Let’s talk about the numbers: 150,000 / 180,000 flowers of Crocus Sativus cover an immense field beautiful and violet, and from all that field you get only one kilogram of saffron.
A huge amount of flowers for a small product: of course this causes a raise in the price, as the caviar, but unlike this one, the saffron has a thousand-year history that oscillates between magic, health, prestige and cuisine. It has been a successful product for centuries, to the point of obtaining the nickname of red gold. It was a multitasking product, used as a dye for real fabrics, but also as a precious aphrodisiac and cosmetic to revive pale cheeks.
In Italy the word saffron immediately evokes the risotto alla Milanese, while in France it is an ingredient of bouillabaisse (fish soup) and in Sweden it is an element of the Grande Amaro Svedese.
Everyone uses saffron. In fact it is really requested and 180 tons a year are produced in the world. 90% comes from Iran. The powder of saffron is one of the spices which is most subject to fraudes and to be adulterated. The powder can be mixed with turmeric or with calendula, but there are those who do not hesitate to add powdered minerals or synthetic dyes. Moreover, as in ancient spices shops, there is also the risk of buying a badly preserved product.
Saffron of the dukedom
Once, the saffron arrived from the East following the path of the Via delle Spezie, eventually it started to be was cultivated in Italy too, above all in Abruzzo and in the territories of Spoleto and Terni.
Various historical and economic events had made it disappear from the domestic market, but now it is back and it is becoming really very important. In Italy it is not produce so much, but we cultivate the red saffron variet, which is really precious. In order to face the expenses and difficulties of cultivation and harvesting, forty Umbrian producers created an association with the evocative name of Saffron of the Dukedom, to rember the presence of the Duchy of Spoleto. One of the associates, Mr. Giuliano Sfascia, explained to me the characteristics that the product must have to be of the highest quality, and brought me to the field, where I observed the saffron itself.
The flowers, the crocuses, are born from the bulbs that are placed in the ground in July, but they do not bear the intensive cultivation, they need space and air, they grow on the hills, they need light and well drained soils, sandy or silty.
The 180,000 flowers, needed to obtain a kilo of saffron, can only be picked up by hand, bent over the crocuses, early in the morning, when the flowers are still closed. Each flower has only three red stigmas (antennines) that contain the spice which is the saffron. This harsh harvest is called overflowing and is done in October.
Once the flowers have been collected, the three stigmas are delicately come off, placed in a glass vase and immediately left to dry. The first they dry, the better the taste of the spice will be. Saffron production requires effort and many hours of work and it is subject to a thousand risks, bad weather and parasites. To all this we must add that every collection, to obtain the quality certification, must be analyzed by an authorized laboratory. Crocina, the color, Pirocrocina, the bitter taste and Safranale, the aroma, are the three substances that characterize the saffron, but only if the presence of these substances is high we have the saffron of the best quality. No magic. Good cultivation helps the three substances to give their best. So, good “risotto” to everyone.