Saffron, the Sunshine Spice
Saffron is referred to as “red gold”, and for good reason. It is the most expensive spice in the world. Saffron is derived from the small thread-like stigma and styles that grow from the center of the Crocus sativus, which are collected and dried and used as the spice.
Spain, Kashmir and Iran produce about 45% of the worlds saffron. The harvesting of saffron is incredibly labor intensive and it takes 440,000 hand-picked stigmas to achieve 1 kg of spice (200,000 / pound). Or, 150,000 crocus flowers / kg (70,000 / pound). It takes 40 hours of labor to pick 150,000 crocus flowers. And to top it off, the quality of the saffron is related to the number of stigmas per flower; the more stigmas the lower the quality as the essential constituents are diluted and other, non-medicinal constituents abound.
The croci and crocetin constituents of saffron are carotenoid pigments that make saffron red in color. These compounds have been shown to have antidepressant properties, protect brain cells against progressive damage, improve inflammation, reduce appetite, aid weight loss, lower blood sugar, reduce heart disease risk, improve memory and may have positive effects in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Saffron is nicknamed the “sunshine spice” and may in fact help to brighten your mood. In numerous studies it has been shown to be affective in addressing depression. Saffron is high in antioxidants, which helps to neutralize free radicals and may even have positive effects in cancer treatments.
Currently, saffron is being investigated for its benefit in cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction.
Other than its wonderfully earthy flavor it gives to foods, and the numerous possible medicinal qualities, saffron is also used in religious ceremonies. In Buddhism for example, “saffron scented” water is used to prepare offerings as it is thought that saffron has the quality of being able to purify substances.