Some Reasons Why You Should Use More Saffron In Your Diet

November 5, 2012

Saffron is one the least known spice in the world. Few people know where it comes from, how it’s harvested, and what to do with it.
I find this to be a real pity, as saffron it’s only delicious, but also full of health benefits, and quite versatile in the kitchen.
It’s true that saffron is very expensive (that’s why it’s also referred to as the yellow gold), but the high price is balanced out, as you just need to use very small pinches in your dishes.
Let’s discover a little bit more about this amazing spice...

Some background

Saffron comes from the stigma of a small crocus flower, the Crocus sativus, which is very adaptable, and easy to cultivate. The flower originated in the eastern Mediterranean, a region that includes Macedonia, the Peloponnios, and parts of Asia Minor (roughly today’s Greece and Turkey).
Saffron has been used over the centuries in religious rites, tinctures, perfumes, medicine, cosmetics, and several dishes.
Brought to Europe more than 1,000 years ago by North African Arabs, saffron has become a staple spice in the cuisine of the Mediterranean basin’s countries. For instance,
in Spain it’s used to cook the notorious Paella, while in Italy it’s at the base of the Risotto Milanese.

The harvesting

Saffron is expensive because the harvesting is a long and complicated labour.
The spice is derived solely from the stigma of the small purple crocus flower.
Halfway through October, the saffron fields become colored of a deep violet/purple flower cut with dark red (i.e., the flower’s precious stigma).

When the stigmas are ready to be harvested, 15 days of hard and heavy work begin.
First off, the flowers are picked.
Then, they’re all laid out on a flat work surface. This is followed by the so-called unblading, which is the most important part of the whole operation: the three stigma of the plant are separated from the blossom.
To do this, the farmers hold the flower in one hand and delicately detach the three stigma from the blossom with the index finger and thumb, working slowly to ensure that the flower does not break apart.
The stigmas
so collected, are then laid down to dry up. Stigmas can only be picked up by hand, and it takes about 200,000 stigmas to make just a pound of saffron, hence its high price. Fortunately, a little saffron goes a long way.

The health benefits

Saffron contains a whole array of compounds that are known to have antioxidant, disease preventing and other health benefits.
The flower stigma comprises several volatile oils, the most important being Safranal, which gives to saffron its distinctive flavor.
Saffron contains also other non-volatile active components, the most important being a-crocin, a carotenoid compound, which gives to this spice the characteristic golden yellow color. Saffron contains other important carotenoids such as lutein, α-carotenes, β-carotenes, and zeaxanthin. All of these, are important antioxidants that may help protect our bodies from degenerative diseases.
A study published in the September 2011 issue of Hepatology found that saffron provides  a significant chemopreventive effect against liver cancer. In particular, it promoted cell death (apoptosis), inhibited the proliferation of cancerous cells, and blocked inflammation.
Furthermore, medical researchers at the University of Alberta have discovered that an active ingredient in saffron may be a potential treatment for diseases involving neuroinflammation, such as multiple sclerosis.
The active components contained in this spice may have further therapeutic application
such as antiseptic, antidepressant, digestive, and anti-convulsant.
The medicinal uses of saffron go a long way back, and were already known in ancient Egypt, where it was used in many concoctions for the treatment of illnesses. Scientists examining documents dating back 3,500 years
reported that they have found proof that Egyptian used saffron for rheumatism, which is currently a topic of pharmaceutical research.

Varieties of saffron

There are four main varieties of saffron:

(1) Kashmiri Saffron: is considered the very best saffron in the world. Most of it is consumed in India and very little is exported to the rest of the world. Kashmiri saffron is also the strongest-flavored variety of saffron.

(2) Persian Saffron: it’s harvested in Iran, has a very bright color, and a very strong taste that makes it one of the preferred choices around.

(3) Moroccan Saffron: it’s produced on a much smaller scale than the others, that’s why it’s pretty complicated to find it for purchase.

(4) Spanish Saffron: this is probably the most common type of saffron around, also because it’s the cheaper one. Can be red or yellow, and with a powerful aroma that makes it the preferred choice of many cooks.
One particular Spanish cultivation, the Jiloca Saffron, has been selected and approved as a Presidia (i.e., “garrison”) of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. The Jiloca region has the ideal climatic conditions for saffron cultivation
(a crucial component of the local economy). The Slow Food Presidia works not only towards the protection of the local production, but also to promote this product through guided tastings, and comparative samplings of various types of saffron.

My favorite recipes with saffron

Here are some of my fav ways to enjoy saffron:

- Saffron risotto is for me the best way to enjoy this amazing spice

- Chicken with lemon and saffron: delicious!

- Parsleyed Potatoes with saffron

- Of course, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious: Paella

- You can also make amazing cookies with saffron: Saffron-Vanilla snickerdoodles


Adding saffron to your diet will not only bring many health benefits but also variety in color, and taste. When you’re shopping for it don’t be thrown off by its expensive
price. Keep instead in mind that you’ll just need to add a really small pinch to your dishes to bring the magical flavor that this spice brings along.

The Iron You


  1. fantastic information! i definitely need to incorporate more saffron into my diet. i saw a great recipe today for baked sweet potatoes with saffron. must try! xx