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Other Names: Spanish Saffron
Saffron is the Karcom of the Hebrews (Song of Solomon iv. 14). The plant was also known to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
It takes 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 hand-picked stigmas to make a single pound of saffron, which explains why it is literally the world’s most expensive spice. Most specialty food shops carry saffron, though if it has sat on the shelves for too long it may have lost flavor, so look for bright color.
Saffron as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
The medicinal parts are the stigma and style.
In the course of an inquest held in 1921 at Poplar (London, E.), a medical witness testified to the prevalence of a domestic custom of giving Saffron ‘tea’ flavored with brandy in cases of measles.
Saffron is used as a preventative for heart disease, as it prevents the build-up of cholesterol. It is also used to soothe the membranes of the stomach and colon.
Saffron is no longer of interest medicinally; however, it is sometimes used in folk medicine to stimulate digestion.
Chinese medicine: Chinese uses include menorrhagia, amenorrhea, high-risk deliveries and postpartum lochiostasis.
Indian medicine: In India, Saffron is used for bronchitis, sore throat, headache, vomiting and fever.
Culinary Uses of Saffron
Saffron threads, the most expensive spice, can add wonderful flavor to a dish. Make the most of your saffron by crumbling the threads with your fingers before adding them to your recipe. The crumbling will release flavorful oils and maximize the flavor.
Because of its expense, intense flavor, and strong dying properties, very little saffron is required for culinary purposes and the key is to distribute it evenly throughout the dish being prepared. It can be crushed to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle. It is easier however, to steep the saffron in hot water – a pinch to a cup will create the desired flavor and color.
Saffron appears in Moorish, Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. Its most common function is to color rice yellow, as in festive Indian pilaus and risotto Milanese, where its delicate flavor make it the most famous of Italian rice dishes. It combines well with fish and seafood, infamous as a key ingredient of Spanish paella as well as bouillabaisse.
In England, saffron is probably best known for its use in Cornish saffron buns where it is paired with dried fruit in a yeast cake.
Turmeric and saffron add both brilliant color and aroma to food.
Tumeric is also known as Indian saffron, but do be careful when using turmeric as it has a rather strong flavor and can overwhelm your food.
Substitute marigolds from your garden for expensive saffron. They have a similar pungent flavor and the same yellow color. Let the flower heads air dry or dry them in a microwave then grind the petals into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Use in pastries, fish stews, and the classic Spanish paella, adding just a pinch more than you would of saffron.
- Saffron comes either powdered or in threads (the whole stigmas). Powdered saffron loses its flavor more readily and can easily be adulterated with less expensive powders like turmeric.
- You can also use safflower, but use 8 times as much. Safflower is less expensive and imparts similar color, but taste is inferior.
- Try marigold blossoms if you’re looking to match color, not flavor. Use twice as much.
- Lastly, annatto seeds. Steep 1 teaspoon annatto seed in 1/4 cup of boiling water for 30 minutes, discard seeds. Reduce liquid in recipe by 1/4 cup.
Folklore & Magickal Uses
Add saffron to love and lust sachets or use it in healing spells. Drinking saffron tea was said to aid you in seeing the future, while eating saffron would bring joy.
December 13: St. Lucia’s Day, when it’s traditional to bake lussekatter, or saffron bread.
Health risks or side effects following the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages are not recorded.
Saffron is not to be taken in large doses – large dosages can be fatal.
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