors ("diterpene carotenoid"). Crocin, a diester of crocin with gentobiose, is the single most important saffron pigment. In the essential oil (max. 1%), several terpene aldehydes and ketones are found. The most abundant constituent is safranal, 2,6,6-trimethyl 1,3-cyclohexadiene-l-carboxaldehyde (50% and more); another olfactorily important compound is 2-hydroxy-4, 4,6-trimethyl 2,5-cyclohexadien-l-one. Furthermore, terpene derivatives have been identified (pinene, cineol). The bitter taste is attributed to picrocrocin, the glucoside of an alcohol structurally related to safranal (4-hydroxy-2, 4, 4-trimethyl 1-cyclohexene-l-carboxaldehyde). On de-glucosylation, picrocrocin yields safranal. Saffron's aroma is unique and there is no substitute for it, it often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as haylike and somewhat bitter. It contributes a luminous yellow-orange coloring to foods.

Traditional Use:

Saffron is widely used in Iranian (Persian), Arab, Central Asian, European, Indian, and Turkish and Cornish cuisines. Confectionaries and liquors also often include saffron. Common saffron substitutes include safflower (Carthamus tinctorius, which is often sold as "Portuguese saffron" or "assafroa") and turmeric (Curcuma longa). Saffron is used in India by zarda (value-added tobacco) manufacturers and ayurvedic medicine makers. Indian sweets like kheer, rasmalai are sometimes prepared with saffron; there is a sweet saffron rice dish called zarda, which is prepared by Indian Muslims at the end of the fasting month and also enjoyed on other festive occasions. Saffron even sometimes shows up in the famous Indian yogurt drink lassi. Saffron-flavored butter lassi (makhaniya lassi) is an everlasting culinary impression for everybody visiting Jodhpur, a great town in the center of Rajasthan, India.


Cultivation areas:

Saffron is cultivated in a belt of land, ranging from the Western Mediterranean (Spain) to India (Kashmir). Spain and Iran are the largest producers, accounting together for more than 80% of the world's production, which is approximately 300 tons per year. Today Persia (Iran) shares the largest proportion of world saffron production (Persia produced 213,800 Kg of saffron in 2004). It has developed a world-class saffron factory that looks after everything from the extraction of the stigmas from the flowers to the packaging itself. Surprisingly, however, the spice is considered by majority of consumers as a Spanish product. According to ISNA, experts believe the government should give Iranian saffron a trademark so that it can be distinguished from international competitors. Other minor producers of saffron are Spain, Kashmir, Greece, Azerbaijan, Morocco, and Italy.


Saffron Varieties:

Several saffron cultivars are grown worldwide. Spain's varieties, including the trade names 'Spanish Superior' and 'Creme', are generally mellower in colours, flavor, and aroma; they are graded by government-imposed standards. Italian varieties are slightly more potent than Spanish, while the most intense varieties tend to be Iranian in origin. Westerners may face significant obstacles in obtaining saffron from India. For example, India has banned the export of high-grade saffron abroad. Consumers regard certain cultivars as "premium" quality. The "Aquila" saffron (zafferano dell'Aquila)-defined by high safranal and crocin content, shape, unusually pungent aroma, and intense colours--is grown exclusively on eight hectares in the Navelli Valley of Italy's Abruzzo region, near L'Aquila. Another is the Kashmiri "Mongra" or "Lacha" saffron (Crocus sativus 'Cashmirianus'), which is among the most difficult for consumers to obtain. Repeated droughts, blights, and crop failures in Kashmir, combined with an Indian export ban, contribute to its high prices. Kashmiri saffron is recognisable by its extremely dark maroon-purple hue with saffron's strong flavor, aroma, and colourative effect.

Pharmacological Effects:

As therapeutically plant, saffron it is considered an excellent stomach ailment and an antispasmodic, helps digestion and increases appetite. It is also relieves renal colic, reduces stomachaches and relieves tension. During the last years it was used as a drug for flu-like infections, depression, hypatomegaly and as a sedative for its essential oils. It is also considered that in small quantities it regulates women's menstruation, and helps conception. It is a fact that even since antiquity, crocus was attributed to have aphrodisiac properties. Many writers along with Greek mythology sources associate crocus with fertility. Crocus in general is an excellent stimulant.


