Saffron: Decoding The Secrets Of The World’s Most Expensive Spice

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Saffron, also known as kesar, is the world’s most costly spice that comes from the flower of the Crocus sativus plant. Saffron’s high price is not due to the rarity of the flowers but because of their short calendar window for blooming, limited yield, and the uphill task necessary to pick those delicate, red saffron strands. Though the origins of saffron cultivation are in Greece, the spice is now primarily grown in Iran, Greece, Morocco, and India. 

Saffron can add a vibrant and appealing colour to a wide range of foods, so a tiny amount goes a very long way. Saffron complements practically anything, especially sweets, because it is incredibly delicate, fragrant, and has a somewhat sweet, luxurious flavour. However, when cooked, it gives a slightly earthy and sweet flavour. Saffron enhances all kinds of food, including rice, meat, seafood, and vegetables. Continue reading to discover more about the wonders of this spice. 

Nutritional Profile of Saffron

It takes more than 4,600 flowers, or 14,000 stigmas, to make just one ounce of premium saffron because each saffron flower only has three stigmas. Superior quality saffron has a rich red hue, feels dry to the touch, and has stigmas that range in length from 3/8″ to 1/2″. Saffron comes in grams, and one gram would provide about 150 servings because there are about 463 threads (3/8″ to ½” in length) in one gram.

A good rule of thumb is to use a little over half a teaspoon or roughly three strands per person. Here is the nutritional value of one teaspoon of saffron: 

Calories: 2.17 kcal 

Protein: 0.08 g

Carbohydrates: 0.458 g

Fats: 0.041 g

Calcium: 0.777 mg

Vitamin C: 0.566 mg

Manganese: 0.199 mg

Phosphorus: 1.76 mg

Folate: 0.651 µg

Potassium: 12 mg

Potential Health Benefits of Saffron

Helps Enhance Mood

Drug research in 2015 has documented that saffron or saffron extract helps in improving mood. That is because saffron is rich in bioactive components such as crocin, crocetin, picrocrocin, and safranal.

Mood swings have long been the most common problem that pregnant women face. Saffron leads to serotonin production, which influences mood by increasing blood flow in the body. 

Boosts Libido

Systematic review and meta-analysis suggest men with erectile dysfunction associated with antidepressants saw considerably better erectile function when taking 30 mg of saffron daily for four weeks. Additionally, consuming 30 mg of saffron daily increases sexual desire and lessens sex-related pain in women who previously had poor sexual desire. Scientific research claims saffron may be significantly effective for female sexual dysfunction. 

Management of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder and Period Discomfort  

Saffron is a safe and effective natural treatment for PMDD. Saffron has a well-established history of relieving pain, both in the case of labour pain and renal colic. Furthermore, saffron has the same sedative, antispasmodic, and anxiolytic properties as benzodiazepines.

Saffron works wonders to lessen PMS symptoms and menstrual discomfort. Also known as “sunshine spice,” saffron elevates serotonin levels, which are often low during menstruation, hence improving mood. It is also helpful in reducing cravings, headaches, and menstrual difficulties. 

Beneficial Effects on Allergic Asthma

With eight weeks of supplementation, saffron is a safe and effective way to help people with allergic asthma with their clinical symptoms. Safranal and crocin, two of saffron’s active ingredients, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help with asthma. However, the toxicity and long-term effects of saffron consumption remain unknown. 

Summary

In patients with allergic asthma, saffron is beneficial in reducing clinical lung symptoms. Clinical tests also show saffron’s potential in relieving period cramps. It also elevates moods by assisting the brain’s production of serotonin, or the “happy chemical.” Furthermore, taking 30 milligrams of saffron every day increases libido in both men and women.

How to Buy, Store, and Use Saffron

As with any dried herb or spice, saffron has a relatively short shelf life for retaining maximum flavour. However, it is possible to extend it by storing saffron in an airtight container in a cold, dry spot away from sunlight. 

