The Peak (Malaysia) - - Food For Thought -

WHAT? A lux­ury spice whose na­tive land is Crete, Greece, saf­fron is a gas­tro­nom­i­cal ex­trav­a­gance that has since grown to in­habit nu­mer­ous other coun­tries, with the spice be­ing made avail­able from Mo­rocco, In­dia, the Mediter­ranean and Iran. Grown from a flower known as cro­cus sativus or saf­fron cro­cus, it is the crim­son stig­mas or ‘threads’ found in the flow­ers that are dried and col­lected, that we call saf­fron. With such af­flu­ence earned from a sim­ple spice, the saf­fron has earned it­self the nick­name ‘poor mans gold.’ WHY? The cul­ti­va­tion and har­vest­ing of saf­fron is what en­sures its high price range, as the job is not only in­ten­sive but weather re­liant, but as it needs to be per­formed by hand as well. Work­ing op­po­site a reg­u­lar veg­e­ta­tion cy­cle, the saf­fron, flow­ers in the fall around the month of Oc­to­ber, and dries up in May-June of the fol­low­ing year, which is when they need to be plucked and dried out. On aver­age, a pound of saf­fron takes around 80,000 cro­cus blos­soms or 210,000 stig­mas of the flower to pro­duce. In this case, a lit­tle goes a long way. WHERE? Saf­fron and its uses have spanned across con­ti­nents and civil­i­sa­tions, shap­ing the gas­tro­nom­i­cal cul­ture across the world for more than 3,500 years. De­spite be­ing a na­tive of South­west Asia, with the cro­cus blos­soms pre­de­ces­sor found in Crete, Greece, the spread­ing of this spe­cial spice is all thanks to hu­man in­ter­ven­tion and the spice’s flex­i­ble adapt­abil­ity to an­other coun­try’s agri­cul­ture. The cur­rent few top pro­duc­ers of saf­fron are Spain, In­dia, Iran, Greece and Azer­ba­jian, how­ever there are a few mi­cro­pro­duc­tion pro­cesses that can be found across the con­ti­nents. HOW MUCH? A kilo of saf­fron can cost be­tween USD 1,100 to USD 11,000 per kilo­gram, and if you are able to grab your hands on a packet of saf­fron for a price cheaper than that, it’s ei­ther an im­i­ta­tion made from the “saf­flower”, which is a flower that looks very sim­i­lar to saf­fron or turmeric which is an easy swap if you are ever in need of that tell­tale saf­fron yel­low in your food. There are also di­luted ver­sions avail­able that con­tain real saf­fron, but are mixed in with a va­ri­ety of other in­gre­di­ents and chem­i­cals, so if you want the orig­i­nal you bet­ter be will­ing to pay for it.

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