Saffron is known as the most expensive spice in the world due to its labour intensity. It takes about 170,000 to 220,000 Crocus Sativus flowers and 400 hours of labour to produce 1kg of dried saffron. There are only three stigmas in each plant and each of them weighs about 2mg.
Saffron is consist of more than 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds. The three main components of saffron are Picrocrocin, which gives the rusty, bittersweet flavor; and Safranal, which lends the earthy fragrance; Crocin, which accounts for the yellow pigmentation from the stigmas to the spice.
Saffron cultivation spans more than 3,500 years and extends across cultures and civilisations. Saffron-based pigments have been found in the prehistoric paints in Northwest of Persia in 50,000-year-old cave art.
In ancient Persia, saffron was cultivated in the 10th century BC. They used it in different ways such as medicine, perfume, and brilliant yellow dye. Saffron threads have been found in royal carpets as well. Persians also used saffron and sandalwood to wash their body after heavy work and perspiration under the hot sun.
Cyrus the Great used to take bath in saffron to heal his wounds. Also, Alexander the Great followed him and even recommended to his soldiers and they kept the practice after returning to Macedonia.
Egyptian healers used saffron as a treatment for all varieties of gastrointestinal ailments. The Sumerians used saffron as an ingredient in their remedies. Saffron was also honoured as a sweet-smelling spice over three millennia ago in the Hebrew texts.
Saffron is harvested in Iran, Greece, Spain, Morocco, India as well as micro-scale production in Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and Egypt. Iran is responsible for 90–93% of global production and much of their produce is exported.
Saffron usage among monks
Saffron was particularly important as a dye plant. A small quantity of saffron is to temper a yellow-orange color with increasing red. In Tibet, China and India saffron were used to color robes among Hindu and Buddhists monks. Inexpensive replacements such as the yellow color from turmeric are never comparable to the handpicked flowers of health, saffron.