The History of Saffron
Saffron’s history is as old and rich as time itself. Originally discovered in Bronze Age Greece, Saffron now grows throughout Europe and Asia and has not only become the world’s most expensive spice but also the world’s most sought-after and well known spice too.
Iran currently produces around 85% of the world’s saffron. Grown only in very specific climate conditions, the journey from the flower bulb or crocus sativus to Saffron thread is laborious, tedious and done completely by hand on the first morning the flower blooms.
The rarity of the Spice and the process it takes to extract the Spice from the flower is what has historically made saffron a choice ingredient for Kings and Queens across the Persian Gulf. It takes 170,000 or 10kg of flowers to make only 1kg of saffron which you can imagine, takes a lot of time, skill and patience.
Considering the rate that it is consumed in this day and age and the healing properties it possesses, it is easy to understand the price tag that comes with Saffron. Historically Saffron has been used to treat everything from heartache to hemorrhoids by traditional healers while Cleopatra bathed in Saffron before seeing her suitors.
Saffron was also used to dye the clothing of Minoan women, to freshen Roman public spaces, to make lipstick when mixed with beeswax and for mediaeval monks saffron stood in for gold in the production of their manuscripts. There was also a time where Saffron was even used as an antidote for the bubonic plague when it ravaged Europe.
While saffron trade peaked in the middle ages as medicine, fast forward to the modern day and Saffron is still used for its health benefits to ward off illnesses and to help treat depression and sexual dysfunction amongst other ailments. Although Saffron is predominantly grown in Iran it is used all over the world.
Multifaceted in its use, the saffron extract is used to treat illness and saffron supplements are used to aid the healing of mental health, and a pinch of saffron is used to transform meals and drinks. The effects of Saffron transcend health and work harmoniously in cooking from Spanish paella recipes to chicken thighs, to stirred in with olive oil for salad dressings as night tea or energising morning drink.
In Greek Mythology, Crocus was the name of a mortal youth who was in love with a nymph named Smilax. He was unhappy in love and because their romance was not working out he was turned into a plant bearing his name by the gods. This plant was called crocus, which is the plant that gives birth to saffron threads. If this myth is true and the Greek gods created the saffron plant, it would definitely explain how it got all of its power and magical goodness!