3 Fave Spices
What is Saffron?
Saffron has the distinction of being the most expensive spice in the world. Composed of the dried stigmas of the crocus sativus flower, this spice has an acrid taste and a sharp odor. Saffron is sold in two forms: the threads and as a powder. What makes saffron so valuable is the fact that only three stigmas form in each flower and more than 75,000 flowers are necessary to yield one pound of saffron threads.
History of Saffron
While originating in Asia Minor, the growing belt for saffron stretches from southern Europe into the Middle East and near Far East. In ancient Rome and Egypt saffron was used as a spice, dye, in perfume and medicine. Purportedly, Cleopatra used the spice to add colour to her face and ladies of the English court used saffron to tint their hair. Monks have used saffron in religious ceremonies and it was allegedly grown in King Solomon’s gardens. Crusaders brought saffron to Europe where it was not only used in cooking but also as incense.
Saffron in food?
It is important to note the pungency of saffron intensifies over time and must therefore be used sparingly. It should be allowed to soak in hot water as heat releases its flavour. Saffron may be steeped directly in broths and soups for a minimum of two hours. Ground or crushed saffron imparts its spicy tang to several types of foods. An appropriate spice to use with seafood (ex. Bouillabaisse), it may also be used in marinades for fish, tomato based sauces, soups, rice dishes and beef stew. Certain baked breads and pastries also call for saffron as an ingredient. Besides imparting its intense flavour, saffron lends a yellowish-orange hue to the dishes it graces.
Using a saffron infused sauce, the following meatball recipe will provide a delicious and lively meal.
- 1 thick slice of French bread
- 8 ounces each ground pork and ground veal
- 4 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 2 garlic gloves, minced
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- ½ c flour
- ¼ c extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
- ¼ onion, chopped
- 1 c dry white wine
- ¼ tsp saffron threads, crumbled
Remove the crust from the French bread and moisten it in water. Press excess water from the bread and crumble. Mix the pork and veal with one tablespoon of parsley, one garlic clove, egg, bread, salt and pepper. Shape the meat into balls and sauté in the oil. Remove from heat and set aside. Add the onion, to the oil with the paprika, chicken broth and wine. Add the meatballs to the oil and simmer. Add the remaining parsley, garlic and saffron. Simmer and season to taste.
Health benefits in Saffron
In Indian medicine, saffron diuretic properties were employed to treat urinary tract disorders and as a treatment for liver problems. Its antibiotic properties were used to treat skin diseases, infections and inflammations. In western medicine, saffron has been used to treat headaches and hangovers. As well as serving as a metabolic stimulant saffron has been used to regulate women’s menstrual cycles and as an abortifacient. Current medical research indicates saffron may have the ability to shrink tumors.