July 31st, 2012
Have you ever been to Valencia and enjoyed eating that golden Paella and wondered how to get that glorious colour? Or perhaps driven through the flat lands of La Mancha in Autumn and admired the acres of purple hued fields either side of the road? It´s all down to Saffron, often called the most expensive spice in the world – but available in such small quantities it´s a perfect must buy item for your next Spanish Holiday!
Where is Spanish Saffron from?
It´s from the Saffron Crocus - Crocus Sativus – actually the red stigma right in the centre of the flower, and if you do come to Spain in Autumn, October is the best month, then drive through La Mancha and be blown over by the violet and shades of purple glowing at sunset, like fields of Amethyst!
As pricey as jewels too – it´s so labour intensive – but you can pick it up in tiny quantities, so remember to take some home as a souvenir or just for your own use…much nicer and more useful than that giant Sombrero – unless it´s waterproof of course!
Yes. Forget the machinery, this all has to be done by hand. Whole families will help out during the harvest, and will work row by row, every single flower will be picked and placed in woven baskets. It´s careful work. Later the red centre stigmas are plucked from the middle of the flowers, and slowly roasted for half an hour, just enough to provide the Saffron with that distinctive smell and glorious colour,and to dry it out properly, If this is not done correctly, mould will be encouraged and a whole carefully picked harvest could be lost.
To give you an idea of why Saffron is so expensive, consider this fact: Apart from the fact that it all has to be collected and separated by hand, 450g of dried Saffron threads will require a field of flowers totaling 75,000! That´s the size of a football pitch! Now think how long it takes to weed your garden….!
Good for you too
Saffron is not just for cooking…Studies have proven that it has anti-carcinogenic qualities, and it´s also thought that the red stigmas and the petals can help with depression, and prevent the eyes from suffering under bright lights….so not just a tasty addition!
If you´re in the money, or a fancy restaurant owner, buy a glass jar full of the stuff. If you´re not – and frankly who would use that much? – just pick up a tiny perspex box weighing about .25 of a gram. But do buy the best quality that you can stretch to, the deepest colour and crispiest strands, with not too many yellow strands -the styles – in the box.
Another top tip – buy from the harvest picked that year – like so many other spices, once picked it tends not to store well for a long time – there´s no point in splashing out if it doesn´t taste! Also use it sparingly, from Eastern Moroccan tangines, and your favourite Indian curry to – of course – that Paella to remind you of your wonderful Spanish holiday! But use just a little, that sweet honey like taste will turn metallic and astringent if you overdo it!
A little bit of sunshine in a box!