Saffron is a spice extracted from the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). The largest production of saffron comes from Iran, which produces 500 tons a year.
For the precious saffron, parts of the pistils are harvested manually: the styles and stigmas, which have both a flavoring and coloring role. The stamens of the saffron crocus have no culinary value. After harvesting, the styles and stigmas are dried. This drying is done in tumble dryers with a warm air flow or in the sun. The highest quality saffron comes from the blood-red stigmas, the upper part of the dried styles. About 150,000 flowers, equivalent to an area of approximately 2,000 m2 saffron plants, are needed to obtain just one kilo of dried saffron. Saffron has a bitter taste but a pleasant aroma reminiscent of honey. Only one thread of saffron is enough to color a liter of boiling water in an hour. Saffron is also available finely ground. The labor-intensive cultivation makes saffron a precious spice, which is why it is also called red gold.
Crocin is the natural carotenoid responsible for the color of saffron. The taste is mainly determined by picrocrocine and the aroma by safranal. Saffron is used in sauces, rice, fish dishes, bread dough, desserts, and milk. In Europe, saffron is widely used in Spain, where it is an indispensable ingredient in paella; Saffron is used in Italy in the preparation of risotto, and in Belgium in the preparation of rice porridge. Saffron is also an important component of fernet, a spicy and bitter spirit. Saffron is both an antidepressant, an aphrodisiac, and an antioxidant, thanks to the presence of crocin. Saffron would even have a medicinal (analgesic) effect.