Saffron’s remarkable range of health benefits, plus cultivating the spice from corm to jar.
THE HAPPY SPICE
Saffron boasts an impressive number of health benefits that continue to emerge today. Pure saffron contains more than 150 volatile compounds, including essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, beta carotene, manganese, and potassium. However, it is the high levels of antioxidants in saffron that make it a natural anti-inflammatory, according to modern research. Additionally, clinical studies suggest that saffron may improve mood and sexual health, leading some to refer to it as the "happy spice."
From start to finish
Planting the Corms
The saffron corm is planted in late August or early September. By early October the first green shoots appear. By late October the blossoms appear. First year corms produce 0-1 blossoms, but each year the saffron corm multiplies underground—producing daughter corms that will produce their own blossoms. After three years the daughter corms are large enough to be dug up and replanted as new mother corms. The original mother corm with produce for 5-7 years until exhausting its blossom output. Although bees love saffron, the saffron does not need pollination—it is entirely dependent on humans for reproduction.
Vermont turns out to be an excellent regions to grow saffron due the high organic matter content in the rich valley soil. In colder regions such as Italy, Vermont, and mountainous Afghanistan it sleeps dormant under the snow in winter, remains dormant in summer, and sprouts again in the fall.
Early morning blossoms
The delicate saffron crocus blossoms are harvested early in the morning during late autumn harvest season. The entire flower is picked off the stalk and collected in baskets. Each flower continues 3 bright red pistils that are then removed from the stamens and petals.
Saffron is the world's most expensive spice because it is immune to automation and so labor intensive to harvest. It takes 70,000-75,000 crocus flowers to produce a pound of dried saffron. Fortunately a little goes a long way. Saffron is incredibly potent when applied to a dish or beverage, or used as a natural dye.
Color and Aroma
Drying saffron is the most secretive part of the saffron grower’s process. In warm, arid regions like India, saffron was historically sun dried. In the colder regions like Italy, it was placed near the coals of a wood-fire. Today most commercial operations use large dehydrators or ovens.
Drying saffron creates a chemical reaction that brings out the beneficial compounds of Safranal (responsible for aroma), Crocin (responsible for color), and Picrocrocin (responsible for taste). The temperature and duration of drying determines the trade-offs of these chemical compounds. Commercial saffron is typically dried for long duration at low temperature resulting in strong aroma but dull red color.
At Lemonfair, we opt for shorter, higher heat that results in milder aroma but richer Crocin content, giving our saffron its rich, bright color.