Never purchase pre-ground saffron, as it is probably a mixture of ingredients such as turmeric and smoked paprika rather than pure saffron. When buying saffron, be sure to check for: 

A deep crimson or dark red colour

Delicate floral scent

Whole strands of saffron

Here are some of the best ways to use saffron:

Saffron Powder

To begin, dry the saffron threads. 

Grind the saffron with a spoon on a chopping board or grind them in a mortar and pestle. 

After finely grinding the stigmas into a powder, store the powder in an airtight container.

Saffron-infused Oil

Servings: 2-6

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

Saffron: 6 strands

Olive oil: 6 tbsp

Method

Add olive oil to a pan and saute saffron strands at a very low flame. 

After 2 to 5 minutes, turn off the flame and store it in an airtight container. 

Use it as a salad dressing. 

Saffron is an expensive spice so be aware if you find it at an extremely low cost since it could be an adulterated version. Hence could not offer the best health benefits. 

Summary

When purchasing saffron, there are simply three things to consider. Saffron threads are entirely red, dry, brittle to the touch, and with a faint floral and fresh scent that is never musty. Consider keeping saffron in a cold, dark place away from heat sources and direct sunlight by using airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags. 

Side Effects, Risks of Overconsumption and Dosage

Taking large amounts of saffron is unsafe. When taking saffron as a medicine, it usually ranges in doses up to 100 mg daily for a maximum of 26 weeks. High doses of 4-5 grams or more can cause poisoning. Doses of 10-20 grams cause death, according to a 2012 study. 

People can consume 1.5 grams of saffron daily. However, to obtain its health benefits, consume 30 mg of saffron. It is better to consult a health expert before making any changes in the diet. 

Here are some precautions to take:

People who are allergic to plants such as Lolium, Olea, and Salsola plant species must avoid saffron. 

In addition, if one has surgery scheduled, do not consume saffron or stop consuming it before 3-5 weeks of the surgery. That is because it slows down the central nervous system, and anaesthesia and other medications may not show effective results. 

During pregnancy, a large amount of saffron can cause miscarriage by contracting the uterus.

Summary

The recommended amount of saffron is 1.5 g per day (consume 30 mg for best results). Too much saffron (more than 5 g) is detrimental to health and may cause death. Pregnant women, patients who will go through surgery and people who are allergic must avoid having saffron. 

HealthifyMe Suggestion

Saffron has several health benefits and while the cost may be daunting using just a little enhances the flavour profile of your food. Also, there is no need to consume it daily. Add a couple of strands to your curd with a little bit of jaggery once a week to get your sweet fix but in a healthy, wholesome and delicious way.

Conclusion

Saffron has a flowery, earthy, yet sweet flavour and pairs well in both savoury and sweet recipes. Use only a pinch of saffron because too much of it can make a meal bitter. It also holds true for supplementing with saffron. Additionally, saffron may be an aphrodisiac for both men and women. The colour of high-quality saffron is either dark red or reddish orange. To avoid buying adulterated saffron, make sure to buy it from a reliable supplier or retailer.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is just to disperse knowledge and raise awareness. It does not intend to replace medical advice from professionals. For further information, please contact our certified nutritionists Here.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What are the potential health benefits of saffron?

A. Saffron is rich in antioxidants and has various health benefits, such as improving mood, libido, and period cramps. 

Q. Can saffron aid in mood regulation and mental health?

A. Yes, saffron is well known for its antidepressant effects. It keeps norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine at balanced levels. Several investigations show that saffron is a promising agent to improve mood and relieve both anxiety and depression. 

Q. How does saffron affect digestive health?

A. Saffrons’ bitter component increases saliva and gastric secretion. It helps in maintaining a good digestive health. Saffron also encourages the flow of blood to the digestive tract, which lessens the symptoms of upset stomach. 

Q. Can saffron be used as a natural remedy for depression and anxiety?

A. Absolutely, saffron’s natural antidepressant properties make it a natural remedy for improving mood. It increases dopamine without changing other brain hormones. Saffron or saffron extract reduces stress and depression. 

