In the world there is a red gold of immense versatility, with various properties and an inestimable value. It is saffron. A product which, besides its exceptional aroma, offers value to its producers.
In fact, the price of saffron is estimated at between €30,000 and €60,000 per kg. This, however, is not only due to its worldwide value, but also to its artisan production. There are 150,000 flowers needed for a single kilo, where each flower is picked and checked by hand. Properly speaking, saffron is a spice obtained from the three dried stigmas of the pistil of the flower of Crocus Sativus, a species of the genus Crocus of the Iridaceae family, commonly known as Rose Saffron.
It goes without saying that its thousand virtues, cultivation, harvesting and manual handling make saffron the most sought-after spice on the market, whose price is so high as to be known as “red gold”.
In this article we know better the spice called “red gold”.
What is saffron? As it often happens, we call saffron both the plant and the spice. As mentioned earlier, the scientific name of the saffron plant is Crocus Sativus of the iridaceae family, to which lilies and gladioli also belong.
A curious aspect of this plant is that it is sterile. What does this mean? In short, it does not produce viable seeds because it is triploid, that is, it has three copies of its chromosomes. Therefore, to produce seeds, it uses the bulb or corm, which in short is a thickened stem where it accumulates nutritional reserves.
This corm is capable of generating other small corms – new stems – which will give rise to several new individuals. This biological condition has allowed man to always have sufficient quantities of bulbs, ready to be planted.
Moreover, saffron also has characteristics linked to chemical components: “picrocrocrocin” and “safranal”. Not only that. It also contains a colorant similar to carotenoids, called “crocin”, which gives dishes their characteristic yellow color and which has made saffron an essential seasoning in European and Asian cuisine.
What is the origin of saffron? Saffron is native to Southwest Asia. However, although Assyrian botanists first documented this spice in the 7th century BC, there are Greco-Roman frescoes depicting saffron harvesting dating from 1600-1500 BC.
Consequently, many believe that Crocus Sativus is a mutation of Crocus Cartwrightianus, a species artificially selected in Crete during the Bronze Age.
Beyond that, saffron most likely came to us from the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, although it was the Arabs who were primarily responsible for its spread to Spain, France and Italy, and the name we use today.
By the way, did you know that the word saffron comes from Arabic and means yellow? Curiosity about its cultivation Since it is a perennial plant, which can withstand the coldest seasons hidden in the ground, it is not necessary to sow it every year. In fact, it is a crop that remains in the same soil for about five years.
For this reason, the age of the saffron bulb is very important. Usually growers have two or three of them of different ages, so that each year one of them is active.
Although saffron is not a demanding plant, in order to obtain good harvests it is advisable that the soil is fertile and, if possible, that it has an irrigation system. Although we have already seen that it is drought resistant and does not need a lot of water, it responds very well to support irrigation.
Flowering, beauty and hard work One of the most delicate moments of cultivation is undoubtedly the saffron harvest. Therefore, it must be well planned as the flowers are ephemeral and lose quality if they remain outdoors for a long time.
Generally, saffron flowering occurs from mid-October to early November. The flowers appear closed at dawn and open as the day goes by. It is not by chance, in fact, that work begins in the early hours of the day, trying to avoid the hottest hours of the day.
We proceed with the collection of one flower at a time, pinching the area where the stem and the calyx join. After that, they are placed in a basket.
Clearly, harvesting yields are variable, as they depend on many factors. Usually, it is estimated that a person harvests between 12 and 14 kg of flowers in a day or better in about 5 or 6 hours.
Yes, you read that right, all that time in that location.
Did you know that it takes 5 to 8 days of work to harvest the flowers needed to get one kilogram of saffron?
The monda: a slow precision work The harvested flowers undergo the monda process in the shortest possible time. In systems, it consists of extracting, again by hand, the stigmas from the flower. With a delicate pinch, the experts in charge break the style in the part where it begins to turn white, so as to keep the three stigmas together. Finally, these are placed in a container until they toast.
In detail, peeling the flowers for a kilo of saffron takes between 9 and 10 days with a minimum of skill and experience.
The toasting of saffron: a fundamental phase Once the saffron has been unrolled, the stigmas undergo a roasting process which largely determines their coloring power, aroma and physical and chemical stability. In short, the final quality is defined.
In practice, the stigmas are arranged in layers on a sieve and roasted with an indirect source of constant, even heat that does not retain extraneous flavours or odours, such as embers or a stove.
In this sense, Oro Rosso Milano is an Italian project that combines ideas and work, cultures and territories, diversity that becomes wealth and value. All this, designed and structured with a view to an ethical cooperation made of values linked to the land, to its wisdom and to the multicultural meeting of working skills.
Oro Rosso Milano products will soon be available in all Esselunga stores and in the best Dufrital duty free stores. You can also taste them among the culinary masterpieces of Carlo Cracco and in the starred dinners of Fratelli Desideri.