Medicinally, saffron has a long history as part of traditional healing; modern medicine has alsodiscovered saffron as having anticarcinogenic (cancer-suppressing), anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing), immunomodulating, and antioxidant-like properties. Saffron's folkloric uses as an herbal medicine are legendary. It was used for its carminative (suppressingcramps and flatulence and emmenagogic (enhancing pelvic blood flow) properties. Medieval Europeans used saffron to treat respiratory infections and disorders such as coughs andcommon colds, scarlet fever, smallpox, cancer, hypoxia, and asthma. Other targets included blood disorders, insomnia, paralysis, heart diseases, flatulence, stomach upsets and disorders, gout, chronic uterine haemorrhage, dysmorrhea, amenorrhea (absence of menstrual period), baby colic, and eye disorders. For ancient Persians and Egyptians, saffron was also an aphrodisiac, a general-use antidoteagainst poisoning, a digestive stimulant, and a tonic for dysentery and measles. Initial research suggests that carotenoids present in saffron are anticarcinogenic (cancer-suppressing), anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing), and immunomodulatory properties. Dimethylcrocetin, the compound responsible for these effects, counters a wide range of murine (rodent) tumors and human leukaemia cell lines. Saffron extract also delays ascites tumour growth, delays papilla carcinogenesis, inhibits squamous cell carcinoma, and decreases soft tissue sarcoma, Saffron's pharmacological effects on malignant tumours bearing mice have been documented in studies done both in vitro and in vivo. For example, saffron extends the lives of mice that are intraperitoneally impregnated with transplanted sarcomas; Researchers followed this by orally administering 200 mg of saffron extract per each kg of mouse body weight. As a result the life spans of the tumor-bearing mice were extended to 111.0%, 83.5%, and 112.5%, respectively, in relation to baseline spans. Thus saffron has shown promise as a new and alternative treatment for a variety of cancers.

Besides Wound-healing and anticancer properties, saffron is also an antioxidant. This means that, as an "anti-aging" agent, it neutralises free radicals. Specifically, methanol extractions of saffron neutralise at high rates the DPPH (IUPAC nomenclature: l,l-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl) radicals. This occurred via vigorous proton donation to DPPH by two of saffron's active agents, safranal and crocin. Thus, at concentrations of 500 and 1000 ppm, crocin studies showed neutralization of 50% and 65% of radicals, respectively. Safranal displayed a lesser rate of radical neutralisation than crocin, however. Such properties give saffron extracts promise as an ingredient for use as an antioxidant in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and as a food supplement. Ingested at high enough doses, however, saffron is lethal. Several studies done on lab animals have shown that saffron's [LD.sub.50] (median lethal dose, or the dose at which 50% of test animals die from overdose) is 20.7 g/kg when delivered via a decoction.

Market scenario:

The statement Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world is without any doubt correct, a pound of dry saffron (0.45 kg) requires 50,000-75,000 flowers, the equivalent of a football field's area of cultivation. Some forty hours of labor are needed to pick 150,000 flowers. Upon extraction, stigmas are dried quickly and (preferably) sealed in airtight containers.

Saffron prices at wholesale and retail rates range from US$500 /pound to US$5,000 / pound (US$l,l00-US$11,000per kilogram)--equivalent to [pounds sterling]250/[euro] 350 per pound or [pounds sterling]5,500/[euro] 7,500 per kilo. In Western countries, the average retail price is $1,000/ [pounds sterling]500/[euro]700 per pound (US$2,200/ [pounds sterling]l,100/[euro] 1,550 per kilogram). A pound comprises between 70,000 and 200,000 threads. Vivid crimson coloring, slight moistness, elasticity, and lack of broken-off thread debris are all traits of fresh saffron. Saffron was traded at Rs38,000 per kg in November 1998. The price fell to Rs34, 000-35,000 per kg in December 1998. Saffron of Iran was selling at Rs27, 000-28,000/kg. Unfortunately, In November 2008, a severe drought has caused this year's crop of saffron to fall sharply in Iran, which dominates the global market, sending the price of what is reputedly the world's most expensive spice even higher.


Nowadays, saffron has earned the reputation of being the most expensive spice in the world. Growers use photospectometry to analyze its three constitutive chemicals--crocin (which imparts color), picrocrocin (flavor), and safranal (aroma)--and determine the quality of a harvest. The price is so high because harvesting is done by hand and over 4,000 crocus stigmas are needed to yield one ounce of saffron. So if you're thinking of starting a saffron business at home, make sure you buy a big window box, one roughly

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Author:Khan, Saima
Publication:Economic Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2009
Previous Article:Food insecurity: is there a way out?
Next Article:Food security & trade liberalization.

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