Q. What is the role of saffron in weight management?

A. Saffron controls serotonin levels, which aids in feeling full and preventing excessive consumption. Reducing calorie consumption when feeling full will help in weight loss. Saffron also enhances body metabolism, accelerating the thermogenesis process. 

Q. Are there any studies or research supporting saffron’s health benefits?

A. There are numerous studies proving saffron’s health benefits with scientific evidence. The Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science documented Saffron extract increased dopamine levels. The National Center for Biotechnology Information has several studies on the health benefits of saffron extract. 

Q. Can saffron help with reducing inflammation and pain?

A. saffron is rich in plant compounds that act as antioxidants, such as crocin, crocetin, kaempferol, safranal, etc. Kaempferol, found in saffron, reduces inflammation and pain. Saffron has shown anti-inflammatory effects in both in-vivo and in-vitro studies.

Q. How is saffron used in traditional medicine and herbal remedies?

A. Saffron extract has been used for centuries to treat various ailments. Some of them include diaphoretic, aphrodisiac, emmenagogue, stomachic, etc. Saffron has anti-cancer, antidepressant, anti-ischemic, anti-genotoxic, and many more properties. 

Q. What are the recommended daily dosages of saffron for health benefits?

A. Pure saffron dosages of up to 1.5g per day are safe. For patients with a variety of illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease, the usual dosage of saffron is 30 mg. 5 g of saffron has toxic effects on the body. However, the doses may differ as every individual is unique. Therefore, speak with a health professional before making any significant dietary changes. 

Q. Are there any potential side effects or risks associated with saffron consumption?

A. Saffron consumption hardly has any side effects. However, overconsumption can lead to health hazards. Allergic reactions are also possible. Some common side effects include stomach issues, nausea, vomiting, or drowsiness. 

Q. How does saffron impact blood sugar levels?

A. saffron may help to lower blood sugar levels. Its antioxidant properties may be beneficial for patients with diabetes. However, consuming saffron with other diabetic medications may cause blood glucose levels to drop too low. 

Q. Can saffron be beneficial for skin and beauty purposes?

A. Absolutely! Saffron can improve your skin tone and give it a beautiful glow. It also removes tan. It is a wonder ingredient that contains antioxidants and vitamin C. It is widely present in several cosmetic products, such as face masks and home beauty remedies.

Q. What is the difference between saffron and Safflower?

A. Safflower, sometimes known as the “poor man’s saffron,” is a less expensive alternative to saffron because both of these spices have a similar colouring power. When comparing the two, Safflower has a softer, sweeter flavour similar to chocolate, whereas saffron has a distinct flavour similar to honey. Compared to Safflower, saffron has a little more delicate colour. 

Q. Are there any contraindications for using saffron in certain medical conditions?

A. Sedative medications cause breathing problems and sleepiness. Consuming saffron with sedative medications should be avoided. People with bipolar disorder, allergies, pregnancy or breastfeeding should avoid saffron. 

Q. How can saffron be incorporated into a daily diet for health benefits?

A. One can add saffron to rice, soups, stews, warm liquids, tea, baked goods, etc. Also, make saffron-infused oil by heating olive oil and adding a few strands of saffron. However, remember to consume saffron in moderation to avoid overpowering the dishes.

Research Sources:

Data by the US Department of Agriculture on Saffron

Saffron for the Management of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: A Randomised Controlled Trial

An evaluation of the effects of saffron supplementation on the asthma clinical symptoms and asthma severity in patients with mild and moderate persistent allergic asthma: a double-blind, randomised placebo-controlled trial

Clinical Applications of Saffron (Crocus sativus) and its Constituents: A Review

Saffron and crocin improved appetite, dietary intake and body composition in patients with coronary artery disease.

Effects of saffron (Crocus sativus) on sexual dysfunction among men and women: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Toxicology effects of saffron and its constituents: a review

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