Saffron is a spice derived from the flower Crocus sativus, characterized by the red color of its stigmas and the yellow hues of the stamens. Each flower can produce up to four saffron stigmas, though usually they produce only three, making it the world’s most expensive spice by weight.
Although the origins of saffron are unclear, it could be argued that it comes from the East since its cultivation was widely spread throughout Asia. It is also known that the Arabs used saffron as a medicine for its anesthetic and antispasmodic properties. It was they who introduced its cultivation to Spain in the 10th century. Bibliographic testimonials affirm that saffron was also an irreplaceable seasoning in the Hispano-Arabic cuisine of the time.
Currently, the saffron produced in Spain is the most prestigious for its authentic quality standards. Saffron produced in other countries, including Turkey, Greece, Iran or Morocco, is almost always adulterated with the addition of traces of other parts of the flower. Many naïve travelers returning from Istanbul, Athens and Marrakech, feel very satisfied after having acquired very cheap saffron in street markets, unaware that they have been scammed.
Spanish saffron is grown in Castille-La Mancha, where it has enjoyed a deeply rooted tradition. This region also produces delicious Manchego cheese and a wide variety of great wines. From there, saffron is exported to almost every country in the world. Because this saffron has a guaranteed designation of origin since 2001, it is protected against fraud or adulteration and is credited as a high quality product with organoleptic qualities that make it stand out above the rest.
The prized Spanish spice produced in this area is one of the most coveted given its delicate fragrance and intense flavor. More than 150,000 flowers are needed to produce just one kilogram of dried saffron, a task performed manually since there is no adequate machinery for harvesting, collecting and processing these ephemeral flowers. For these reasons, saffron can command higher prices than gold: more than $6,000 per kilogram.
If you want to purchase the best Spanish saffron, the major brands assigned to the Regulatory Council of the Denomination of Origin Saffron from La Mancha are Safroman, Cefrán, The Rosera, Karkon, Princesa de Minaya, Virgen de la Cruz and Vega Lezuza.
Just a small amount of this tasty and highly appreciated spice will enhance the flavor and quality of dishes like Spanish paella, Italian risotto, French bouillabaisse, Middle Eastern rice and even Jewish challah bread. ■